Over the past 40 years, Egypt has lost half a million feddans to encroachments
In a move meant to toughen up the penalties for those illegally taking over agricultural land, the government has decided to ban violators from receiving state subsidies, including on bread and fertilisers from agricultural cooperatives.
Buildings constructed illegally on agricultural land will be confiscated and hefty fines imposed on contractors.
While these penalties do not require legislative amendments, the government has decided to make legal changes to make such violations into violations of trust, said MP Amr Darwish, which are punishable by suspension from public-sector employment.
The prime minister has instructed the minister of justice to draft a bill to enforce the new penalties.
In a parliamentary session on 23 January, Darwish noted that 400 violations of agricultural land had been observed in just two months, including 200 cases in which the violators had dug foundations and erected building columns.
Worse, there were no official records of these encroachments, he added.
This could indicate that local administrations are complicit in such crimes, Darwish said, stressing that there needed to be immediate investigations into all land encroachments.
The government has decided to toughen up the penalties for agricultural land violations, even though they have declined in recent years, said Cabinet Spokesman Nader Saad.
Over the past 40 years, Egypt has lost half a million feddans to encroachments and needs LE150 billion to reclaim them.
According to the minister of agriculture, field inspections will be intensified across the country by the Central Administration for the Protection of Land to monitor land violations.
The ministry has agreed with local governors to form committees that will investigate violations, he added, saying that the fact there was no specific entity in charge of stopping violations had encouraged some people to commit such crimes.
A central committee will be formed of members from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Local Development whose main task will be to review monthly reports issued by the governorates.
The prime minister said that based on President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s directives he will be following up on these reports until land violations are completely eliminated to help to preserve Egypt’s agricultural land.
Senate member and advisor on strategic planning to the chairman of the Wafd Party Hazem Al-Guindi said that encroachments on agricultural land and building violations represented a risk to Egypt’s food security.
In January 2018, parliament approved amendments to Article 156 of the agriculture law to punish violators of Article 152 of the law with a prison sentence of no less than two years and no more than five years and a penalty of no less than LE100,000 and no more than LE5 million.
The amendment stipulates that violations be removed at the violator’s expense.
Head of the Farmers Syndicate Hussein Abu Saddam said that land encroachments were a crime against future generations, adding that the last time the penalties were toughened up to five years in jail had contributed to decreasing the problem.
But the new penalties were not enough to stop the violations, he said, due to the increasing population and the fact that many villages are not surrounded by desert land where the population can expand without encroaching on agricultural land.
He said the current laws should be enough to stop encroachments, adding that violations take different forms, including converting agricultural to arable land and using it to cultivate unsuitable crops.
Instead of threatening suspension from a public-sector job, Abu Saddam suggested toughening up the penalties and increasing public awareness about the importance of Egypt’s agricultural land through media campaigns. People should be given alternatives to build and store building materials, he said.
He added that cancelling subsidies for violators could be wrongly understood as a threat that the government plans to abolish such subsidies altogether.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.