Potato farmers in Egypt hit by coronavirus pandemic

Mohamed Soliman , Tuesday 22 Dec 2020

Many farmers struggle to sell their reaped crops due to coronavirus consequences

A file photo showing a farm worker harvestnig ripe potatoes in Egypt
Egyptian farmers are going through difficult times due to the plummeting demands on this year's bountiful potato crops, according to the Chairperson of the Farmers' Syndicate Hussein Abou-Sadam from Egypt.
This problem is one of the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Abou-Sadam told Ahram Online that “the pandemic-related restrictions [negatively] impacted sales of potato crops whether internally or externally."
“As well as, the increased cultivated space of potatoes this year in comparison to last year,” said Abou-Sadam. “The rate of potato exports dipped [this year] in comparison to last year due to lockdown measures introduced by many countries,” he added. 
According to the latest data released by the Egyptian agricultural ministry, Egypt's agricultural potato exports have always been in second place following citrus fruits.
Potato exports decreased to 677,000 tons in 2020, down from 688,000 tons in 2019. Other official figures, however indicate that despite the pandemic, Egypt has been able to export more than the average quantities of garlic, mangoes, beans, and grapes since January.
The farmers' chairperson said "Internally, the purchasing power receded," adding that the virus-related restrictions on the tourism sector and the closure of hotels, whose restaurants serve potato meals, led to a reduction in demands for the potatoes too.
Since June, hotels in Egypt are only allowed to operate with a reduced occupancy rate, provided that they obtain the necessary hygiene safety certificate required by the country's concerned authorities. 
Groups of foreign tourists are allowed entry into three coastal Egyptian governorates with the lowest coronavirus infection rates in the country – South Sinai, the Red Sea, and Matrouh.
Between rock and a hard place, many farmers this year found themselves having to choose between whether to leave their harvests to rot in their farms or to sell them at a very low price.
"The prices dipped by 50 percent and farmers have no option but to sell [their products] at loss ... it is better than failing to sell it at all .. because these vegetables are highly perishable," he added. "Others are selling them as fodders for animals … [as] the cost of warehousing the potatoes is too expensive."
The issue coincides with the harvest season of Potatoes in Upper Egypt this month.
Meanwhile, the ministry of agriculture's officials contacted by Ahram Online were not available to comment on the issue.
The farmers' chair called for the government to get those farmers offset via direct financial aid, in addition to applying a contract farming policy - whereby agricultural production is carried out as per a prior agreement - to spare the farmers such problems.
For six months, the country has disbursed a EGP 500 ($32) monthly allowance to irregular workers affected by the repercussions of coronavirus.
Abou-Sadam called for expanding the potato exports through attracting new markets at home and abroad.
He also called on Egyptians to change their diets and further rely on potatoes for its recommended nutritional benefits. 
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