Scientists at the Egyptian Cotton Research Institute, affiliated to the Agricultural Research Centre, have cultivated genetically modified cotton seeds in a small experimental area to produce not conventional, everyday white cotton, but a crop in a dazzling array of colours.
The experiment was successful as it yielded green and gold coloured cotton, which will mean less reliance on industrial dyes that pollute the environment.
Institute chairman Hisham Mosaad told local media that Egypt has been able to produce coloured cotton whose fibre strength is 40, double the world average.
The fibre of coloured cotton is weaker than that of white cotton, he said. However, Egypt has enhanced the hereditary characteristics of coloured cotton to almost maximum strength.
Turning fibre into textile uses a lot of water, energy and chemical dyes. Now global efforts to reduce the ecological hazard and waste generated by textile processing will lead to the development of green and sustainable materials.
Deputy head of the Agricultural Research Centre, Dr Adel Abdel Azim said many countries have opted for producing naturally coloured cotton as it skips dyeing, the most polluting activity.
“Eliminating the dyeing process saves energy and prevents environment pollution,” Abdel Azim told this newspaper.“Clothes made of naturally coloured cotton prevents skin diseases and protects skin against ultraviolet radiation,” he added.
“Conventional dyeing is expensive, so eliminating it will make the finished product cheaper.
“Naturally coloured cotton is soft, which means that softeners will no longer be needed, cutting down water and energy consumed by the textile industry,” he added.
Abdel Azim spoke of plans to breed new varieties with stronger fibre and higher yield, after the experiment of growing green- and gold-coloured cotton has proved successful.
Egypt is promoting the sustainability of the Egyptian cotton value-chain through the Egyptian Cotton project, launched in June last year. The initiative implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) in partnership with the Egyptian Cotton Research Institute, will train cotton farmers in sustainable cotton production practices.
“Most of our clothes are actually made of polyester which lasts hundreds of years in a landfill, while we use natural fibres in a small percentage of our clothing,” Abdel Azim said.
“Cotton is renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. So, naturally coloured cotton that is biodegradable and with no harmful chemical dyes is attractive to those countries that are moving towards the use of sustainable and environment-friendly products.”
“Therefore, the production of coloured cotton in this country can boost cotton exports,” he added.