Egypt has taken a step towards achieving self-sufficiency in fish production by starting the first phase of what is expected to be the largest fish farm in the Middle East.
Berket Ghalioun fish farm, which is located in the northern coastal province of Kafr el-Sheikh, is expected to account for nearly 70% of Egypt’s domestic fish consumption. It is part of a broader attempt to secure self-sufficiency and revitalise exports.
“This is a dream project that takes us many steps forward on the road to producing enough fish to meet growing consumption,” said Hamdy Badeen, head of the National Company for Fish Resources and Aquaculture, an army-backed company that first oversaw the implication of the project.
Its first phase, which was inaugurated by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on November 18, included the production of 6,000 tons of shrimp and 13,800 tons of fish every year.
When completed in a few months’ time, it is hoped that the project’s fish and shrimp hatcheries, nurseries and ponds will produce enough fish to bring Egypt close to self-sufficiency.
Egypt, which according to movement figures, consumes close to 2.4 million tons of fish every year, produces just over 60% of this amount at home. To bridge the gap, it has to pay hundreds of millions of dollars every year to import fish.
Egypt spent about $100 million to establish the new farm. Its first phase includes 4,000 acres of fish ponds, nurseries and hatcheries. The project also includes factories for the packaging of fish as well as those for the production of ice and fish fodder.
According to Kafr el-Sheikh Governor Sayed Nasr, the project has directly provided 10,000 jobs and will indirectly create 30,000 more.
“Kafr el-Sheikh workers were badly in need of these jobs,” Nasr said. “The province is among the poorest in Egypt and projects like this one are necessary if our unemployed labour will find work.”
The new fish farm is only one of many being established in Egypt and expected to be opened by the country’s president before his term comes to an end in June 2018.
Egypt, which has a population of about 96 million, imports most of its food. Available farmland, fish wealth and livestock are insufficient to satisfy domestic demand.
Heavy dependence on imports has continuously landed Egypt in trouble by draining its foreign currency reserves and causing unending food insecurity.
“Some countries take their food self-sufficiency for granted, but in Egypt a huge gap between food production and consumption makes this self-sufficiency a dream,” said Salah al-Guindi, an economics professor at Mansura University. “I think some serious action is being taken now to make this dream come true.”
One of the major actions taken is increasing agricultural output by increasing farmland. The government is reclaiming massive areas in the Western Desert. It has also established 20,000 greenhouses, out of a total of 100,000 planned to be established over the next few years.
Greenhouse cultivation, agricultural experts say, will help water-poor Egypt produce a lot of food with the smallest amounts of water.
There is also a national plan for raising meat production through the expansion of livestock breeding. Egypt has bought 24,000 head of cattle from Uruguay and Brazil with many more expected to come.
A decision by the central bank to float the Egyptian pound against foreign currencies raised the exchange rate and consequently the price of imported products. While many Egyptians have complained about their reduced spending power, one silver lining is that it has forced Egypt’s beleaguered domestic agriculture production into overdrive.
“Food self-sufficiency is not impossible to achieve as a goal and I think work being done now takes us many steps on this road,” al- Guindi said. “When achieved, this sufficiency will totally alter our economic conditions.”
Amr Emam is a Cairo-based journalist. He has contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the UN news site IRIN.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.