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The revival of “Toshka” after years of failure… Will the dream of agricultural renaissance be renewed in Egypt?

Cairo- Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has revived the faltering agricultural project “Toshka” since it was first launched 25 years ago, which made some question the feasibility of reviving the project after its failure, while others praised it as the beginning of a dream of agricultural renaissance and bridging the food gap.

During the era of the late President Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian government promoted the Toshka project – the far south of the country – to reclaim and cultivate hundreds of thousands of acres as the engine of development in the country, but many experts rejected the project at the time for technical and financial reasons.

Toshka is located in the Western Desert, about 225 km south of Aswan. And “toshka” is a Nubian word (touch ki) that means “home of the ghabeera plant”, an aromatic plant for which the region is famous, and its warm and dry climate helps speed up the maturation of the cultivated crops, according to the website of the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation.

The project was announced on January 9, 1997, and its first image is summarizing the transfer of water from Lake Nasser (south of Aswan) to a 200-meter-wide canal (the width of the Suez Canal and named after Sheikh Zayed) passing on its way to the Toshka depression and then to the three oases ( Kharga, Dakhla and Farafra) with a length of approximately 850 km as a first stage.

The objectives of the project – which cost about 7 billion pounds (a dollar equals 15.71 pounds) – were summarized in several points that have not been achieved so far:

  • Adding a new agricultural area of ​​about 600,000 acres, which could reach about one million acres in the future.
  • Establishing integrated agricultural and industrial societies based on the exploitation of primary agricultural materials, and then extending to include industries based on local raw materials, mining and energy production.
  • Establishing new urban communities to reduce the population density in the valley and the delta.
  • Opening new horizons for work for all levels of employment, in the fields of agriculture, industry, trade and exploration for minerals and raw materials.
  • Encouraging tourism activity in the region, safari tourism, medical tourism and motor rally tourism.

As for crops, farming on the waters of the Sheikh Zayed Canal is suitable for the production of several crops, such as:

  • Maize.
  • barley.
  • Wheat.
  • artichoke;
  • the strawberry.
  • grapes;

While agriculture is suitable for the water of the groundwater wells spread on both sides of the Sheikh Zayed Canal to produce several crops, such as:

  • hibiscus;
  • Peanuts.
  • Wheat.
  • citrus
  • Palm.

As for the coastal agriculture on both sides of Khor Toshka and the sides of the depressions, it is suitable for the production of several crops, such as:

  • watermelon;
  • Cantaloupe (a type of cantaloupe).

But the volume of agricultural investment since then did not exceed a few thousand acres, and many investors – Arabs and Egyptians – withdrew from the project, successively, with the exception of some companies, while industrial and tourism investment failed completely.

Over the past years, the Egyptian media has been repeating that the Toshka project is a “failure” and “illusion” and a waste of state funds, which the Egyptian authorities were keen to recall during the recent reopening of the project.

Reboot

Days before the end of last year, Sisi revived the project under the name “Toshka Al-Khair”, among a number of agricultural projects in Upper Egypt, stressing the feasibility of the project, and noting that “the water used in land reclamation is agricultural wastewater that has been treated and has become arable.” according to the standards”.

Al-Sisi said that the cost of the project and the engineering work it requires is equivalent to what has been accomplished in the High Dam project, blaming the media for not covering the project properly.

Immediately after the announcement of the revival of the old project, the local media widely celebrated the news, and considered it a new achievement in addition to President Sisi’s achievements in order to advance agriculture in Egypt, and satellite channels dedicated their programs to hosting officials, experts and stakeholders to talk about Egypt’s agricultural future in light of the new project.

After re-working it, some are wondering about the feasibility of reviving the Toshka project after its failure many years ago, and what led to the failure of the huge project, despite the huge funds allocated to it. Despite government and media support as a national project, will the project achieve its desired goal by cultivating 540 thousand feddans and reaching one million feddans? And how does it contribute to closing the food gap or part of it, especially with the erosion of the agricultural area due to population growth and urban expansion?

The Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Mohamed Abdel-Aty, says that the Toshka project was seen as an investment project, but it did not achieve what the investors who are looking for a quick return and little spending, which led to the withdrawal of some and the withdrawal of land from the rest, indicating that what was planted is Only 30 thousand acres.

AndIn televised statements, The Minister of Irrigation added that the Egyptian state had spent 40 billion pounds on the Toshka project since 1997, so the state decided to intervene forcefully to make the project a success and to benefit from the billions that were pumped in, thanks to the armed forces that overcame difficulties.

Regarding the area that was cultivated, he explained that 85,000 feddans were cultivated only 3 months ago, noting that the state is now dealing with the project as a strategic project to develop the south of the valley and create job opportunities.

Reasons for tripping and chances of return

But it seems that the Egyptian government’s desire to cultivate 85,000 feddans in particular is not new. Back in 2014 – specifically on August 13 of it – then Minister of Agriculture Adel El-Beltagy revealed that the ministry would put up 85,000 feddans in Toshka (which is the same number mentioned recently), It establishes agricultural industrialization projects to increase the returns of the beneficiaries, which did not happen until the cultivation of the same area was announced a few days ago.

Among the most prominent challenges faced by the failure to complete the Toshka project – according to the Minister of Irrigation – is the lack of an electricity network, and the deterioration of the internal network of infrastructure, stressing that no investor or company can do that except for the armed forces.

In turn, Professor of Agricultural Economics at Cairo University Gamal Siam attributed the failure of the project a few years after its launch to several reasons, foremost of which was the inaccuracy of the feasibility studies at the time, and thus the investors found a reality different from those studies, in addition to the poor infrastructure, and high temperatures to about 50 degrees Celsius, the effect on agriculture and water evaporation.

What is new in the revival of the project – according to Siam’s statements to Al Jazeera Net – is that the state has laid hands on the causes of stumbling and has addressed them, by providing strong infrastructure such as electricity, roads and services, and thus the 540 thousand feddan project can be completed.

But Siam ruled out that the contribution to bridging the food gap from food security crops – such as grains and oil crops – would be significant, and would not give a material return that would cover the costs of agriculture, unless they were planted with high-value crops such as vegetables, fruits and dates, especially if they were manufactured and exported; Thus, it is unlikely that the private sector will bear the cost of growing strategic crops, because they do not cover the costs, unless the state grows them itself.

Re-promotion of the old dream

The head of the Farmers’ Syndicate, Hussein Abu Saddam, praised the revival of the project, “and benefiting from the billions of pounds that were spent over the past years in infrastructure and not wasting it,” noting that the project stopped “due to bureaucratic reasons, but now the matter is different, in light of the presence of a will and political leadership keen to overcome obstacles. and adapt it.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera Net, the Farmers Syndicate added that adding 600,000 acres to the current area of ​​10 million acres is very important, especially since basic crops such as wheat, beets and corn will be cultivated, providing job opportunities for farmers, reducing the import bill from abroad, and opening up The door to increasing the area to double in the future.

Egypt’s water needs amount to about 114 billion cubic meters annually, with an estimated deficit of 54 billion cubic meters annually, and this gap is filled by reusing water and importing agricultural crops equivalent to about 34 billion cubic meters annually, and it depends 97% on the shared water from the River Only one is the Nile River, and the per capita share of water in Egypt does not exceed 560 cubic meters annually.

For his part, the head of the Reconstruction and Agricultural Development Authority, Muhammad Al-Shahat, revealed that strategic crops – such as corn and wheat – will be planted to fill part of the food gap and reduce the import bill.

In televised statements, Al-Shahat said that it is expected to produce between one and one and a half million tons of wheat, if 500,000 feddans are cultivated, indicating that the number of workers there is 12 thousand workers.

Source : Egyptian media + The island + Social Media



Reference-www.aljazeera.net

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