|CERES No. 105/109 - October 1985 (FAO Ceres, 1985, 50 p.)|
"Agricultural mechanization is imperative... it concerns the entire future of the Egyptian economy."
Your country was one of the founders and active members of the non-aligned movement. Is it appropriate, in your view, to consider the possibility of convening a summit conference to focus primarily on promoting cooperation among countries of the South for confronting common urgent problems in development and achieving food security?
From a position of neutrality toward all states, including those involved in global conflicts, the non-aligned countries have a great and effective role to play in all spheres. There can be no doubt that the acceleration of development and the achievement of food security for many countries of the world, especially those of the South, constitute an urgent need -particularly as millions of people are in the grip of drought, starvation and death. For positive, effective action to be taken in these spheres, there is no need for the usual summit conferences: many ways of exchanging views and discussing current issues are available. Indeed, many meetings are held from time to time to this end. Of the more conspicuous instances, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India has visited Egypt. Naturally, during such visits and meetings many subjects are discussed, but development issues, being of common interest, predominate.
We naturally welcome conferences on the promotion of cooperation among countries of the South for confronting their urgent, common problems, especially those related to development. However, until the time is ripe for such conferences, we shall not sit idly by or stint in our efforts; indeed, we do work now at all levels and make use of every possible means of action.
Along with Arab and Third World countries in general, Egypt has been facing the phenomenon of relatively high population growth rates, while continuing to rely on a limited cultivated area. It is well known that your country has adopted a demographic policy designed to slow down population growth rates, as well as plans and programmes for agrarian reform and for making the best possible use of the cultivated area available-apart from expanding this area. What are the results of these policies, and what are your plans for the future?
The demographic policies have had some tangible results in reducing the population growth rates. At the same time, however, the health policies applied by the State regarding both prevention and treatment have reduced both the death rate, from 40 to 15 per thousand, and the infant mortality rate. Consequently the reduction in the rates of natural population growth has been slight, hardly perceptible. It must be noted, nevertheless, that while the policy of "guidance and orientation" designed to reduce birthrates has had positive results among the highly educated and low-income sectors of the population, it produced no results at all among the less-educated and higher-income groups. The recently established National Population Council is formulating a national strategy involving a number of plans to ensure a more successful application of effective demographic policies in Egypt.
With a steady population growth, a drastic change in consumption patterns not offset by increase in the area under cultivation, a widening gap between production and consumption which made the Government resort to imports, greatly burdening the state trade balance and balance of payments, it was imperative to concentrate on investment in land reclamation. While the area reclaimed or made arable from 1952 to the present was nearly 853 000 feddans (approximately 36 million hectares), the area reclaimed in the period 1978-80 was about 211 000 feddans (nearly 9 million hectares). Vast areas of desert land were rented, with a view to ownership, to the private sector (to societies, companies and individuals) for reclamation and cultivation. To avert the recession of cultivable land in the face of urban expansion-whether in the form of human dwellings, industrial establishments, administrative centres or public utilities-the Government has passed a number of laws banning the use of cultivable land as construction plots and the scraping off of soil used in the red brick industry. The latter law is designed to preserve the most precious element of Egypt's natural resources, agricultural land. The Government is formulating a policy of support for the production and distribution of red brick substitutes. As for banning construction on cultivable land, a substitute has been provided by the Government at attractive prices for businesses and investors - namely desert plots that are being developed, provided with utilities and infrastructure services. With businessmen thus encouraged to have their establishments on developed desert land, the cultivated area will not be put to non-agricultural uses.
In this respect, we intend in future, through the 1982/83-1986187 five-year plan, to devote certain investments to the implementation of vertical expansion programmes and projects totaling ceE64 million, for improving and maintaining cultivated land, the protection of plants, and giving more attention to the storage of crops. Another ceE 40 are earmarked in the plan for animal husbandry programmes and projects. Poultry production projects are also given prominence in the plan with a view to achieving self-sufficiency. The plan allocates ceE 60.7 million for investment in fisheries programmes and projects, apart from another ceE 83.3 million, approximately, for the consolidation of the overseas fishing fleet. Investments in the development of agricultural mechanization projects are estimated at about ceE 36 million, specifically for the development of mechanical service stations. Other investments have been directed to horizontal expansion: suspended reclamation work would be resumed for a certain area to be cultivated. Work would be resumed for a cumulative area of about 370 000 feddans (156 million ha), so that they would soon start to show a profit. Attention has been given in the plan to the allocation of adequate resources, namely ceE 1.37 billion, to essential support projects, particularly those concerning irrigation and drainage, essential for both vertical and horizontal agricultural development.
