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COTTON (Gossypium species)
Cotton as a major cash crop is of considerable social and economic importance to Nigeria. Cotton/textile activities are widespread in the country. Its production in Nigeria dates back to 1903 with the British Cotton Growers Association taking the lead until 1974, when it was disbanded and replaced by the Cotton Marketing Board to develop, gin and market the produce. Cotton is a soft and fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or a protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton seeds of the cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose.
The plant is shrub that is native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including the Americas, Africa and India. The greatest diversity of wild cotton species is found in Mexico, followed by Australia and Africa. Cotton was independently domesticated in the Old and New Worlds.
The fiber is most often spun into a yarn or thread to make a soft breathable fabric.
There are four commercially grown species of cotton; and they include;
Cotton has been spun, woven, and dyed since prehistoric times. It clothed the people of ancient India, Egypt, and China. Hundreds of years before the Christian era, cotton textiles were woven in India with matchless skill, and their use spread to the Mediterranean countries and beyond.[i]
Successful cultivation of cotton requires a long frost-free period, plenty of sunshine, and a moderate rainfall, usually from 600 to 1200 mm (24 to 48 inches). Soils usually need to be fairly heavy, although the level of nutrients does not need to be exceptional. In general, these conditions are met within the seasonally dry tropics and subtropics in the Northern and Southern areas, but a large proportion of the cotton grown today is cultivated in areas with less rainfall that obtain the water from irrigation. Planting time in the Northern areas varies from the beginning of February to the beginning of June. Since cotton is salt and drought tolerant, this makes it an attractive crop for arid and semiarid region.[ii]
Cotton is usually harvested mechanically, either by a cotton picker, a machine that removes the cotton from the boll without damaging the cotton plant, or by a cotton stripper, which strips the entire boll off the plant. Cotton strippers are used in regions where it is too windy to grow picker varieties of cotton, and usually after application of a chemical defoliant or the natural defoliation that occurs after a freeze. Cotton is a perennial crop that is grown in the tropics, and without defoliation or freezing, the plant will continue to grow. Cotton is also harvested / picked by hand.[iii]
Today, the world uses more cotton than any other fiber, Processing and handling of cotton after it leaves the farm generates even more business activity.
Cotton is a part of our daily lives from the time we dry our faces on a soft cotton towel in the morning until we slide between fresh cotton sheets at night. It has hundreds of uses, from blue jeans to shoe strings. Clothing and household items are the largest uses, but industrial products account for many thousands of bales. All parts of the cotton plant are useful. The most important is the fiber or lint, which is used in making cotton cloth. Linters, provide cellulose for making plastics and other products. Linters also are incorporated into high quality paper products and processed into batting for padding mattresses, furniture and automobile cushions.[iv]
Some cottonseeds also are used as high-protein concentrate in baked goods and other food products. The cotton seed is also used to make the cotton seed oil, which after processing can be used and consumed as any normal vegetable oil. The left over from the cotton milling can also be used to feed livestock ruminant animals.[v]. Cotton lint can be refined into cotton wools which are used as absorbent cotton.
The Federal Government in September 2012 released N54 billion to boost mass production of cotton in the country. To further demonstrate its commitment to improve cotton production, the Federal Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the West African Cotton Company (WACOT) on plans to revive cotton production in the country. The agreement with WACOT was aimed at enhancing the productivity of the ginneries from 150kg to 450kg of lint, while increasing the production of cotton seeds from 120,000 tonnes to 760,000 tonnes by the year 2015. The West Africa Cotton Development Company Limited (WACOT) has begun an awareness and training of farmers on modern agronomic practices.
The aim of the programme is to restore Nigeria’s fortune in the area of cotton production. The training in Gombe of about 900 cotton farmers, according to the Project Leader Dr. Laxman Dhayal, started last year with a target of 15, 000 hectares of land cultivated, but realized an input of over 13, 000 hectares. The project leader said: “The programme is important in this scientific world in order to improve on the quality and production capacity of cotton in Nigeria. The programme is aimed at bringing back the glory of cotton farming and production in Nigeria.” He further added that the future looks bright for improvement. [vi]
The major consequence of neglect of the agricultural sector in Nigeria during the oil boom years (1970-1980s) was the decline in total food and fibre production and the astronomical rise in input prices. These general problems of agricultural sector also affect the cotton industries which has hitherto played an important role in the economy. Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) is an important cash crop in Nigeria. Until recently, cotton was the fifth most important export crop and a major source of foreign exchange for the country.
Unfortunately, total production remains far below the national requirements of the textile and the oil mills. This is as a result of low average yield of the crop on farmers plot of about 400-500 kg seed cotton per hectare which is below the genetic yield potential (2.5-3.0) tons seed cotton/ha, of the varieties being grown and yield that are obtainable on research plots (1.5-2.5 tons ha-1) (Ogunlela, 2004).[vii]
The major constraints facing cotton farmers are lack of fertilizer, frequency of spray, market opportunities. Others are inadequate knowledge of the production packages and non-availability of these technologies.
Pests and diseases also pose a great threat to cotton production in Nigeria. The most important group of insects in terms of economic costs is the bollworm. Certain cotton pest can also cause reduction of lint quality e.g Dysdercus sp. which causes discoloration of the cotton lint, and automatically represent a serious decline in quality and substantial reduction in price. Aphids, bacteria blight (Xanthmonas malvacearum F. Smith) dowson and alternaria leaf spot (alternaria macopora Zim) are all examples of insects that affect cotton yield in Nigeria.
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[i] Cotton. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001–07.
[ii] Wegerich, K. (2002). "Natural drought or human-made water scarcity in Uzbekistan?". Central Asia and the Caucasus 2: 154–162.
[iii] Craig Murray. Murder in Samarkand – A British Ambassador's Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror. ISBN 978-1-84596-194-7. 2006
[v] Liese M. Perrin (2001). "Resisting Reproduction: Reconsidering Slave Contraception in the Old South". Journal of American Studies (Cambridge University Press) 35 (2): 255–274. doi:10.1017/S0021875801006612. JSTOR 27556967.
[vii] Ogunlela, V.B., 2004. Improved technologies for increased production in Nigeria. Proceedings of the Train the Trainer Workshop on Presidential Initiative on Vegetable Oils, Cotton and Groundnut Production, Lake Chad Research Institute May 10-12, Maiduguri.
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