Interview: Adel El Beltagy
What can be done to boost domestic production in line with rising demand for staple commodities?
ADEL EL BELTAGY: To improve food security we need to increase productivity in a sustainable way through advanced technology in breeding, biotechnology and the usage of proper agro-management techniques. We have already achieved self-sufficiency for some crops such as rice. We are likewise attempting to increase the productivity of maize in Upper and Lower Egypt by focusing on yellow maize crops.
Through the Agricultural Research Centre we are counting on advanced technology to increase the productivity per unit area for other major staple crops. If we take the case of wheat, for example, the average Egyptian consumes around 150 kg per year. We are currently 60% self-sufficient, which could be further enhanced by achieving the production levels seen in our research facilities. The gap between the laboratory and the majority of the wheat sector is currently a sizable one, at 35%. However, we can reduce that to a more reasonable spread of 15% by packaging and delivering the same types of technology, equipment and techniques to the farming communities.
To improve food security we are also working on the storage and distribution side. We can better satisfy demand by minimising post-harvest losses. Wheat provides another excellent example, as we have a goal to reduce losses from 20% of total production to 10%.
In order to improve efficiency, we must strengthen links between the farmer and the market by introducing refrigerated storage, silos, transportation, graving and processing, as well as by improving transport infrastructure, including better roads.
This is precisely what the Sustainable Agricultural Strategy 2030 intends to accomplish. Ultimately, the programme aims to achieve a sustainable increase in the income of farmers and a decrease in domestic prices. More broadly, the scheme should help producers be better positioned to compete, to operate and to provide for local market demand for staple crops.
By what means can greater economies of scale be achieved in Egypt’s agricultural sector?
EL BELTAGY: Having a larger and more robust agroindustrial sector will allow us to increase the volume of production as well as ensure that we are able to produce goods with added value. By doing so we will be able to both generate greater financial returns and increase social benefits by creating more employment opportunities and helping locals from the Delta region. However, this requires more land and infrastructure access. Going forward, 1m acres of newly reclaimed arable land will be devoted to agro-industrial complexes, with a goal to reach 2.5m acres outside of the Delta.
How can Egypt expand land irrigation?
EL BELTAGY: In Egypt by necessity we have one of the most organised and best optimised irrigation systems in Africa. However, given the arid climate this is not sufficient and we are continuously working to improve it. We currently have a national programme to optimise farm water usage under way, with a view to increasing the percentage of land that receives irrigation from 45% to 75%. Going forward, we may even be able to increase our target to 85% once drip irrigation and bubbler systems are safely in place. These improvements will be implemented across the whole of the Delta as well as the newly reclaimed arable areas.
One issue that we are closely monitoring is the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which will affect the flow of the Nile River. It is crucial that all of the stakeholders involved realise that water availability in Egypt is a matter of survival. We are already below 700 cu metres of water per capita, which can be categorised as water poverty. By 2025 the average share of water resources per person is projected to drop to around 500 cu metres, a level the UN defines as the water scarcity threshold. To address this, we are doing our best to cooperate with our neighbours to ensure that the water of the Nile River will continue to be shared for the good and welfare of all people.
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