Interview: Musa Freiji
What are the causes for Egypt’s low farming yield and how can this be increased?
MUSA FREIJI: The yield of certain crops in Egypt is very low and can be attributed to any number of reasons. Unfavourable climate conditions, such as high temperatures, are a constant challenge for cultivation. Similarly, inefficient irrigation methods and the use of improperly bred seeds can limit output or lead to waste. Misuse or insufficient use of fertilisers means crops are not always productive, which has also caused low yields.
How is the current agricultural policy affecting Egypt’s future water security?
FREIJI: I am of the opinion that the government needs a policy that looks towards producing food for its own people. Currently, they are moving increasingly towards producing certain items of food for export purposes. Most of those agriculture products are highly dependent on the use of wells or underground aquifers – in essence, Egypt exports water. The water shortage experience of Saudi Arabia will be repeated in Egypt unless the government does something about it.
Very shortly, our water sources are not replenishable and if our water is going to be used to feed Europe we will find out – the hard way – in 20 or 30 years that Egypt doesn’t have enough water to feed its people. This is particularly pressing given our increase in population is in the area of 2-3% per year. Egypt has an agricultural policy that is not conducive to production or food security, and that policy is depleting water resources for domestic use. This must change.
What further actions can ensure Egypt becomes more self-sufficient in terms of food security?
FREIJI: If I were responsible for Egypt’s agricultural policy I would not produce any food for export. I would replace those items that are being imported today, particularly wheat, with any item that is exported because we are importing wheat on a large scale. The day will come when wheat prices shoot up dramatically, and they have already started to go up every year. If the government cannot subsidise the farmer, the government can easily protect the imported product, whether it’s corn, soya or wheat. These huge products should be produced in the country, because one day with the increase in population in the whole world, we are going to find, obtaining our food as we are obtaining it today is not going to be as easy. The day will come when Egypt will be forced to feed its own people first and will not be able to export. India is a good example of this as they used to export oil seeds but then had to stop exporting because of domestic consumption.
How can small farmers play a larger role when it comes to Egypt’s food production?
FREIJI: Small farmers are vital suppliers for large farmers and processors. Once a protection strategy is adopted, large farmers and processors will be encouraged to invest in land reclamation, use appropriate equipment, conduct upgrades and expansions of automated systems and contract farming with small farmers.
What are some of the main challenges currently faced by commercial agricultural producers?
FREIJI: The main challenge facing commercial agricultural producers is the reduction of tariffs on imported products. Local supply chains are rated rather low because of the lack of consistent economic policies being adopted by governments.
There is a lack of total coherent and consistent strategies by governments that prevent commercial agricultural producers from investing at full scale. Also, because of the high priority that the government is giving to wheat imports, ships that are not carrying wheat can wait in queue for a long time, on average of 10 days before being allowed to unload.
This amount of time can be very harmful for importers as they would like to unload as soon as possible. However that cannot be resolved with the government further increasing its dependence on the import of wheat.
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