Egypt country overview

The economy of Egypt

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

Egypt information index

Agriculture, fishing and forestry of Egypt

Approximately 96 percent of Egypt’s total area is comprised of desert, resulting in a scarcity of forests, meadows, and pastures. This places a significant burden on the limited arable land, which only accounts for about 3 percent of the country’s total area. However, despite its small size, this fertile land is able to sustain an average of 8 persons per acre (20 per hectare) and is cultivated multiple times a year.

Agriculture remains a crucial sector in the Egyptian economy, contributing nearly one-eighth of the GDP and employing approximately one-fourth of the labor force. Additionally, agricultural exports play a significant role in providing the country with foreign exchange. Due to the rapid increase in Egypt’s population, cultivation has intensified to a degree rarely seen elsewhere. Substantial investments have been made in infrastructure such as canals, drains, dams, water pumps, and barrages. Skilled labor, commercial fertilizers, and pesticides are also heavily utilized. Strict crop rotation, along with government regulations on crop allocation, varieties planted, distribution of fertilizers and pesticides, and marketing, contribute to high agricultural yields.

Unlike many other developing countries, Egyptian agriculture primarily focuses on commercial production rather than subsistence farming. Field crops account for approximately three-fourths of Egypt’s agricultural production value, while the remaining value comes from livestock products, fruits and vegetables, and other specialty crops. Egypt has two cultivation seasons, one for winter crops and another for summer crops. Cotton is the main summer field crop, employing a significant portion of the labor force and contributing substantially to export value. Egypt is the world’s leading producer of long-staple cotton, supplying around one-third of the global crop. However, Egyptian cotton production represents only a small fraction of the global yield.

Other major field crops in Egypt include corn, rice, wheat, sorghum, and fava beans. Despite a considerable output, cereal production falls short of the country’s total consumption needs, resulting in a significant annual expenditure on cereal and milling product imports. Sugarcane, tomatoes, sugar beets, potatoes, and onions are also important crops. Various types of fruit are grown, with citrus being a notable export.

Prior to the completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1970, the annual flooding and receding of the Nile River dictated the Egyptian year and controlled the lives of farmers and most Egyptians. The prosperity and continuity of the land relied on the regular behavior of the Nile. The Egyptian year was divided into three seasons named after the conditions created by the river: akhet, the flooding season; peret, the season when the land emerged from the flood; and shomu, the time when water was scarce. When the Nile followed its expected pattern, life proceeded as usual. However, when the flood failed or was excessive, it resulted in disaster.

The construction of the Aswān High Dam not only allowed for the control of the Nile’s floods but also enabled the reclamation of large areas of land for agricultural purposes. By 1975, the Aswān High Dam project had reclaimed over 1,000,000 acres (400,000 hectares) of land, in addition to converting 700,000 acres (284,000 hectares) from basin irrigation to perennial irrigation. However, during the same period, an agricultural area almost as large was lost to industrialization and urbanization. Recognizing the importance of conserving and expanding arable land, the Egyptian government has encouraged the establishment of new settlements in desert areas and has initiated projects to cultivate unproductive desert land. The New Valley project, which began in 1997, aimed to bring approximately 500,000 acres (200,000 hectares) of land in the southern Western Desert into production by utilizing water from Lake Nasser through a canal. Although the Mubarak Pumping Station, a crucial component of the project, was completed in 2005, only a fraction of the projected land area has been cultivated after two decades. Similar initiatives have been undertaken in the western delta and the Sinai Peninsula, and a project to make over 1,500,000 acres (630,000 hectares) of desert suitable for cultivation was launched in 2015.

Egypt has achieved notable success in land reform. In 1952, a limit of 200 acres (80 hectares) was imposed on individual land ownership, which was subsequently reduced to 100 acres (40 hectares) in 1961 and further lowered to 50 acres (20 hectares) in 1969. By 1975, owners with 50 acres or more held less than one-eighth of the total cultivated area. The success of Egyptian land reform is evident in the significant increase in land yields since 1952. This can be attributed, in part, to various complementary measures of agrarian reform, such as land tenure regulation and rent control, which accompanied the redistribution of land. Rent control no longer applies to land and new constructions but remains in effect for older real estate.

Egypt’s biological resources, primarily concentrated around the Nile, have long been a valuable asset. Apart from cultivated land, there are no forests or permanent vegetation of economic significance. The most important livestock in Egypt are water buffalo, cattle, asses, goats, and sheep. Although the government has promoted animal husbandry and poultry production, growth in these sectors has been slow.

Following the construction of the Aswān High Dam, the Egyptian government encouraged the development of the fishing industry. Projects such as a fish farm and fishery complex at Lake Nasser have led to a significant increase in freshwater fish populations and annual catches. However, the construction of the Aswān High Dam has resulted in a decline in sea fish catches in the waters off the Nile delta due to changes in the flow and characteristics of the Nile water.

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