The Toshka or New Valley Project, which aims to make Egypt self-sufficient in food, is now in the news. The Sunday Cairo Post has a significant article on President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s intentions to reverse the policies of former President Hosni Mubarak, who had turned crucial aspects of the project over to Arab princes and tycoons. The project is designed to channel water from Lake Nasser, the lake formed by the Aswan High Dam into the Western Desert in the southwest of the country to irrigate 1 million hectares and build new cities in the desert.
Since Mubarak initiated the project in 1997, much was done in the first decade, including finishing the world’s largest pumping station and the first phase of the Sheikh Zayed Canal, over 50 kilometers of which has been completed. This canal has a cross-section twice that of the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, is fully lined with a special type of cement, and is designed to carry water from the pumping station on Lake Nasser to irrigate a million hectares of land. Over LE7 billion Egyptian pounds ($1 billion) have already been spent. But the rest of the project was stalled because Mubarak turned over most of the land to Arab princes and tycoons, who for years have done nothing.
Under President el-Sisi’s direction, the Ministry of Agriculture now has a plan to distribute 50% of the total lands among graduated youth by giving them five feddans each. (1 feddan equals 0.42 hectare and 1.038 acres). The Long Live Egypt Fund, established in July by President el-Sisi, is set to finance the lands allocated to the youth.
As for the tycoons, KADCO, owned by Saudi royal family member El-Waleed bin Talal, is one of three main companies which each received 100,000 feddans to be cultivated. Egyptian authorities withdrew 75,000 feddans from KADCO in April 2011 after it had only reclaimed 17,000 feddans and cultivated 3,000 feddans. The companies have three years to present and implement concrete plans.
The project now aims to reclaim 108,000 feddans in the first phase, which will eventually increase to 4 million feddans with the purpose of achieving food self-efficiency. As of 2014, only 55,000 feddans were cultivated. The first phase is to be finished within a year. Egypt’s population of 87 million lives on only 5.3% of the nation’s land, in the Nile Delta and Valley. It is hoped that 20% of the Egyptian population will live in the new lands. Minister of Irrigation Hossam Moghazy said, “This project is not about irrigation and agriculture; it is a developmental project to get out of the narrow valley to the vast desert, which covers about 60% of Egypt.”
Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the former Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources who helped initiate the project in 1997, said that reviving Toshka is “a great step, as we have already spent a lot of money on the agricultural infrastructure. Agricultural expansion is the most important part of the project, and it has stalled for a while though its infrastructure, like the Sheikh Zayed Canal, has been prepared.”
“The agricultural expansion in Toshka will depend on modern irrigation [spray and drip] instead of flood irrigation” which consumes a lot of water, professor of geology and water resources in Cairo University Abbas Sharaky told Al-Nahar TV channel.
In the past there was no effort to build political support among the population, resulting in “no societal acceptance” for the project, said economic and agricultural expert Sherif Fayad, adding that the political parties and civil society, at that time, did not promote or encourage the Toshka project, which had contributed to the decline of public interest in the project. “The lands were distributed among big investors who were not serious in reclamation expansion. Besides, they cultivated low-yielding crops that consumed too much water,” said Fayad.
Now there is obviously an effort to build support. Popular TV anchor Moataz Abdel Fatah produced a program when he visited Toshka on Aug. 14. The program interviewed local people who pointed out the need to establish an actual community with proper facilities. “If we built an urban community [in Toshka], it will help residents who are searching for job opportunities to come as they will find all services they will need, like schools, houses, hospitals and others,” one resident explained.
To create real communities in Toshka, the state should encourage settlers by providing other infrastructure like “water, electricity, roads, airports and sanitation,” according to Fayed. “The state should view the revived project with a new economic philosophy and vision to best utilizes resources there in Toshka,” said Fayed. He continued, “the agricultural sector of the project should adopt the approach of cultivating high-yield crops that do not waste a lot of water,” suggesting palm trees, dates and grapes, which do not require much water for irrigation. This he said requires the state to adopt legislative facilities, as well as provide banks and farmers’ unions that can help youth with needed tools, fertilizers, and pesticides.
The new policy is a dramatic shift from that of Mubarak who totally reversed the policy of the period of Gamal Abdel Nasser, including Nasser’s land reform policy which had given farmers their own land. Now large holdings have been created that were devoted to export crops. From 1996 exports of food grew from $350.6 million to $4.086 billion in 2011! The result was that Egypt ceased to produce its own food and became the world’s largest importer. Imports went from roughly $3 billion to $12 billion in that same period.
82% of Egyptians Approve of El-Sisi’s Performance
If you fight for your country’s development the people will support you. The Cairo Post report that after being in office for 80 days, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has an 82% approval rating, and only 8% disapprove, the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) reported, based on a telephone poll of over 2,000 persons. If Sisi were to run again in an election today, 78% said they would vote for him, with 11% against him, and 11% undecided
The support for el-Sisi should not surprise anyone since he is fighting for the development of the nation. Speaking at a seminar yesterday, appropriately entitled, “Egypt and the Launch Towards the Future” el-Sisi paid tribute to what he said were the unprecedented achievements made by the Armed Forces in the housing, transport, and road-building fields and called for implementing the New Suez Canal on time. “We need to build our country and we need the poor to live…. We will not wait for 10 or 20 years until we get out from the current difficult economic situation,” he said, according to Egypt’s State Information Service.
Maj. Gen. Kamel al-Waziri, chief of the Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces, said that the New Suez Canal dredging program will start today. This is the second stage of the digging which seeks to double the capacity of the canal below the Bitter Lakes to the Red Sea through widening the old canal. North of the lakes, a new canal is being dug parallel to the old one. Suez Canal Authority Chief Mohab Mamish Al-Masry Al-Youm announced that 25,000 workers are now taking part in the digging of the canal.
The Governor of the Central Bank of Egypt Hisham Ramez announced that 6 million tax-exempt Suez Canal debt certificates are ready and will be issued after they receive the presidential decree. The certificates are in Egpytian pounds and only issued to Egyptian citizens. “Egyptians can’t trade it among each other and the certificate will be issued in the name of the purchaser,” Ramez said. This will obviously prevent speculation on the certificates.
Iran Keen on Seeing Egypt Revive International and Regional Role
It is crucial for the defeat of the British imperial policy of perpetual war in the Middle East and North Africa region that full cooperation between Iran and Egypt is established, especially now that Egypt is part of the emerging alliance of nations led by China, Russia, India, and others which are now creating a new political and economic reality. Egyptian and Iranian relations have been estranged for many years over many issues, dating back to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. With the coming to power of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi this situation could rapidly change.
On Aug. 31 an Egyptian media delegation was in Tehran where they met with Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Countries Amir Abdollhayan, who took the opportunity to release a statement that he told the delegation that Iran welcomes the expansion of its relationship with Egypt. “Iran is keen to see Egypt as a stable country, unified and developed by itself, observing the history of this country in the Arab and Muslim world,” Abdollhayan said. “Egypt has the capacity to take that role once again.”
Abdollhayan referred to his recent trip to Cairo, where he took part in the swearing-in ceremony of Egyptian President el-Sisi, and met with el-Sisi, whom he told of “the Islamic Republic of Iran’s readiness to strengthen cooperation and ties between Tehran and Cairo.”
“At the meeting, in addition to conveying the felicitation message of the Iranian President [Hassan Rouhani], Iran’s wish for the establishment of peace and stability in Egypt and welfare for the Egyptian people were also emphasized,” he added.
El-Sisi, for his part expressed appreciation for President Rouhani’s message and wished for the best for the Iranian government and people, Amir Abdollahian said. El-Sisi had sent an invitation letter to President Hassan Rouhani to attend el-Sisi’s inauguration ceremony, according to Iran’s FARS News agency. El-Sisi said that he welcomes Iran’s approach, according to Sunday’s statement.