ROME: Scaling up farming capabilities in Egypt, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has framed a long-term program to reclaim one-fifth of Egypt’s recently launched project to reclaim 1.5 million feddans (about 1.038 acres) in deserts areas.
“IFAD will participate in the project by reclaiming 200,000 to 300,000 feddans which make up around the one-fifth of the 1.5 million-feddan project,” IFAD’s program manager in Egypt Abdelhaq Hanafi told The Cairo Post in an interview at the fund’s headquarters in Rome Thursday.
The program will be carried out over two stages in the span of six years at a cost of around $140 million, Hanafi said, adding that the plots of land would be allocated in the New Valley governorate and Farafa Oasis upon a study by the Egyptian government.
“We are cooperating with Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture and the Social Fund for Development, which plays a great role in the project as well,” Hanafi continued.
In December 2015, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi launched the ambitious project to reclaim and cultivate of 1.5 million feddans nationwide, mostly in desert areas. The project, dubbed the New Egyptian Countryside, will be carried out in three phases; the first phase would reclaim 500, 000 feddans in the Farafra depression and Dakhla oasis in the Western Desert, Toshka, Qena, and Minya in Upper Egypt, as well as areas in Ismailia in the northeast.
Investing in 40 rural families
On Feb. 11, Hanafi inaugurated another project to develop underprivileged communities in 12 Egyptian governorates upon a government request.
“The Egyptian government requested that project in 2013 and we studied it within a year… the work kicked off in 2015 and was inaugurated last week,” he said in the interview.
Forty impoverished villages, where 40,000 families (280,000 people) live, were selected to receive low-interest loans worth $94.44 million including $14 million in grants, Hanafi continued.
“IFAD offered 50 percent of the grants,” Hanafi said, adding that the rest were provided by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), a U.S.-based institution concerned with pressing environmental problems.
Commenting on the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile and how it could affect agriculture in Egypt, Hanafi said developed irrigation methods are essential and people and farms should rationalize water usage.
The construction of the dam has been a high-priority for Egypt’s government, which has raised concerns it would negatively affect its water supply; Ethiopia claims the dam in its current design is necessary for its development. Both states agreed to tripartite talks that started in August 2014 and have been hosted by Sudan.
IFAD regional office in Egypt
“IFAD has decided to strengthen its activities in Egypt by opening a regional office in Cairo where I will go in the coming few weeks,” Hanafi stated.
Two years after being launched in 1978, the Fund began its activities in Egypt. Since then, 12 development projects have been established at a cost of around $800 million; eight of which have been completed.
Regarding the challenges that face the IFAD work in Egypt, Hanafi said the fund has difficulties in granting loans to low-income farmers via specialized banks, noting that Egypt’s Principle Bank for Development Agriculture and Credit has no active role although it has more than 200 branches nationwide.
“Big banks always care about major projects rather than the projects that target small farmers” Hanafi said.