Still within this context, your country has witnessed a wave of internal migration which had an effect on the geography of population distribution in Egypt. What, precisely, was the effect of this phenomenon on the state of agriculture and food production in Egypt, and what measures is your country taking to deal with the arising problems?
Viewed at the national level, that is within the context of Egyptian society as a whole, the phenomenon has been interpreted in various ways but often as accounting for the scarcity of agricultural labour. A few, mostly academicians believe that it constitutes an absolute scarcity of agricultural labour less than it creates a pressure on the job market leading to a rise in wages in real terms. According to this view, it is mainly farmers who see the crisis as one of rising labour costs. On the other hand, most experts, both local and foreign, believe that what we have here is indeed an absolute scarcity of agricultural labour, primarily due to the migration of agricultural labourers, and that the adverse effects on Egyptian agriculture are caused by the inordinate proportions of such migration. The solution proposed, therefore, is to accelerate mechanization-a line currently adopted by the Egyptian Government in the hope that by the end of the century the cultivation of major crops will be fully mechanized.
The relatively high education rates in rural areas, coupled with an ambitious industrialization plan in the 1960s, meant that a wide section of rural children turned away from agricultural work in favour of urban jobs, whether in the public services sector or in the new industries. In the 1970s, the second largest urban migration in modern Egyptian history took place (the first was under Muhammad Ali, back in the nineteenth century). Consequently it may be stated that agricultural mechanization is imperative, that it concerns the entire future of the Egyptian economy.
Although the present annual population growth rate is 45 per cent higher than in 1965 the annual agricultural production growth rate for 1980 was only 0.04 per cent above the 1965 figure. Reduced agricultural production means a reduced per caput share of that production. The individual's food requirements supplied by the agricultural sector has greatly diminished. While the imports of agricultural commodities needed to satisfy local needs have mounted, agricultural exports have decreased. The deteriorating situation of agricultural production may be blamed on other factors than the migration of agricultural labour, such as the increasingly diminishing rate of investment in the agricultural sector. This indicates that expected margins of profit from work in this sector have gone down and have driven investment away to other sectors. Price inflexibility in the agricultural sector does not encourage the farmer or the investor to embark on expansion or even to continue his production of many crops and agricultural commodities.
To solve these problems and increase production, the State is working on an amendment of the laws governing the ownership of agricultural land, so as to allow more freedom of ownership. This would ensure adequate returns for the introduction of modern agricultural methods, for the improvement of production, and, consequently, for the suspension or reduction of the increasing rate of splitting up of agricultural holdings.
The State is also working on an amendment of the crop pricing system, especially those crops most needed by the people, such as wheat, and export crops, such as cotton. Work is also in progress for the amendment of agricultural land lease laws, for a more clearly defined investment policy, and for project evaluation by using a rationally based Comprehensive Evaluation System.
Fish is one of the food resources that assumes an increasing importance for the achievement of food security. In this respect, your country has an advantageous position, as it borders both the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, in addition to having fish resources in the Nile and in Lake Nasser. Does Egypt have any new projects for the development of the fisheries sector to help the food security effort?
To ensure food security for all citizens in Egypt, the Government is making great efforts to develop the fish production sector, which provides cheaper alternatives to both red and white meat. To create the right conditions for work, a number of laws, rules and regulations have been issued for the organization of work in such a way as to bypass all bureaucratic obstacles and adopt management by objectives to achieve high performance rates. These laws dead with Fish Cooperatives, as well as those concerning fisheries and marine wealth and the organization and management of fish farms.
