No more black clouds: Sustainable farming in Upper Egypt

UNDP/JOSE SANCHEZ

After every harvest season, the air turns murky and grey in Egypt. This ‘black cloud’ has become a major concern of the government and the general public for its negative impact on people’s health and the environment. Burning agricultural waste has been found to be one of the main causes of this harmful pollution. Many farmers have been burning leftover straws for ages, not knowing the proper ways to dispose and/or recycle them and believing that it is actually beneficial to burn them for farming. However, this is far from true.

Studies have shown that agricultural burning leads to decreasing the organic matter of the soil and to releasing smoke that pollutes the environment and is a hazard to people’s health. Despite knowing its negative effects, tackling crop burning has been difficult as it has become a traditional practice by many farmers in Egypt.

Highlights

  • ENID implements an innovative crop residue recycling pilot project in 3 districts of Qena to stop agricultural burning, which is harmful to both people’s health and the environment.
  • With support from ENID, crop recycling has become one of the extension services provided by the local government in Qena and has plans to be widely disseminated throughout the governorate.
  • Through its sustainable agricultural activities including crop recycling, ENID has trained 1,758 people and created new employment opportunities across 20 villages in Qena.

Putting this into perspective, the Egypt Network for Integrated Development (ENID) project, which is a joint initiative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of International Cooperation, is working to change these unsustainable agricultural practices in Upper Egypt by engaging directly with the farmers and introducing new solutions.

In order to address the issue of agricultural residue burning, ENID partnered with the national Agriculture Research Centre to identify the optimal method of recycling in Upper Egypt. The project involved the farmers themselves in the interactive training and piloting processes in Qena to directly demonstrate the benefits of the new practice and the nutritious and potential economic values of the wasted straws.

In 2014, ENID has started crop recycling pilot project in 2 districts of Deshna and Farshout in Qena with support from the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development and is currently expanding its operations to Abu Teshet district with support from the UNDP New World Project funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation.

“I was burning the corn stalks before. But in this season, I produced six tons of feed-silage through ENID’s training, which saved me a lot of money for feed. I am planning to continue this process again next season.” Said Mahmood Soliman, a farmer in Abu Manaa Qebli village of Qena.

Today, the situation is changing in Qena. The project has helped to not only stop the hazardous practice of agricultural burning, but also provide farmers with new job and income opportunities from the production of compost and feed.

Seeing the economic and environmental benefits, many local farmers have widely embraced the new practice and are requesting further expansion. ENID has engaged early on with the local agricultural authorities to ensure that the practice is sustained and further scaled up to meet this growing demand.

“The crop recycling project has received more interest from the small farmers than expected, so we had to accept more people in the recent training sessions. In the future, we are aiming to scale up our recycling model in Qena with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture.” Said Dr. Dyaa Abdou, the director of ENID’s sustainable agriculture programme.

In additional to crop recycling, ENID has introduced ten other innovative and sustainable farming practices to Upper Egypt including community dairy processing, backyard safe poultry raising, rooftop gardening, integrated fish farms and farmer field schools. Through these activities, the sustainable agricultural programme of ENID has trained some 1,758 people and created new employment opportunities across 20 villages in Qena. These initiatives are gradually but surely leading to positive changes in the beliefs and behaviours of farmers in the region.

ENID is a project applying an area-based integrated development approach in Upper Egypt with activities in the area of income generation, food security, basic services and policy research. The project has received generous financial support from the UK Department for International Development, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sawiris Foundation for Social Development, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, The Coca-Cola Foundation (via the UNDP New World Project), the Ministry of International Cooperation and UN Women.