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Egyptian cotton stares at oblivion
Jun '15
Egyptian cotton was once the gold standard for the world’s finest linens and clothing and its supple fibre is still prized for its softness and durability. But in Egypt, farmers are abandoning the crop that had become as legendary as the Pyramids.

Farmers are switching to grains because long-fibre cotton isn’t profitable without government aid, and cash subsidies are ending as the country grapples with one of the biggest budget deficits. Production probably will tumble 35 per cent in the next season to the lowest on record, the US Department of Agriculture has said.

Output has been declining for three decades as textile makers shift to cheaper, lower-quality fibre from Asia and fabrics like polyester. Demand for premium cotton accounts for less than 3 per cent of the global market, so Egypt decided subsidies for the crop didn’t make sense in a country that has become the world’s biggest wheat importer because it can’t grow enough grain to meet rising demand for bread.

Egypt has struggled with political turmoil and the worst economic slump in two decades since the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The government cut energy subsidies and received $6 billion in aid from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait this year.

Egyptian production has been slumping since reaching a record 2.49 million bales in 1970, according to the USDA. Output will drop this season to 340,000 bales, the third decline in four years and the lowest since USDA data began in 1960.

The US, the other major supplier of premium cotton, has surpassed Egypt with pima, a variety grown mainly in California. The country will grow about 566,400 bales this season, about 40 per cent more than in 2009, the government estimates.

The Egyptian government said in January it won’t provide cash subsidies next season because there’s not enough international demand and the crop is declining in quality. The problem with the old system was that farmers added other kinds of cottonseed to boost production, leading to an inferior harvest.

“There is very limited demand, both in domestic and global markets for Egyptian cotton, particularly the long staple variety, and it is very expensive,” agriculture minister Adel El-Beltagy had said after the decided to stop cash subsidies.

The minister said Egyptian textile mills have stopped using local cotton and are instead importing short staple variety, which are available at lower prices. (SH)

Fibre2Fashion News Desk – India

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