Agricultural revolution in the making

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 14 May 2024

Capitalising on the large public investments in desalination plants, silos, and roads network, the Mostaqbal Misr project aims to reclaim 4.5 million feddans.

Agricultural revolution in the making


The Mostaqbal Misr (Future of Egypt) Project is one of several giant land-reclamation and agricultural-production schemes aimed at achieving self-sufficiency in food, boosting farm exports, and cutting down bills for imports.

Led by the Mostaqbal Misr Authority, the project was launched by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on Monday at a ceremony near Dabaa west of Alexandria and marking the start of the 2024 wheat harvest season.

The first phase of the project — the first part of a LE300 billion New Delta land-reclamation project — lies along the Rod Al-Farag-Dabaa Highway and aims to reclaim 1.5 million feddans of land and provide over 10,000 direct and over 350,000 indirect jobs.

During the ceremony, President Al-Sisi witnessed via video conference the opening of the harvest season at several agricultural projects elsewhere as part of the Mostaqbal Misr Project.

He also watched a documentary film on the challenges facing Egypt in the area of food sufficiency that featured the Mostaqbal Misr Project, Alongside other agricultural projects in Beni Sweif, Minya, Sinai and the Western Desert, this is adding more than 800,000 feddans to the country’s cultivated area and is designed to reclaim 4.5 million feddans (40 per cent of Egypt’s total agricultural area) by 2027.

Al-Sisi witnessed the inauguration of the harvest season in the Sadat sector farms of the project, which cover an area of 45,000 feddans and grow sugar beet, onions, potatoes, beans, strawberries, tomatoes, and sugar cane.

Al-Sisi said the state is playing an important role in agricultural development by preparing land for reclamation, modernising irrigation systems, and using high-quality seeds.

“We face the challenge of the runaway growth of population that has reached 106 million plus nine million guests and is costing Egypt $10 billion every year,” he said, adding that “as a result we need to make use of every drop of water at our disposal.”

“To do so, we need not only to use smart irrigation techniques, but also to build water treatment and desalination stations.”

In other countries where rain is abundant it is not cost-efficient to reclaim land for agricultural development, but in Egypt where rain is scare more needs to be spent on reclaiming the desert and using efficient water-management systems to increase agricultural areas, he said.

The president said that while the government is investing in desalination plants and groundwater wells to meet agricultural needs, people must also do their best to rationalise their use of water.

“By using smart irrigation techniques, we can reclaim and cultivate 400,000 feddans of land, but if we use old-fashioned techniques we can only cultivate 100,000 feddans,” he said.

He indicated that the project, which initially utilised underground water for irrigation, now uses recycled agricultural wastewater from the Al-Hammam Treatment Plant.

Al-Sisi’s comments came at a time when Egypt’s population is expected to reach 180 million by 2050 and the country could face potential water shortages due to the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Upper Nile.

Al-Sisi said some had criticised the government for building water-treatment and desalination stations in recent years. “Despite the heavy investment costs of these stations, Egypt has no other choice, and we wouldn’t be able to farm without them,” he said.

“It is true that these facilities are costly, but they are necessary in order to create new agricultural communities and create jobs.”

He said that the construction of water-desalination plants alone had cost the state LE190 billion over the last few years and added that the building of three water-recycling stations at Bahr Al-Baqar and Al-Hammam had led to generating six billion cubic metres of water.

“Building these stations is costly, but it is also necessary to compensate for the shortage of water and meet the needs of the growing population,” Al-Sisi said.

Giant land-reclamation projects can push Egypt’s agricultural exports to unprecedented levels, he said, adding that “we can export crops cultivated on a newly reclaimed area of 400,000 feddans, and we can use the foreign exchange received from this to import other crops we need like wheat.”

The president also said that the government is encouraging the private sector to invest in land reclamation and agricultural production.

“But I challenge the private sector to implement giant reclamation projects like the ones the government is doing,” he said, adding that “a project of this size cannot be carried out by the private sector alone because the mechanisms of irrigation and the planning of crops need to be centralised and controlled by the state.”

He stressed that the government will be opening the door wide for the private sector to tap land-reclamation projects on a grand scale. “We will be offering a lot of incentives to the private sector, like building networks of roads to serve newly reclaimed land and providing water for agricultural purposes,” he said.

The president emphasised the importance of achieving self-sufficiency in wheat as it is a strategic crop for Egypt. “As you know, we import almost half of our needs of wheat, but through land-reclamation projects we want to increase the area cultivated with wheat to cut imports,” he said.

As part of the project reviewed this week, 24 grain silos with a combined storage capacity of more than 100,000 tons have already been constructed and will begin operating this harvest season.

Al-Sisi said the silos are equipped with drying units to minimise post-harvest losses that can reach 25 per cent if grain is stored in inadequate warehouses.

Bahaa Al-Ghannam, CEO of the Mostaqbal Misr Project, said at the ceremony that Egypt imports 10 to 12 million tons of wheat every year. “Our projects have been able in six years to produce 1.1 million tons of wheat, which would cost $324 million to import, and we plan to cut wheat imports by half within the next six years to save foreign exchange and reduce the imports bill,” he said.

According to official data, Egyptian agricultural exports generated $9 billion in 2023, while the agricultural sector constitutes 15 per cent of the country’s GDP.

The cooperation between the Mostaqbal Misr Authority and the private sector, said Al-Ghannam, has led to securing $4.2 billion worth of exports of strategic crops and fresh fruit and vegetables.

Al-Ghannam said that the Mostaqbal Misr Project also includes an industrial zone for food manufacturing, with facilities such as a 90,000-ton refrigeration unit and factories for processing potatoes, sugar beet, and other products.

He indicated that much of the work on the giant land-reclamation projects has been completed by the Armed Forces, under which the Future of Egypt Authority is managed.

The project’s facilities and much of its agricultural land are situated along the newly constructed 120 km Road Al-Farag-New Dabaa Road, built as part of the national road network and one of the landmark infrastructure projects launched under Al-Sisi.

The road extends west out of Cairo and was also completed by the Armed Forces.

President Al-Sisi said on Monday that “when the Armed Forces built a nine-lane network of roads linking Dabaa with Wadi Al-Natrun and Alamein west of Alexandria, it faced objections from families living there.”

“But it said that these road networks are necessary because they aim to serve the transport needs of the huge agricultural investments that have been made.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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