Jan 12 2010
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Egypt to grow wheat in Uganda
Egypt, the world's largest importer of wheat at approximately 7 million tons per annum, has announced several strategic partnerships to increase its food security.
Akila Hamza, coordinator of the Food Security Information Center (FSIC), stated that a Food Security Policy Board has recently been set up to coordinate policy to strengthen Egypt's food security.
The FSIC, established two years ago, "surveys different governorates to establish their vulnerability [to food shortages]," Hamza said, "and studies the impact of the international food crisis on Egypt."
Egypt is currently experiencing less pressure from a population that relies heavily on government-subsidized bread than during the height of the shortage, which saw Egyptians rioting as the government failed to meet demand. However, the recent announcement to cultivate wheat in Uganda, a country 3,000 kilometers away reflects a global trend of establishing agricultural partnerships with distant countries.
Rather than relying on agriculturally wealthy countries to simply export food products, countries across Asia and the Middle East have begun purchasing land designated exclusively for cultivation of crops that will go directly to them.
Whistle-blowers refer to an international "land grab," the title of a recent publication by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a research center in Washington DC.
Groups such as Grain, an international NGO that compiles information on such land purchases, state "concern about farmers' control over biodiversity and local knowledge" and criticize more highly developed countries from exploiting nations unable to meet domestic food demand but desperate for international investment.
However, proponents of agricultural partnerships describe a relationship of mutual benefit, wherein the country in need of food has greater incentive to share its expertise or technology with the country growing the crops. Hamza of the FSIC stated her organization's commitment to "share our experience."
The Sudanese government has positioned itself as prime location for cultivating food, with countries from Italy to Korea establishing agricultural partnerships, Sudan's minister for finance told Bloomberg in December.
Other African countries also hope to benefit from growing demand for food in countries where agricultural output is low or land has been converted to other uses. Egypt has set up similar farms for corn in Zambia, rice in Niger and vegetables in Tanzania, Abdelaziz El-Deeb, an official at the Ministry of Agriculture, told Reuters last June when the move to grow wheat in Uganda was first considered.
However, some in Egypt have questioned the decision to rely on external sources of food, even from the relatively secure source of land purchased and managed by Egypt. A study published in 2005 by the World Bank in partnership with the Ministry of Housing, entitled "Protecting Agricultural Land from Urbanization" explored the effects of urbanization in the fertile Nile valley.
Although years of government initiatives to develop housing in desert land in order to preserve valuable arable land have moved many Egyptians off farmland, the unfulfilled demand for housing remains, forcing illegal or informal construction to continue wherever people can find space, often on former fields.
Facing the reality of shrinking land resources, private companies in Egypt have followed the government's lead and begun investing in agricultural land abroad. Last February Citadel Capital, an Egyptian private equity firm, purchased 250,000 acres of land in Sudan on a 99-year lease.
Managing director and co-founder Hisham El-Khazindar told Bloomberg in May that the company, through its subsidiary Sabina, intends to cultivate maize, sorghum and sugar. Citadel was unavailable for comment on whether the crops were intended for sale in Egypt or on the international market.
Other Egyptian firms have planned similar initiatives in Sudan, with investment bank Beltone Financial investing $1 billion in agricultural products in a joint venture with Kenana Sugar Company of Sudan, according to their website.
Egypt's expansion into neighboring African countries have led to light-hearted speculation that once the Egyptian population surpasses the ability of Egyptian land resources to house and feed them -- a point that many would argue was long ago overtaken -- the country will simply overpower its less populous neighbors. Initiatives like the cultivation of rice in Uganda seem to indicate that a less dramatic form of the process is already well underway.
By Annelle Sheline
© Daily News Egypt 2010
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