Product briefs

Sudanese Barakat Cotton

Barakat ranks among the world’s highest quality cottons, approaching that of Pima cotton, which is largely exported from the United States. Sudan’s Barakat cotton is 100% handpicked, which maintains fibre length, and gently ginned on roller gins. The strength of this extra-long staple (ELS) cotton allows the spinning of finer, longer yarns, yielding a lighter, more supple and durable fabric with thread counts three to four times higher than commodity cotton. Superfine fabrics are only possible with the thinnest, smoothest, longest cotton fibres such as those spun from Barakat, Egyptian or Pima.

Cotton provides an important livelihood for an estimated 200,000 growers and their families, in addition to employing seasonal labour during harvest time. The majority of Sudan’s ELS cotton is grown in the Gezira irrigation scheme. While the scheme is government managed, tenant farmers decide which areas and varieties to plant. In recent years, more than half of Sudan’s cotton exports have been Barakat, which requires a longer growing season but earns more at export. As shareholders in the Sudanese Cotton Company, the farmers are the producers and, technically, the exporters as well. During the 2006/2007 season, Sudan exported approximately $44 million worth of Barakat cotton, primarily to Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

In 2006, farmers received $0.64 per kilo for Barakat seed cotton (the handpicked material before ginning separates the fibre from the seeds). Once ginned, about 35% of raw cotton lint is separated out of the seed cotton. Barakat lint is exported at an average price of $1.80 per kilo depending on the grade. A wholesaler may pay around $33 for a kilo (equivalent) of pima cotton shirting fabric. At retail, this same fabric will sell for about $66 per kilo equivalent.

The finest extra-long staple cotton fabrics are used in apparel, particularly shirting fabric, and bed and table linens. The value of ELS finished products in the premium retail market increases two to three times over commodity cotton products. At the very high end of the retail market, the value of these superior quality manufactured and tailored products increases ten times, and can be as high as twenty times, the commodity price.

Much of the value of a cotton product is added in the final stages of production when a brand name, designer label, or prestigious trademark is applied. Many popular brands, such as American Apparel, will emphasize the raw material used, such as ‘made with 100% American Pima Cotton.’ This adds value to the end product as consumers equate high quality with Pima. While brand recognition is important, designers also emphasize the raw material used to further validate the quality of their product.

Sudanese Barakat does not have the brand recognition among consumers for quality enjoyed by Egyptian and Pima cotton. Yet Barakat cotton could easily be used in the highest value segments, depending upon the spinning and weaving processes. Barakat’s value would increase if consumer name recognition and association with high quality were established and strengthened. This represents an IP opportunity for Barakat cotton.

An IP-based strategy could aim to establish Barakat as closely similar to Pima and Egyptian cotton, in collaboration with importers so that both parties will gain by increasing demand and price at wholesale and retail levels. It might also aim to secure for Sudan a share of the intangible value in products made from and specifying the Barakat content under such product promotions.

Currently, Pima cotton enjoys a 40% premium over Barakat. Experts suggest that Barakat may reduce the gap between Pima’s premium to 18%, which could result in a $9-15m increase in export value alone based on last season’s volume. By combining this with capturing more from the supply chain and positioning Barakat cotton in new markets, total export income could be raised to $60-90m p.a.

Sudan’s very fine yet little known variety of extra-long staple cotton, Barakat, is superior in its strength, fineness and softness, suitable for the weaving of luxurious cotton fabrics.