Special report from Egypt
Farming in Egypt is quite fascinating; there is no rain and the whole country is almost covered by desert, but agriculture still constitutes one of the pillars of the country’s economy.
Less than 6% of Egypt’s area is cultivated and inhabited, the populated areas being situated along the Nile River which crosses the country from South to North. The remainder of the country is mainly desert.
Yet land is worked intensively and yields are high. Cotton, rice, wheat, corn, sugarcane, sugar beets, onions, and beans are the principal crops. Increasingly, modern techniques are applied to producing vegetables, flowers and fruits, in addition to cotton for export. That makes agriculture a cornerstone of Egypt’s economy (20% of GDP) along with the Suez canal and tourism.
With a population of around 90 million people of whom some 30% are involved in agriculture, Egypt can’t rely only on the little land available along the Nile, and projects to invade desert areas to the east and the west have been undertaken. For instance, thousands of hectares of desert area in Western Nobariya Region, close to Alexandria, have been overtaken since almost three decades ago for graduate farmers to turn into arable land.
According to agriculture officials, this was made possible by huge investment to get water from Nile River to the desert for irrigation, with canals of as long as 100 km connecting the river to these areas. Apart from the irrigation system relying on canals connected to Nile River, forage irrigation options are also available to facilitate drop, flood, and sprinkle irrigations among others.
Ibrahim Ali Ali, who settled in Western Nobariya more than 15 years ago, now grows oranges and grapes on 5 feddans (around 2 ha), which earns him an income of 20,000 Egyptian pounds (Frw 2 million) per season. The same experience can be seen in many parts of the country as far as in Ismailia in the north-east.
Soheir Hassan, the deputy Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, who is also the head of agriculture in the Ismailia Governorate, confirms that their farming activities rely for 90% of the Nile River water to grow mainly mangoes, but also olives, citrus fruit and wheat.
Dedicated TV stations
This achievement should set an example for farmers in other parts of the continent, including Rwanda, where agricultural production is easily disrupted by excessive rain, but also by draught or irregular rains. One of the main reasons is that mechanisms to stock rainwater for agriculture are almost nonexistent and therefore, even with a good number of rivers and lakes in addition to rainfall allowing two agricultural seasons per year, farmers in many African countries can still suffer.
Obviously Egypt’s particular experience requires huge investment to modernize agriculture with irrigation and mechanization facilities. On the other hand, good policies and proper mechanisms to timely channel relevant information to beneficiaries is another major factor determining the fascinating success.
“In whatever we do, the most important part is agricultural extension,” Soheir Hassan pointed out.
Practically, this is an application of scientific research into and new knowledge of agricultural practices through farmer education aimed at improving agricultural productivity. It encompasses a wider range of communication and learning activities organized for rural farmers by facilitators from different disciplines, including agriculture, agricultural marketing, and business studies.
“In every district, there is an agriculture extension center which equips farmers with necessary skills and information on how they can improve their agriculture production,” the deputy Minister of Agriculture explains.
The North African country is divided into 27 governorates (equivalent to provinces), and Hassan points out that each of them has its research center station for agriculture.
On the other side, the extent to which Egyptians invested in agriculture media reflects how they recognize the role of effective communication for achieving great change. The country has four dedicated public TV station channels to convey programs and information to farmers. Other print and audiovisual communication materials are also widely used to educate and inform farmers.
Some people would argue that such an investment is their choice of doing their business, but what can be admired and emulated is the spirit and effective communication of conveying relevant information to farmers; rather than imposing them good plans that they sometimes don’t understand.