Egypt seeks to weave cotton renaissance

phys.org | 10/14/2018 | Staff
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Treading carefully among his sprawling green plants in the Nile Delta, Egyptian farmer Fatuh Khalifa fills his arms with fluffy white cotton picked by his workers.

Durable, fine and luxuriously soft, cotton sourced from Egypt has long been seen as the best on the market.

Years - Country - Farmers

But recent years have been far from smooth for the North African country's farmers.

"I cultivate 42 hectares (104 acres) and it's expensive ... while the price (of cotton) is very low", said Khalifa, who has been growing the premium long-fibre variety for over 30 years.

Profits - Head - Cap - Sun - Farm

Profits are "meagre", he lamented, his head shaded by his cap from the unforgiving sun on his farm in Kafr El Sheikh.

Cotton was once Egypt's main source of wealth in the 19th century, as the Nile Delta provided fertile grounds for the crop used to make the towels, sheets and robes coveted by Europe's burgeoning bourgeoisie.

Decades - Competition - Returns

But decades of fierce international competition has diminished returns.

Well-marketed short-fibre cotton—while lower quality than the long-fibre variety—looks good and has increasingly been used by textile giants, dealing a heavy blow to Egyptian players.

United - States - Brazil - World - Cotton

The United States and Brazil are now the world's top cotton exporters, according to this month's report by the US Department of Agriculture, followed by India and Australia, leaving Egypt trailing far behind.

Back in 1975, Egypt exported $540 million of cotton. By 2016, the sector's export receipts had fallen to $90.4 million, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Uprising - President - Hosni - Mubarak - Dealt

The popular uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 dealt a fresh blow to the cotton sector, as political and economic chaos hit production and export chains.

Egypt's output of cotton fibres fell as low as 94,000 tonnes in 2013, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, down from 510,000 tonnes in 1971.

Year - Producers - Respite - Thanks - Prices

Last year brought producers some respite, thanks to rising prices and higher export volumes.

But a...
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