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Egypt''s ''white gold'' cotton losing its luster

October 06, 2009
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Many farmers have long thrived on Egypt''s famed "white gold" cotton; but with prices uncertain and production costs soaring more and more are inclined to go "green" with fruit and vegetables, according to the Associated Foreign Press. Fruit and vegetables make money. Instead of devoting their entire land to cotton, farmers are planting vegetables and other crops in half of their land. The Egyptian cotton crop has shrunk to its lowest total in more than a century and producers are demanding a return to subsidies like those still paid in some other countries. The "100 percent Egyptian cotton" label conquered the world after Egypt''s modern founder Mohammed Ali introduced the crop to Egypt in 1820. Ever since then Egypt''s superior quality, long and extra long staple cotton has generated strong demand from luxury designers and upmarket establishments. But due mainly to the liberalization of cotton trade and the global financial crisis the bubble has burst and the demand for Egyptian cotton has slowed, leading to less of the crop being planted. The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) says industrial usage of cotton declined by 12 percent globally in 2008-2009. This year''s harvest in Egypt was 54 percent less than that of a year ago. Land allocated to plant Egypt''s "white gold" has shrunk in recent years from 275,000 hectares in 2007 to around 158,000 hectares in 2008. Despite the fame of its fibers, Egypt is a small grower compared to China, which produces eight million tons annually. The price of Egyptian cotton has dropped only slightly from 3,575 dollars a ton last season to 3,350 dollars a ton in 2008-2009. Farmers nonetheless are turning away from "white gold" because prices are no longer guaranteed.
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