There are strong indications that cotton farmers in Nigeria may lose out in the race for foreign exchange earnings accruable from exportation of the agricultural biotechnology cotton, known as Bt cotton, which farmers in some African countries are already taking advantage of.
This is coming on the heels of complaints by cotton farmers, especially in Northern Nigeria, that they have been recording low yield and returns.
This development, the farmers said, forced many of them to shift to the cultivation of other crops, fearing that they may abandon cotton farming.
One of the farmers from Katsina State, Malam Abba Shehu, said he got little from the cotton he planted last year, adding that he has decided to shift to maize and guinea corn in order to generate more income.
He said: “We have been farming cotton because we inherited it. I can no longer continue farming cotton at a loss. I will now cultivate maize, guinea corn and other crops to get enough money to take care of my family and pay our bills.”
He said that the country’s cotton output will continue to drop drastically if high yielding, pest and disease resistant variety such as the Bt cotton failed to be quickly adopted by Nigeria and made available to cotton farmers.
Reports indicated that the Bt cotton, which is genetically modified by agricultural biotechnologists to confer on it some advantages such as bollworm resistance and high yield, was embraced by Burkina Faso, Senegal, Kenya and Mali, among other African countries, for some years now.
This is the 8th year that Burkina Faso’s farmers will be cultivating Bt Cotton and they have benefited significantly from it.
This is not the case with Nigerian cotton farmers whose contribution to the country’s GDP dropped significantly from 25 per cent in 1980 to only five per cent in recent times.
Available data on benefits from Bt cotton in Burkina Faso included an average yield increase of almost 20%, plus labour and insecticide savings (2 rather than 6 sprays), which resulted in a net gain of about US$95.35 per hectare compared with conventional cotton.
It is estimated that Bt cotton has the potential to generate an economic benefit of up to US$70 million, per year, for Burkina Faso.
Other African countries that have adopted the Bt cotton also earn millions of dollars from the crop.
Analysts maintained that Bt cotton can provide solution to the challenges faced by Nigerian cotton farmers, but government apathy for agricultural biotechnology promotion has led to non-existence of bio-safety laws in the country, despite the attendant consequences.
Mr. Kehinde Johnson, a business development manager with Monsato International, said: “Until proper laws and regulations are put in place, Nigeria will continue to be flooded with GM foods, even as the country is losing a lot of foreign exchange by not adopting Bt cotton and other GM crops.”
An agricultural biotechnology expert, who is the Country Coordinator of Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Nigeria, Mrs. Rose M. Gidado, pointed out that the major obstacle to the release and commercialisation of agricultural biotechnology crops, including the Bt cotton in the country, was lack of bio-safety law.
“Our farmers need to use GM crops, including the Bt cotton, if not, they will continue to record low yield due to pests, disease and other factors,” she said.
Another expert who is a plant breeder with the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Malam Muhammad Lawan Umar, said cotton farmers, and the country at large, stood to benefit from the export of cotton, if Bt cotton can be adopted.
He described the Bt cotton ass safe and capable of improving yield, income and livelihoods of cotton farmers, urging the government to introduce the crop so as to assist the farmers and the nation.