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Egyptian cotton makes comeback

Egypt’s most famous export is the silky soft cotton prized by makers of luxury bedding and clothing. Egypt’s sunny skies and superior seed help it grow a cotton known for unusually long fibers that produce a light durable fabric with an attractive sheen and soft touch. But last year agricultural production of Egypt’s high quality long staple cotton hit a more than 100-year low. Production has slumped since 2011, a year of political upheaval that coincided with looser regulations that degraded the quality of cotton.

Faced with big losses, farmers burnt their cotton crops, with many switching to rice. This is set to change. Farmers and exporters expect a comeback for the crop, spurred by the country’s decision to float its currency, halving its value overnight but helping push local cotton prices sky high.

In a bid to save its historic crop, Egypt in 2016 banned all but the highest quality cotton seed, dramatically shrinking the area under cultivation but restoring quality. It’s estimated that in 2016-17, Egypt will produce 1,60,000 bales, half the previous year’s crop and a fraction of the 1.4 million produced in 2004-05. Measures such as DNA testing and a system of international auditing will reduce imitation Egyptian cotton to 30 per cent of world supply by the end of this year.