Analysts sceptical of Egypt’s experiments in raising domestic wheat productivity

Egypt’s national center for water research said an experiment it conducted into shortening the planting time for wheat, to allow two crops to be sown in the same area per season, was successful, a claim analysts who spoke to Mada Masr had reservations about.

The winter crop is traditionally planted in November and harvested in April, but the experiment, the first harvest of which is due to be inaugurated next week, has reportedly shortened the planting time for this essential crop.

The research center has worked on the vernalization of wheat for the last four years, in an attempt to stimulate the flowering process of the crop through cooling the seeds during germination.

“I do not expect both harvests to have the same level of efficiency,” Mohamed Fathy Salem, former consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told Mada Masr. Salem wasn’t able to examine the center’s detailed research paper in order to verify its claims, but he called for a collaborative seminar to discuss the research. “Not all types of wheat respond to this process of vernalization, like in Europe,” he claimed.

Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, depends on the strategic crop to feed millions through its extensive bread subsidy system, which depends on blending imported and domestic wheat. But the government recently decided to cancel the wheat subsidy scheme, leaving farmers and low-income consumers vulnerable to global market fluctuations.

“This research, which has made a leap in wheat productivity and saved water, will help us replace foreign wheat and save hard currency,” Atef Nassar, deputy head of the Water Management Research Institute (WMRI), told Mada Masr.

Egypt’s role in the global wheat market has raised confusion over the past year, after several shipments were rejected because they allegedly didn’t meet quarantine requirements. If the experiment in increasing domestic wheat production is successful, it may lead to Egypt’s further withdrawal from the global market.

The FAO’s representative in Egypt, Hussein Gadain, is refusing to comment on the issue at present, as “there is still an ongoing experiment that will determine whether the research was successful or needs further review,” Mohamed Moussa, communications consultant at FAO told Mada Masr.

The experiment was conceived by Ali Farag at the WMRI, but several researchers at Egypt’s Agriculture Research Center, a subsidiary of the Agriculture Ministry, who spoke to Mada Masr, said that they were not privy to the research or its results.

Assad Hamada, head of the wheat research department at the Field Crops Research Institute, connected to the Agriculture Ministry, told Mada Masr the results of the research are still with the Irrigation Ministry.

Egypt has experienced growing erosion of arable land over the last few years, as illegal construction increased amid the security vacuum following the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. This impacted the amount of land allocated to wheat production, which was reduced to 12,600 square kilometers in the current fiscal year, compared to 13,500 square kilometers in 2014/15, according to a report by the United States Department of Agriculture.


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