Pity the Nation

a documentary on Egyptian agriculture




“Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave,

eats a bread it does not harvest,

and drinks a wine that flows not from its own wine-press” 

- Khalil Gibran


Since the late 70s the Egyptian government has started the country on a course to economic liberalization. This entails the rolling back of the government's responsibilities across all public sectors, the lowering of import tariffs and an increased drive for exports. One of the sectors hardest hit by these policies is Egyptian agriculture. Due to liberalization of land laws that the government implemented in 1999, land rent prices have gone through the roof as they are now determined by the "market" rather than fixed agreements between landowners and small farmers working the land. Prior to the introduction of this new law, the state played a role in protecting small farmers from landlessness. For generations families inhabiting and working small land plots had a certain right to the land they worked. Up until 1999, if landowners wanted to move farmers from their land and use the land otherwise, they had to pay the families half the land's value. When the Egyptian authorities implemented this new land law nearly one million farmers became landless and largely left their farming practices completely. Furthermore, government subsidies with the aim of supporting agricultural production by small farmers has nearly disappeared forcing small farmers to compete with an increasing number of agri-businesses in Egypt. The government is keen on increasing exports to their northern trade partners in order to strengthen the country's GDP which strengthens the Egyptian "economy." This has meant that the government sells arable desert land to entrepreneurs at extremely low prices, while going so far as to provide subsidies per exported ton on certain produce. These policies are jeopardizing the very existence of small farmers in Egypt while tying Egyptian food prices to international markets and decreasing the possibility for Egypt to maintain food self-sufficiency. 


In "Pity The Nation" we will meet traditional farmer, Hagg Desouki, in the village of Ghnama in Egypt's nile delta. We will hear from Hagg Desouki why he has changed the types of crops he once planted and how his farming practices have changed due to the Egyptian government's change in agricultural policies. We will follow Hagg Desouki as he picks his crop of green peppers and transports them to the local vegetable market for sale on local Egyptian markets. Certain vegetables are disappearing from these markets while prices according to government statistics have increased 45% in the past year. In contrast we will visit Dina Farms one of Egypt's foremost agri-businesses located on Egypt's intensely watered Western Sahara. At Dina Farms we will see the technology-intense and labor sparse ten thousand acre farm, which is a central player in the Egyptian authorities new agenda for export driven food industry. At Dina Farms Executive Tamer Hassan will explain the logic behind the farm's drive to export and its aim in industrializing farming. The water acquifers currently watering this agri-business will soon run out. A World Bank project intends to re-route water from the nile to the dry desert lands. Meanwhile, in the delta water for Egypt's small farmers is already insufficient. Guiding us through these drastic changes in Egypt's agricultural landscape will be Dr Habib Ayeb, an expert on sociological effects of changing agricultural policies in the region.   


If the Egyptian authorities' agricultural policies continue on their current course, food prices will continue to skyrocket, making life increasingly difficult for millions of Egypt's poor. Meanwhile, the likes of Hagg Desouki will eventually disappear from their land like hundreds of thousands of farmers already have in Egypt. An uprising in the industrial town of Mahalla al-Kobra in the summer of 2008 and the most recent uprising in Egypt are direct consequences of the food policies we encounter in "Pity The Nation."



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