The last two weeks of December saw the inauguration of many important projects in Upper Egypt by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, among them the Assiut Oil Refining Company, hospitals in Assiut, Minya, Sohag, and Luxor, and water treatment plants in Beni Sweif, Qena, and Minya.
During his tour of the region, Al-Sisi also visited Aswan where he went to the Benban Solar Power Park and the Gharb Soheil Nubian Village, which he said would be included in the Decent Life initiative that aims to improve the quality of life in some 4,500 rural villages.
However, the projects are just a fraction of those targeted at Upper Egypt. The region is to receive the lion’s share of LE1.1 trillion in investments as part of the first phase of Egypt’s Vision 2030 for Sustainable Development launched in 2014.
According to Sherif Saleh, director of the Upper Egypt Development Authority (UEDA), over LE750 billion, or 68 per cent, of the total outlay has been allocated to projects in the Upper Egyptian governorates. More than 10.3 million Upper Egyptians are currently benefiting from projects covering 65 per cent of the Upper Egyptian governorates in the programme’s first phase, he said. The second phase aims to bring in the rest of Upper Egypt within four years.
The programme is being carried out according to a three-pronged strategy, one component of which is infrastructure development, Saleh said. This includes new highways and ring roads, such as the 230 km Western Desert Highway, the 310 km Dayrut-Farafra Ring Road, and the Western Assiut Plateau Highway.
New sea and land ports such as the Safaga and Hurghada seaports and the Burqin and Qastal land ports are also among the landmark projects, as are the expansion of the electricity grid, the building of freshwater plants and wastewater treatment stations, the coverage of which have already increased by 33.3 per cent, and natural gas linkups to more than 1.1 million housing units.
The second component of the strategy is human development, focusing on such areas as culture, healthcare, and education. The past few years have seen an unprecedented boom in building and enhancing the efficacy of public healthcare units, clinics, and hospitals, Saleh said.
In addition to the ongoing implementation of the presidential initiatives for the treatment of Hepatitis C and to support women’s healthcare, urgent action has been taken to combat the spread of Covid-19 and carry out a nationwide vaccination programme, he added.
In education, primary and technical educational facilities have been expanded by 13 and 40 per cent, respectively. Upper Egypt has two new public universities in Luxor and the Red Sea governorate, five new private universities, two new technical universities, in Assiut and New Tiba, in addition to the already existing public universities in Beni Sweif, Minya, Assiut, and the New Valley.
To complement these, new technology parks have been founded by universities in Sohag, Aswan, Minya, and the New Valley, in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications.
The presidential Decent Life initiative is another crucial component of the strategy, Saleh said. Aiming to develop the Egyptian countryside, generate jobs, and maximise the benefits from Egypt’s natural wealth, the project fosters land-reclamation and agricultural projects, agricultural processing, and industries related to these activities.
Some four million acres have been allocated to the construction of integrated agricultural and industrial communities, which is being carried out in three phases, Saleh said. Most of the land for the projects is located in Upper Egypt.
With the dual aim of job creation and generating economic investment opportunities, the programme has fostered development in the spinning and weaving industry as well as in financing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in these and other areas, he added.
In the first stage, the government targeted over a million acres for reclamation and cultivation with strategic crops designed for export, Saleh said. “Livestock, poultry, and fishery projects complement the expansion in the land under cultivation in order to increase food security, raise self-sufficiency rates in key crops, and promote comprehensive development in target areas.”
There is an urgency to such projects in Upper Egypt since they help to offset the population increase, reduce unemployment among young people, and counteract the rising cost of living.
“For the people of Upper Egypt, the three focal areas of the Sustainable Development Programme will generate a million direct and indirect job opportunities thanks to the new agricultural communities that rely on low-water crops and that aim to increase exports of agricultural produce and processed products that in turn will alleviate national budgetary pressures,” Saleh said.
The Upper Egyptian governorates account for more than half of the area, approximately 550,000 of one million acres, targeted by the first phase of the agricultural reclamation strategy. Modern irrigation techniques have been introduced on more than 300,000 acres of land in this area located in the governorates of Beni Sweif, Minya, Qena, and the New Valley, cutting down irrigation water by 25 per cent and increasing productivity by 20 per cent.
This effort has given rise to the world’s largest date farm. Situated on 40,000 acres of land n Toshka, it already has more than 1.7 million date palms or 68 per cent of the 2.5 million goal.
The Toshka project was launched in 1998 with the aim of reclaiming 540,000 acres of land. The area was divided into three sub-sections, according to Ali Ismail, former director of the Land and Water Research Institute (LWRI) and a member of the Irrigation Modernisation Committee at the Ministry of Agriculture.
He said that the firms that had been allocated land at the time had failed to meet their contractual targets on time, whether due to the rising costs of land reclamation in the area or inefficiency. The government was forced to withdraw large areas of land from the companies concerned that had only completed a fraction of their targets.
After the project had lain nearly moribund for 20 years, President Al-Sisi handed it to the National Service Projects Organisation, which turned it around in just two years, Ismail said. A total of around 185,000 acres is now under cultivation in Toshka, and the plan is to add another 100,000 acres next year and to reclaim another 500,000 acres over the next two years.
The following stage has a target of a million acres, with irrigation provided by a pumping station supplying water from the Sheikh Zayed Canal.
The government’s land-reclamation goals are complemented by agricultural plans that aim to optimise the reclaimed land economically, technologically, and administratively. Large areas will be allocated to sugar beet and oil seeds as primary crops, with the second and third cycles allocated to crops such as wheat, corn, and alfalfa, Ismail said.
Industries such as beet sugar and plant oil presses, refineries, processing, packaging and bottling firms will take their place alongside the crops. As sugar beet and other plant by-products are excellent additions to animal feed, the agricultural and industrial communities will include major livestock farming facilities, Ismail said.
The plans call for tens of thousands of heads of dairy and meat-producing cattle and sheep, as well as a mechanised slaughterhouse with a large refrigeration capacity, and processing and freezing plants to prepare the produce for shipping from Aswan to Cairo and other distribution centres.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.