Egyptian cotton: More fields of white gold

Farmers harvest cotton in a field of San el-Hagar village, in the province of Al-Sharqia, Cairo, Egypt October 18, 2016. Picture taken October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

A US Department of Agriculture report has said that it expects Egypt’s cotton harvest to increase by more than 30 per cent on an annual basis to reach 280,000 bales in the current year of July 2021 to June 2022.

The growth in the cotton harvest is anticipated to be accompanied by an expansion of the land allocated for the crop by 20 per cent to reach 85,000 hectares. A rise in demand, coupled with a hike in prices in 2021, has encouraged farmers to keep growing cotton even after the end of the season.

However, despite such promising increases, Egypt’s cotton harvest will not record its pre-coronavirus levels, when 305,000 bales of white gold were collected in 2019-20.

The reduction in the land allotted for rice cultivation, with the aim of rationalising the use of water, has driven farmers to increase the size of land allocated for cotton, said Ahmed Ayad, head of the Cotton Division at the Chamber of Commerce.

Last year, some 75,000 hectares of cotton were planted, Ayad said, lamenting the fact that many years ago Egypt had allocated even more land to cotton cultivation.

Encouraging farmers to expand their cotton planting has been the rise in the price of a qintar (45kg) of cotton by the end of the season, reaching LE3,000 and up from LE2,050 at the season’s beginning.

Until April, the US Department of Agriculture had anticipated cotton production growth this season to record 16 per cent, or 250,000 bales. The planting season lasts from April to June, while exports take place between August and September.

Last year’s cotton harvest was disappointing due to the low quality of seeds and the spread of whiteflies.

According to the US report, Egypt will usher in the new cotton season with zero stock after the recovery in exports last year. Egypt had exported 95 per cent of its target of cotton by mid-June.

By 22 August, Egypt had signed contracts to export 86,000 qintars of cotton, according to the Egyptian Textiles Directory.

Egypt exports a large portion of its cotton, especially that planted in Lower Egypt. Some 66 per cent goes to India and 17 per cent to Pakistan, which are the largest importers of Egyptian cotton, followed by Bangladesh.

Due to the high quality of the cotton seeds planted in the new season, cotton prices are expected to rise to more than LE3,000 per qintar and become more expensive than American cotton, said Walid Al-Saadani, head of Egypt’s Cotton Trade Committee.

Al-Saadani expects one feddan of cotton to produce eight qintars thanks to climatic conditions suitable for its growth.

Last year, Indian demand for Egyptian cotton increased, contributing to a price rise, Al-Saadani added, expecting more demand from international companies this season.

Egypt exports the majority of its long-staple cotton and imports three million qintars of short-staple cotton that is primarily used in local textile production. Long-staple cotton is stronger and softer than soft staple.

The country is currently endeavouring to plant more short-staple cotton to decrease imports.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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