On 21 May, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli and a number of cabinet ministers inaugurated the first phase of the mega national project dubbed Egypt’s Future for Agricultural Production. The project, located along the Cairo-Dabaa road in the country’s northwest, is part of the greater New Delta Development Project designed to double local agricultural production and reduce food imports.
In a speech following the inauguration ceremony, President Al-Sisi said the cost of implementing such mega agricultural development projects is “very high”. “Cultivating one million feddans costs as much as LE250 billion and could be more in the coming years due to the current global economic crisis,” said Al-Sisi, arguing that in spite of the high cost, Egypt has no option but moving on the road of implementing such projects. “Our population increased by 20 million over 10 years and this puts a lot of pressure on the state to double agricultural production to meet the food needs of this runaway growth of population,” Al-Sisi said.
Al-Sisi revealed that the project aims to reclaim 2.5 million feddans, representing 25 per cent of Egypt’s total cultivated land around the Nile Valley. Due to the importance of this giant project to the future of Egypt’s agricultural and food production, the president said he asked the Armed Forces Engineering Authority, the entity executing the project, to hasten the implementation of the remaining phases before the end of 2023 instead of its original 2024 due date. “In light of the current global food crisis, we do not have the luxury of waiting for this mega agricultural development project to be completed at the end of 2024.” In tandem with this, Al-Sisi added that Egypt aims to finalise the implementation of other agricultural projects in Toshka (near Upper Egypt’s governorate of Aswan), in Beni Sweif, Minya, and in Sinai.
The New Delta Agricultural Development Project will cost LE160 billion but could increase to LE500 billion if it is extended to reclaim three million feddans, Al-Sisi said. This is an integrated project aiming to raise cattle, produce milk, double the income of rural families, and create job opportunities, Al-Sisi said.
Minister of Agriculture Al-Sayed Al-Qusseir explained that the project will lead to reclaiming a sizable part of Egypt’s Western Desert which has been left desolate for centuries. The minister indicated “in the past, this part of Egypt was the basket of wheat and grain crops for the country and the Mediterranean region as a whole.”
Al-Qusseir said that recycled and underground water will be used to irrigate the mega project. He said modern irrigation techniques and smart and digital ways of cultivation that depend on satellite imaging will be used. “Satellite images of the land will help us supervise the stages of crop growing, its needs of fertilisers and seeds, and devise new more productive varieties,” Al-Qusseir said.
Al-Qusseir clarified that “mechanisation will be used on a large scale in Egypt’s Future for Agricultural Production. The project is in partnership with private investors who use mechanisation in reclaiming large areas of land, which is different from the old Nile Delta areas where the land is fragmented into small plots,” Al-Qusseir said.
He noted that the greater New Delta Agricultural Development Project is part of the agricultural sector’s vision and strategy for 2030. “This is part of agricultural horizontal expansion projects which aim to reclaim large areas of Egypt’s deserts and set up new rural communities there,” said Al-Qusseir, explaining that in addition to the two million feddans in the greater New Delta Agricultural Development Project, 1.1 million feddans will be reclaimed in the southern project of Toshka, 456,000 feddans in North and Middle Sinai, 1.5 million feddans in the new Egyptian Countryside Development Project, and 650,000 feddans in other projects in Upper Egypt and New Valley governorates.
Minister of Internal Trade and Supply Ali Moselhi said the country’s mega agricultural development projects are necessary to increase the country’s food production, particularly wheat and grain crops. “At the present time, Egypt is producing three million tonnes of wheat and this will be added to a stock of four million tonnes,” said Moselhi, indicating that hopes are high that agricultural reclamation and production projects will enable Egypt to cover 65 per cent of its needs of wheat in three years, compared to the current 50 per cent.
Project director Bahaa Al-Ghannam indicated that the four-stage Egypt’s Future for Agricultural Development Project will help contribute to providing several agricultural crops needed in the country, particularly wheat. The first phase of this project has already been implemented over an area of 34,000 feddans, and that the second stage, which will be completed in October, will reclaim 300,000 feddans, said Al-Ghannam, adding that as for the third and fourth phases, these will be completed by July 2023 and July 2024, respectively, covering an area of 700,000 feddans.
Al-Ghannam indicated that the project, which is located along the Al-Dabaa Axis, one of the recently overhauled roads in the country’s national road network, is situated near export ports, airports, industrial areas, and a number of main roads and axes.
Given the project’s proximity to the Road Al-Farag and Al-Dabaa highways, the transfer and access of agricultural products from its lands to all areas countrywide will be easier and thus will be “a huge addition” to the Egyptian economy, Al-Ghannam added.
The project seeks to reduce the bill of Egypt’s agricultural imports, which hovers around $8 billion, said Al-Ghannam, adding that it aims to cultivate 600,000 tons of wheat in 2022 and around one million tons in 2023.
Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, relies on wheat to produce bread — a key staple of the Egyptian diet — with 80 per cent of its wheat imported from Russia and Ukraine.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.