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- Written by Eman Jueid
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The Ministry of Agriculture, along with IFAD is working to empower the country’s farmers who make up 55 per cent of the population by encouraging more to tend to its ancient lands.
“The main goal is to improve conditions of the households, socially, economically and culturally,” says Ahmed Saleh, an agricultural engineer who heads up an IFAD project in West Noubaria on the outskirts of Alexandria, Egypt’s second city.
According to IFAD, agriculture in Egypt employs 30 per cent of the labour force ad accounts for about 13 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). It makes up 20 per cent of total exports and foreign exchange earnings.
But one of the biggest problems preventing agricultural growth is the limited availability of irrigated land and the high sensitivity to climate change, which could reduce the production of major crops by 20 per cent within the next 40 years.
The political instability that has ensued since the fall of Former President Hosni Mubarak regime has also fueled problems in Egypt’s agricultural sector. Prices of agricultural goods soared following the disruption to the country’s transport networks. The depreciation of the currency, higher fuel prices and stockpiling by traders also caused a slowdown in exports.
“After the revolution, decrees were issued by the new government to stop exporting certain crops and we failed to export some crops to Europe and Russia,” says Ahmad Abu Yazeed, chairman of the marketing association of Tiba.
This has lost the farmers huge contracts, including an export potato contract with Tesco, the UK’s largest food retailer.
“We have faced a lot of changes, there is a new minister every month and they do not have a good background in agriculture so things can change week to week. We need and we are waiting for political stability,” says Abu Yazeed.
One of the new decrees prevents farmers with fewer than 50 acres of land from exporting their produce abroad. Since many of the farmers in the area have on average 5 acres of land, they are limited to selling to the local market only.
Yet amid the instability and the toughening economic environment, the farmers on the West Noubaria project remain optimistic.
Since 2003 conditions have improved drastically for the inhabitants of West Noubaria. The project has been funded primarily by Italian Debt Swap (IDS) which has provided $32m. IFAD has provided a $18.5m loan and Egypt’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has contributed $0.4m to the project that aims to benefit more than 36,000 families in the area.
One recipient is Iman Saleh, a 39-year old Egyptian who chairs the women’s association at West Noubaria. A mother of eight, her youthful face belies her hard work.
“In the beginning there was no water, schools, electricity, there was nothing. We [my husband and I] did not have a background in agriculture,” she says.
Iman and her children now work with her husband to help grow oranges, onions, garlic, beans, wheat and corn on their 5 acres of land. Her eldest children have graduated from the school of agriculture and have returned to help the family on the farm.
“I came with two bags when I moved here 15 years ago. One was filled with patience, the other with persistence. I am happy and I do not regret my decision,” she says.
This is a sentiment that is reflected with other farmers in West Noubaria, but there is still an air of insecurity. Egypt’s economy continues to struggle. With almost 300,000 Egyptians returning from Libya and other countries afflicted by the Arab Spring, there are now more jobs to find for the increasing unemployment rates.
One solution is to encourage more of the population to claim land and begin farming, to help sustain themselves, their families and their country.By Triska Hamid, Elan Magazine
This content is provided courtesy of Elan Magazine
*Photo Credit: android_man
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