Egypt revives Western Desert agricultural undertaking

CAIRO — Egypt is reawakening a decades-old agricultural undertaking in its Western Desert because it endeavors to feed its rising inhabitants and bridge a huge hole between meals manufacturing and consumption in it.

The Toshka undertaking, Egypt’s first critical try and invade its huge desert, was launched by late President Hosni Mubarak in 1997.

The undertaking was Mubarak’s bold plan to create the New Delta in the midst of the desert and produce about financial growth that will impact constructive social change in his nation.

Mubarak spent 40 billion Egyptian kilos on the undertaking, establishing the required electrical energy vegetation and water pumping stations.

He distributed the land of the undertaking, round 540,000 acres, to native and Arab traders, hoping the personal sector would drive reclamation efforts in it and spare his authorities the burden of offering the investments wanted by it.

A number of years later, nonetheless, the undertaking got here to a screeching halt.

Mubarak-era ministers attribute the failure of the undertaking to the dearth of vital investments and political will.

The undertaking had slipped into oblivion since then, being overtopped by Egypt’s political developments, together with Mubarak’s 2011 downfall and the turmoil that swept via it after this.

Nonetheless, in October 2020, incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered the revival of the undertaking and specified 6.four billion Egyptian kilos (round $413 million) for the wanted infrastructure, respiratory new life into nationwide hopes for turning the desert inexperienced.

“Reclaiming extra land, together with within the desert, has all the time been an necessary technique to improve meals manufacturing,” Essam Seyam, an agricultural economics professor at Cairo University, instructed Al-Monitor.

The undertaking is just a small element within the bigger image of Egypt’s wrestle to safe meals for its rising inhabitants and cut back meals imports.

Egypt was as soon as the breadbasket of the Roman Empire. Now, nonetheless, it’s the world’s largest wheat importer.

The Arab nation’s record of meals imports is infinite, and invading the desert has develop into one in every of its most necessary choices to feed the rising inhabitants, specialists like Seyam say.

Located round 225 kilometers southwest of the Upper Egyptian metropolis of Aswan, Toshka will act as a hyperlink between a number of Western Desert oases.

The undertaking will give attention to the manufacturing of necessary crops corresponding to wheat, maize, cotton and oil.  

It may also embody the Middle East’s largest date palm farm that may cowl 37,000 acres.

The farm will comprise 2.three million date palms, 1.35 million of which have already been planted over 21,000 acres.

Sisi’s agricultural growth plan goals to compensate for the land Egypt misplaced up to now many years within the Nile Valley and Delta to its city crush and produce extra meals for the nation’s rising inhabitants.

The scheme aspires to extend Egypt’s farmland to round 9.5 million acres from Eight million acres at current.

It is to be carried out throughout Egypt, together with within the Sinai Peninsula and in different elements of the Western Desert.

One of the tasks throughout the growth plan is positioned within the northwestern a part of Egypt.

Extending over half 1,000,000 acres of land, the undertaking, referred to as Future of Egypt, has already begun yielding produce.

A contemporary street community was established near the undertaking to ease the transport of its produce to totally different cities.

Another undertaking consists of the institution of 100,000 greenhouses in numerous elements of Egypt for the manufacturing of greens and fruit.

“Agricultural expansion projects within this plan are very important for increasing the national food production, given Egypt’s growing population,” Naeem Moselhi, an adviser to the minister of agriculture and land reclamation, instructed Al-Monitor. “These projects are also important for reducing food imports.”

Egypt misplaced a few of its most fertile land within the Nile Valley and Delta resulting from its city growth over the many years.

The Arab nation has misplaced round 400,000 acres of farmland since 1980, together with 90,000 acres since 2011, in keeping with Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli.

Sisi expressed shock on the tempo of farmland destruction in August 2020 when he ordered the Egyptian military to take away buildings constructed illegally on farmland.

In late December 2021, he suggested his countrymen to cease establishing residential buildings and save their cash within the nation’s banks as a substitute.

Nonetheless, Egypt’s want to make up for the farmland it misplaced alongside the Nile by invading the desert will likely be removed from simple, specialists say.

Turning the sands of the desert inexperienced requires a fortune, which could decelerate progress in among the agricultural growth tasks declared by Sisi’s administration to this point, they add.

“The private sector will be instrumental in advancing reclamation projects, but after the government provides these projects with the necessary infrastructure,” Seyam stated.

Sisi invited the personal sector to accomplice together with his authorities in implementing growth tasks greater than as soon as up to now interval, together with most just lately in late December when he inaugurated a collection of latest tasks in southern Egypt.

Funding just isn’t the biggest obstacle dealing with the Egyptian chief’s aspiring agricultural growth tasks. Water is, specialists say.

With 60 billion cubic meters of annual water revenues, together with 55.5 billion cubic meters from the Nile River — a supply threatened by Ethiopia’s building of a huge dam over the Nile — Egypt has no water to spare for agriculture growth, particularly with the nation struggling a deficit of round 20 billion cubic meters.

In the previous few years, Sisi’s administration spent tens of billions of kilos on water remedy and seawater desalination vegetation to partially bridge the water deficit and make up for scarce water.

“Our limited water resources will always be a major challenge on the road to expanding farmland,” Hussein al-Atfi, the previous minister of irrigation, instructed Al-Monitor. “We can only expand this farmland by finding untraditional sources of water, including through treating wastewater.”

Most of Egypt’s agricultural growth tasks rely upon agricultural wastewater after its remedy.

Some of the farmland cultivated throughout the Toshka undertaking will rely upon overflow within the reservoir of the High Dam in southern Egypt.

This water will likely be channeled to the undertaking by the Sheikh Zayed Canal, which has a capability for five.5 billion cubic meters of water yearly, the Egyptian authorities says.

This water, it provides, will likely be sufficient to irrigate the undertaking and contribute to meals manufacturing in Egypt.

“We hope this project and others can increase the production of important crops and help us stop importing them from other countries,” Moselhi stated. 

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