Cotton has been one of Sudan’s most precious natural resources since the Zeidab Pilot Scheme in 1905. Mahi Eldin Ali Mohamed Abdalla (ME), Director General of Sudan Cotton Company, talks to us about entering the spinning and textile industries and dealing in new markets as close to home as Ethiopia, Vietnam and Ethiopia
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LE: Can you give us an overview of Sudan Cotton Company? What are the company’s objectives and future goals?
ME: Knowledge of cotton planting in Sudan goes back to the 19th century when it was grown for the first time in Eastern Sudan (Tokar area). The year 1925 was a landmark in irrigated agricultural production in Sudan, with the establishment of Sennar dam. Since then cotton has assumed a leading role as a cash crop. Following the nationalisation of the cotton trade in 1970 the Cotton Public Corporation (CPC) was established to undertake marketing of all cotton produced in Sudan. In 1986 CPC was re-founded to form the Sudan Cotton Company Ltd (SCCL). In 1993 SCCL moved from the control of the public sector to the private sector in the context of a thorough economic reorientation towards a market economy.
LE: What is your future vision for Sudan Cotton Company?
ME: In Sudan we have different types of cotton. We have the extra long cotton which is called Barakat, long cotton which is called Abdeen, and we have medium cottons which are called Hamid and Burhan. These are all local varieties, which are well known in the international market. Recently, with the collaboration of the Chinese government, we introduced genetically modified cotton which is tolerant to African pull worms.
What we are focussing on is high quality. In terms of productivity, the local variety is very productive. We are currently in collaboration with different companies, some of which are international like Aid by Trade Foundation in Germany. We are also referring back to the programme finance by FAW, which is concerned with the biological control of cotton. In collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, our main objective now is to introduce the biological control of cotton pests and diseases, mainly for African pull worms. If we succeed in that, we will be on the right track to use our local varieties in very large quantities.
Currently, we are targeting agricultural finance to get started, and we began a five-year plan in 2015 that takes us to 2020. The plan for the coming season 2016-2017 is to increase the area of production from 244,000 to 350,000 hectares. By 2020 we will have extended the area to 1 million hectares. Simultaneously, we are looking to decrease the use of agricultural inputs mainly for ginneries and to supply the cotton locally, through Sudan Cotton Company. This is the first step towards transferring the industry from an import-based industry to a local industry, for our own consumers, and that is a main objective. In marketing, we are dealing with international traders to make an agreement with the end-users associations.
LE: What type of international partnerships is Sudan Cotton Company seeking?
ME: Sudan Cotton Company is one of the biggest companies dealing in the agriculture sector in Sudan. It has experience of more than 50 years in marketing Sudan’s production of cotton. In the last ten years it has extended its role to include cotton cultivation and the ginning industry, as well as its efforts to add value to cotton and enter the field of textile industry. That added new experiences to its initial activities, so now it’s considered one of the most suitable potential partners for international investors.
We have ten new ginneries, four of which are commissioning. The tenth will be located in the north of Gezira state, where we cultivate extra long cotton. For those ten ginneries, the capacity is thirty pairs per hour. We also have two new Chinese ginneries, with a capacity of 15 pairs per hour, which brings the total to twelve ginneries in Sudan. We are open for partnerships with whomever has sufficient knowledge of the sector to develop the cotton industry in this country and to increase it to its maximum potential.
LE: Which export markets are you looking to penetrate or increase market share in?
ME: Sudan Cotton Company’s cotton has been very famous on the international markets since 1970. Our markets have attracted buyers of high quantities of cotton from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey and of course China. Bangladesh is now the biggest and largest market for raw cotton with an annual turnover just for garments of $25 billion (US), set to reach $50 billion (US) in the coming years. We also see Vietnam and Ethiopia as promising markets for expansion. We succeeded in entering the Turkish markets and Chinese markets last year and we are making serious efforts to sell higher quantities of cotton to China and Turkey through direct deals or through international traders.
Our traditional market is Egypt, where we have faced problems but sold more than 50 thousand bales. Returning to Barakat and Abdin will maintain our position by offering more than three types of cotton, which will attract others and widen our market share in these markets. The textile industry recently transferred from Europe to Asia and Africa, and for the marketing we are looking at countries in South East Asia, such as Vietnam, Bangladesh and India. India has established itself as the second-largest cotton producing country. In the coming years India will have to import cotton, due to its population growth and the fact that it has to dedicate its land to food production instead. The opportunities in Sudan are better than in any other African country. We also have plenty of available low-cost labour and abundant natural resources.
LE: What would be your message to curious would-be investors worldwide about partnering with the Sudan Cotton Company to make the sector even greater?
ME: Come and see! Our goals are the expansion of cotton production and entering the spinning and textile industry. We have the opportunities and we have the natural resources: availability, abundance, plus a peaceful and a diversified climate with very interesting people.