Egypt strives for food security
Cairo - Egypt announced plans to double its vegetable production output in a bid to cut dependence on costly imports and increase food security.
Egypt, which imports almost 60% of its food products, said it would substantially increase vegetable crops by building 100,000 greenhouses to grow many types of produce.
Implementation of the project is to begin in November and the new greenhouses should start yielding vegetables — such as tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, cauliflower, potatoes and peas — in about 18 months, the Agriculture Ministry said.
“We have already settled on the areas where the greenhouses will be established in all provinces to start implementation,” said Ibrahim Sharaf, the Agriculture Ministry official mandated with overseeing the implementation of the project. “Crop cultivation locations will depend on the temperature needed for growth.”
Egypt will need almost $500,000 to implement the project, a further burden on the country’s limited financial resources. It said the project is indispensable to enable the country to feed its growing population and keep the lid on rising food prices.
Food prices have risen almost 40% in the last six months because of increasing demand and limited supply. The rise of the US dollar, the main import currency, against the Egyptian pound has also played a role.
Egypt cultivates around 800,000 acres of its 9 million acres of farmland with vegetables and fruit but 30-40% of output is lost because of poor transportation logistics and storage, the Agriculture Ministry said.
What remains is well below the amount of food needed in Egypt, leading Cairo to pay tens of billions of dollars a year to import food.
Agriculture experts said the new plan will help bridge the gap between production and consumption, save Egypt billions of dollars on food imports and lower prices in the local market.
“The good thing about greenhouses is that each acre of these conservatories produces crops ten times as much as the same acre of traditional farming,” said Gamal Siam, a professor of agricultural economics at Cairo University.
The greenhouses will be built on 100,000 acres of land in various provinces, the Agriculture Ministry said. The ministry added that an acre of greenhouse farming requires 40% less water for irrigation than an acre which is traditionally farmed.
Nevertheless, irrigating the additional agricultural space promises to be a challenge for water-poor Egypt, which is expected to receive reduced amounts of water from the Nile River in the coming years.
Egypt receives 55 billion cubic metres of water from the Nile annually but suffers a water deficit of nearly 20 billion cubic metres. A dam built by Ethiopia on the Nile will raise the deficit.
The new farming project will not, meanwhile, totally rid Egypt of the need for agricultural imports.
Egyptians seem incapable of reducing their desire for bread and the country imports around 12 million tonnes of wheat a year. With water scarcity increasing and the population growing 2.5% a year, Egypt will continue to be the world’s largest importer of wheat for many years, experts said.
Still, increased vegetable production will help Egypt increase food security and reduce prices to consumers.
“The greenhouses will also help us shield part of our vegetable production from the effects of climate change,” Siam said. “They are effective tools for controlling temperatures and producing crops all year round.”
Egypt expects to be hit hard by rising temperatures, especially at its coastal cities and the Nile Delta. Climate change has negatively affected farming in some provinces, with farmers reporting crop damage due to rising temperatures.
There is opposition, however, to the new project among farming specialists, especially those campaigning for organic farming and against the use of chemicals in food production.
“Greenhouse farming heavily depends on pesticides and fertiliser,” agriculture expert Ali Ibrahim said. “These chemicals have proved destructive to human health.”