Through its fisheries institutions and bodies, the State has studied the current situation in Egypt by identifying the fish reserve. This is done through the Fish Statistical Project, jointly undertaken by the State Authority for the Development of Marine Wealth and the Scientific Research Academy, and through joint projects with FAO for the development of some lakes in Egypt and fishing in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, as well as a joint project with Italy, the Mediterranean Reserve Survey.
There are feasibility studies already under way for a number of projects in Egypt, among them the fishing net factory, the new fishing vessels, modern fishing equipment and intensive fish farms. And a study has begun on the fish feed industry.
Many world economic experts point out that one of the reasons which may account for the lack of complete success in the efforts made for cooperation among countries of the South is their adoption of models and patterns that are inappropriate to their social structures and economic capabilities. Would you subscribe to this view? What could Egypt propose to Third World countries in general, and to the Arab world in particular, for establishing a basis for successful cooperation among countries of the South?
It is our view that the efforts for cooperation among countries of the South are achieving an interim, gradual success, that no full, speedy success is to be expected. For all their ideological differences, private needs, and the geographical distances separating them, these countries must endeavour to lower their global barriers to promote trade among themselves which should maintain a relatively satisfactory economic growth rate. They should also strengthen their negotiating position by establishing global economic links among countries of the South.
The cooperative efforts among countries of the South are primarily based on sharing their technical expertise and science, on the transfer of modern technology, on the implementation of joint marketing projects which should help to create a major economic bloc capable of dealing more effectively with the major industrial countries and their economic blocs, and on promoting trade both among countries of the South and between them and the industrial countries.
Successful South-South cooperation should be based on a comprehensive strategy for food self-sufficiency. This should begin with an inventory of the resources and an identification of the expertise available, the relative advantages and the kind of specialization of each Third World country, particularly the Arab countries. This is designed to ensure, as far as possible, mutual profit from the economic potential of each. Systems should be developed for maximizing the benefit reaped from external aid through negotiations held prior to the signing of aid agreements which determine to a great extent how the agreement is put to use. The beneficiaries should always bear in mind, at these negotiations, the general strategy of Third World countries to ensure the greatest possible benefit.
In the Arab world in particular, what, in your opinion, are the aspects of success and the possible reasons for failure in the fields of economic and social cooperation and integration?
Due to its geographical features, common history, spiritual values and traditions, the Arab world is integrally united and shares the same destiny. These elements should ensure success in social and economic cooperation and integration, apart from the common language of all countries of the Arab world. The difference in the geographic and climatic conditions of vast areas of the Arab world-which extends east and west, north and south-is reflected in the great diversity of agricultural production, in both plants and animals. Clearly, various grain crops are grown in different parts of the Arab world; the same is true of animals. Each Arab country has a relative advantage in producing a given product or crop; a commodity can be produced, that is, with the highest possible economic efficiency by one country and not another. These countries ultimately complement one another within a single framework of economic integration. Naturally, this should increase economic relations and cooperation among countries of the Arab world.
The reasons for failure in economic and social cooperation and integration are to be l traced to disagreements among Arab countries, regional disputes, ideological differences among Arab regimes, and the specific interests of their political parties.
As you know, FAO is marking its 40th anniversary. What is your assessment of the role played the Organization in its effort to realize its objectives? How much has your country benefitted from its activities, especially as Egypt was one of its founding states?
As is well known, FAO was established to help developing countries to improve their agricultural production by offering technical and advisory assistance, training, scholarships, and studies to aid agricultural development. Though there is no shortage of Egyptian scientists in any field, technical and scientific cooperation and exchange between Egypt and FAO are indispensable.
FAO has played an important role in Egypt. It has contributed technical assistance and consultants and established training centres, such as the Dairy Technology Training Centre and the Rice Technology Training Centre in Alexandria. It has also offered consultancies, equipment and machinery to the Cotton Grading and Testing Authority; it offered seeds and fertilizers needed for the purposes of agricultural development in Egypt.
Over the last three years, the Organization has carried out 21 projects in the sphere of agricultural technical cooperation, four other projects financed by foreign organizations, and eight projects financed by UNDP. The value of these projects was about ceE20 million over the last three years.