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Egypt's cotton industry needs shake-up

By-EG | 20 December 2009
EGYPT'S once-famous cotton industry risks a slow death with- out State investment to reverse decades of neglect, boost quality and encourage farmers to keep growing the crop.Analysts say the textiles sector has been overlooked amid a wave of other reforms.
 
"It's not easy to reverse the effects of years and years of neglect," Mena Sadek, consumer goods analyst at investment bank Beltone Financial, told Reuters."Anything you do without restructuring will not work. It will be a short-term solution."In its heyday in the 1960s, Egypt's "white gold" was highly sought after by those seeking smooth luxury bedsheets, soft thick towels and lavish apparel.But cheaper raw cotton imports have made inroads as ailing textile firms, stunted after decades of poor investment, have focused on creating low-quality products.Farmers are also turning away from cotton to more lucrative crops such as corn.The State has long promised to pay more attention to the sector. But the tex- tile industry is bogged down by old machinery, and lacks the design and tech- nology expertise among its workers that is needed to lure foreign firms to Egypt."The market is unbalanced," said Mohamed Abdel Aziz, head of Egypt's State-run Cotton Research Institute. "The industry was neither really privatised nor left public."Liberalisation in 1994 exposed farmers to volatile global prices and rising fertilis- er costs. Lower domestic demand for pricey extra.-long staple cotton also took a toll as spinners turned to cheaper, lower- quality imports."I can grow vegetables that can make profit, so why should I continue with a losing crop?" says Fadl el-Sherif, a cotton farmer from Egypt's Delta town of Kafr el-Zayat.Cotton acreage fell dramatically and in 2009 was at just 285,000 feddans (acres), yielding roughly 100,000 tonnes of lint cotton. Imports, meanwhile, surged to nearly the same amount.In the 1960s, Egypt produced up to 2.2 million feddans (924,000 hectares) of cotton, helped by fixed state prices.Creating a support fund with contributions from players across the textile sector could in the short-term ensure poor farmers alone do not bear the risk of price fluc- tuations.Egyptian cotton farmers also want import bans and price guarantees from the State, noting that the United States and others subsidise their own farmers. But such measures face opposition from Egyptian traders and manufacturers.
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