A harvest for the future

Ahmed Abdel-Hafez, Saturday 18 May 2024

Egypt’s expansive agricultural projects will open the door for self-sufficiency in strategic crops and decrease pressure on foreign exchange.

A harvest for the future


President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and government officials attended the inauguration of phase one of the harvest of a major Mostaqbal Masr (Future of Egypt) agricultural project on Monday.

The project is overseen by the , which monitors the implementation of various agricultural reclamation projects, the largest being the New Delta Project outlined in Egypt’s National Strategic Plan.

The projects implemented by the  aim to reclaim 2.2 million feddans of land, with 1.5 million feddans being targeted in the initial stage. It manages projects covering areas from the North Coast to southern Minya.

 Executive Director Bahaa Al-Ghannam told the press that the authority has increased the size of reclaimed areas on an annual basis from 30,000 feddans in 2018 to 600,000 feddans in 2023 and 800,000 feddans in 2024.

It aims to cultivate 1.6 million feddans by 2025 and 4.5 million feddans by 2027, he said.

Former UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) expert Nader Noureldin commended the  for managing diverse projects across varying climates and soil types, which allowed for the implementation of integrated crop management, he said.

The authority could cultivate sugar beet in the North Coast and sugarcane in south and west Minya, for example.

Noureldin said it was important to leverage the expertise of agricultural specialists and specialised research centres in order to learn from past mistakes.

The Toshka Project in Upper Egypt had taken over 15 years to settle on cultivating palm trees and grapes based on the climate and soil of the area, for example, whereas expert advice in the initial phase would have decreased the time taken before the project entered the production phase, he said.

The  can achieve self-sufficiency in key crops with high domestic demand, even if cultivated on relatively small areas, he stated. Cultivating 80,000 feddans of lentils could allow the state to meet local demand, while self-sufficiency in fava beans could be attained with less than 500,000 feddans.

The sugar deficit could be alleviated by planting 220,000 feddans of beets or 125,000 feddans of sugarcane, Noureldin explained.

“These projects can affect people’s lives because they will lead to a drop in the prices of staple foods, thereby increasing satisfaction, easing pressures on the state budget, and reducing the dependency on foreign currency,” he said.

He said that when visiting the  projects in March he had recommended transferring project management to an entity empowered to form partnerships with international and local organisations and which could establish independent or collaborative ventures, given the substantial budget and rapid execution involved.

Such steps would give more leverage to the projects as a whole, he added.

Noureldin also recommended formulating a robust marketing strategy prior to initiating manufacturing. He said that while the projects show significant potential for dairy and juice factories, careful market analysis is essential to assess the local market and not result in oversupply.

By understanding market dynamics, the factories could cater to specific demand deficits without disrupting market equilibrium, he added.

“These local industries will help people to break free from the constraints of currency fluctuations. In the 1960s, the government initiated a similar project, the Tahrir Directorate, and people quickly felt its positive effects on the market,” Noureldin said.

Former dean of the Faculty of Urban Planning in Cairo Abbas Al-Zaafarani said that Beheira’s Tahrir Directorate and Sharqiya’s New Salehiya Agricultural Projects had been successful, whereas it had taken about two decades for the Toshka Project to reach the production stage.

During the presidencies of former presidents Anwar Al-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s agricultural areas had increased by 2.5 million feddans following a four-decade halt in agricultural growth that had concluded with the end of the 6 October 1973 War, he explained.

However, much of this expansion had occurred through individual and private-sector initiatives. Al-Zaafarani said the state is not obliged to implement and manage large-scale projects but should rather foster an environment in which individual and private-sector participation is encouraged, with the state facilitating infrastructure development.

Agricultural projects of this magnitude should serve as learning opportunities, Al-Zaafarani said, stressing that initial success may not always be guaranteed.

Each area has its own climatic conditions, soil characteristics, and water resources, necessitating tailored approaches to water management geared towards long-term sustainability.

Some areas where the  operates rely solely on groundwater, while others depend on rain. Certain regions near the North Coast can leverage both groundwater and rain, depending on the season, he added.

Another critical factor is time, he said. Although it was initiated in 1997, the Toshka project had only started yielding positive results a few years ago. Learning from previous trial-and-error experiences would accelerate the success of the  projects, Al-Zaafarani said.

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

Short link: