On 30 October 2015, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated the 1.5m-feddan reclamation project, which is one of three important megaprojects he announced.
However, on Sunday, the president seemed not too satisfied about what the government had achieved with the project so far.
He stressed that if the New Egyptian Countryside Development (NECD) continued to work with the current rate, nothing would happen to the project, noting that he is “not happy” with the current system of allocating land areas and acres.
He added that by the end of the current month, the military and police will get involved to take the land areas back to the NECD if they are not licensed or growing any agricultural crops.
But what has the NECD implemented up until now for megaproject? And what do experts currently think about the project? Will it get established as the way the president promised?
Daily News Egypt asked experts about the project and the best ways of solving its current problems during 2017, the year of reaping the benefits of reforms, as the government called it.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has proposed the megaproject as a major idea for increasing the agricultural area in Egypt.
Al-Sisi added that the areas will be sold to people, which will make the project both an investment to the country in securing enough food for its people as well as an investment in the Egyptian economy.
The government was supposed to provide subsidised land areas to enable more purchases, and the president promised that the agricultural lands will give farmers more economic stability, as well as provide places of residence and services to them and their families.
However, on 21 October 2016, the head of New Egyptian Countryside Development (NECD), Atter Hannoura, announced the offering of 500,000 feddans as part of the project’s first phase, at a price of EGP 5,000 per feddan.
And in spite of the efforts Hannoura put into the project, some experts believe there are lots of questions about the project that must be answered.
The executive chairperson of Union Capital Incorporated (UC), Hany Tawfik, said that the government did not study the project well, adding that the government should have done so. He added that the government should have also published the results of the study to be accessible by anyone belonging to the society, experts as well as investors.
He explained that no one from the government has created or released any feasibility studies to the public, which does not reflect transparency from their end.
Tawfik said that if the government wants to grow wheat, it would not be the best idea, because importing it will save far more for the country, which it needs in the current situation. He also explained that the biggest wheat exporters rely on growing wheat by utilising rain, which reduces the costs of growing it and, consequently, its price.
No one knows what the government wants to plant on the 1.5m feddans, and the government has to tell us what it wants to gain from the project as a final result, either by helping to guarantee self-sustainability or by exporting to create a source of foreign currency, said Tawfik.
It is worth mentioning that the NECD is willing to sign an agreement with Wageningen University to plan for the 1.5m-feddan reclamation project, according to Hannoura.
He added that Wageningen University is the only higher education institution in the Netherlands that focuses specifically on healthy food and the living environment and that it should help the government to plan the project.
Hannoura stated in November 2016 that planning the project is what the company will do in order to prevent the unstudied planting of unnecessary plants that will waste a lot of the groundwater used for irrigation, which the project is mainly relying on.
He believes that plants that consume high quantities of water should not be allowed. Instead, NECD will study which plants are suitable to be planted and which are not, according to available groundwater and people’s needs.
Hannoura also wanted to help the investors in financing their own projects. He said that the company asked the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to provide financing for small investors, explaining that the company will also negotiate with the Social Fund for Development (SFD) for the same purpose.
However, all of the previous efforts seemed not enough to help the project get finished at the rate Al-Sisi wants.
In his speech last week, Al-Sisi seemed upset about the current situation of the project. He added that the current rate of getting the work done is not enough, adding that if the current situation continues, the project will never see the light.
The president ordered the army and police to reclaim any unlicensed lands, adding that the people have to legalise the land areas they have taken.
He noted that the current month is the deadline for them to get licenses for their land areas.
Hannoura said that the government has taken back approximately 40,000 unlicensed feddans in Al Moghra and in the governorate of Al Minya.
He added that the company will ask the government to use satellites to identify unlicensed lands by the end of the current month.
Hannoura added that the government will provide some land for the people in Ramadan.
The company wants to guarantee the project’s sustainability before exiting as a governmental company, Hannoura noted.
From another point of view, Gamal Seyam, a professor of agricultural economics at Cairo University, has previously told Daily News Egypt that the project up until now is “characterised by chaos and is improvised to a large extent.”
He criticised the lack of transparency of the projects, adding that the project’s vision is not yet clear and does not have a specific target or goal.
He believes that the government must make sure the project is transparent and that it must have all of its studies available for experts and investors.
However, the former minister of irrigation, Nasr Allam, is not satisfied regarding the actions the government is implementing up until now.
In spite of presidential statements, the real situation of land is not as good as the government is telling the people, he added.
He stated that during the past decades, Egyptian presidents announced many huge and mega projects, especially in the field of agriculture since 1952, starting with the popular land reform under former president Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Salihiya under Anwar Al-Sadat, and the popular Toshka project under former president Hosni Mubarak.
He added that the previous projects did not meet their goals, explaining that in some cases, the projects even collapsed, such as the project of Toshka.
The previous media consultant at the Ministry of Agriculture Eid Hawash has emphasised that there is no historical problems that could face the current 1.5m-feddan reclamation project. He said that “this project can’t be compared to previous projects, such as Toshka, which failed due to the absence of rigorous control and supervision, as well as other political objectives. It is not the case this time.”
He believes that the government has done many feasibility studies for the project to ensure that it will be of great success and to prevent the same thing that happened to previous projects to happen again.
The 1.5m feddans is a megaproject proposed by Al-Sisi. This project came alongside other projects, such as the New Suez Canal and developing its zone; developing the golden triangle; and establishing the New Administrative Capital.
The megaprojects are supposed to improve the current economic situation, create job opportunities, and increase the GDP growth rate, as the president announced when he came to office—which, in his opinion, would meet the people’s calls for reforms that resulted in the January 25 revolution.