MSC’s flexible services keep Africa’s cotton moving

Present in Africa for more than 50 years, MSC provides a complete service for businesses exporting cotton from Africa to the world’s main importing countries.


This article is sponsored by MSC

Take a look around you and you’ll probably spot something made of cotton. From carpets to curtains, and from T-shirts to towels, this soft natural material has become part of everyday life – and it’s one of the world’s most traded commodities. But did you know that around 15% of global cotton exports come from Africa?

In fact, African cotton is particularly sought-after thanks to its high quality. That’s because Africa’s “white gold” is almost exclusively cultivated and hand-picked by smallholder farmers using traditional growing techniques. Large plantations, which are common in other parts of the world, are still relatively rare.

Cotton across the continent

West Africa accounts for almost 75% of the continent’s total cotton production. Most of this is exported to Asia, including Bangladesh, the world’s largest importer of cotton, for use in textile manufacturing. However, demand for cotton is also growing in other industries and regions. For example, farmers in Europe are increasingly importing cotton cake as livestock feed.

Africa’s top 3 cotton producers in 2020

• Benin: 696,000 tons

• Mali: 648,000 tons

• Côte d’Ivoire: 480,000 tons

A sensitive, seasonal crop

The African climate is ideal for producing cotton, which loves warmth and needs about 200 days of sunshine a year to thrive. Annual production volumes fluctuate depending on air temperature and rainfall, and the timing of the harvest season varies greatly from country to country. In Zambia, for example, the harvest typically lasts nine months, while in Mozambique it can be as short as four months. 

Cotton is also a delicate material that requires special care at every stage: from harvesting to drying, ginning (separating the cotton fibres from the seeds using a machine), baling, loading and transporting.

Carrying cotton over long distances therefore requires a flexible and knowledgeable logistics partner. With more than 50 years of experience in transportation, MSC understands how to keep this precious commodity pristine throughout its journey. We provide end-to-end cotton transportation and logistics services to exporters, brokers, importers and freight forwarders.

Did you know?

• The world’s main cotton importing countries are Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand.

• Over 25m tonnes of cotton are produced globally every year.

• Cotton is grown in more than 100 countries.

• Approximately half of all textiles are made from cotton.

• People have been cultivating cotton for more than 5,000 years.

• Cotton is the only fibre that becomes stronger when wet!

Your cotton-shipping partner

Every year, MSC ships 10-13,000 TEU of cotton from Africa to Asia and beyond. With local teams in 40 African countries, we understand exactly how to bring your cargo to its final destination in perfect condition, leveraging the extensive inland network of MEDLOG, the logistics arm of MSC.

MSC’s services at a glance

• Weekly connection from West Africa to Bangladesh (via Colombo) with the MSC India-Africa service

• Direct connections to China, Indonesia and Malaysia (via Singapore) with the Africa Express service

• Specialist cotton-shipping teams in Benin, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Uganda

• 24/7 container availability

• MSC-owned terminals at San Pedro (TSP – Terminal San Pedro) and Lomé (LCT – Lomé Container Terminal)

• Seamless integration with MEDLOG’s road, rail and logistics solutions

• 6 ports of calls for cotton  transportation: Abidjan, Cotonou,  Dakar, Djibouti, Mombasa, Port Sudan

Adapting to your needs

MSC places a special emphasis on getting to know each customer’s individual needs and creating tailor-made solutions for each supply chain. Our experienced team provide support at every step – from guidance on country-specific procedures to advice on which type of container to use. We also help to prepare your cargo for loading and carry out regular inspections to ensure that our containers remain clean, fresh and moisture-free.

Working together for a better future

At MSC, sustainability is embedded in everything we do, including our cotton-shipping activities. 

We invest in the latest-generation low-carbon technologies to minimise the environmental impact of our activities on land, oceans and populations. We continue to explore and trial a range of alternative fuels and technologies on top of some significant energy efficiency improvements across our fleet. 

Find out more

Visit to learn more about MSC’s solutions in Africa and beyond.

African Business

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