News - February 10, 2011

'Egypt has to support its farmers'

Astrid Smit

Whether or not the current situation in Egypt turns for the better, food supply in that country remains precarious with the prevailing high prices. Egypt needs to get its ducks in a row.

Bart Doorneweert, LEI researcher says: 'Egypt has a subsidy system for food consumers. If food prices are high, such as they are now, the government will have to spend a lot of money to keep consumer prices low. This subsidy was about forty percent of government expenditure two years ago; the government did not have enough money then. Partly because of this, we are involved in a research project in Egypt to find out how to improve its agricultural system.
'Big parts of Egypt have undergone very little agricultural change since the time of the pharaohs. In the farming area bordering the Nile between Sudan and Cairo, there are mainly small traditional farmers with low productivities. Inheritance, in which land is divided among the sons, has fragmented the land and lowered its productivity. Moreover, a lot of farmland has disappeared due to population growth and urbanization.

'At the same time, big companies have invested in newly developed desert areas, where big pieces of land are easy to come by.  But the lack of water is a hindrance in those areas. Therefore, there are plans to divert water from the Nile. Alterra will examine if these can be carried out in a sustainable way. The big farming complexes produce crops such as potatoes and string beans for export to the Netherlands. This results in foreign exchange but does not contribute much to the Egyptian food security situation. To overcome this obstacle, the Egyptian government has to develop a uniform rural development policy. One solution is to stimulate the small farmers to obtain higher productivity. At the same time, producer associations for collection and transaction of food have to be set up. Furthermore, farmers have to limit their use of artificial fertilizers and use more compost instead, so that the soil and the water quality will improve. All these are small steps which together will contribute in a big way to feeding 80 million people.'