Mubarak’s Agricultural Policy — It’s Complicated
Today’s Guardian has an article criticizing Mubarak-era agricultural policies. The situation is more complicated than the article suggests. The article confuses two things which should remain separate: what kinds of crops Egypt should produce, and where they should produce them. There is little reason to discourage substitution of higher value crops for lower value ones, but there are very good reasons to oppose Egypt’s land use policies under Mubarak, which encouraged inefficient reclamation and irrigation of the desert while it turned a blind eye to the illegal construction of housing on fertile Nile land, the best example being Giza. When I was a kid, and I came to Egypt in the 70’s, the trip from the Nile to the Giza pyramids took one through incredibly fertile agricultural land. Now, as everyone who has been to Cairo knows, it is a giant, urban sprawl. That, in my opinion, is the real scandal. Egypt was the 18th largest producer of wheat in the world in 2010, and its production had increased in 2010 by 25% relative to its wheat production in 1997. If we use its 2009 output, its highest year (8.5 million metric tons), increase in production since 1997 was an even more impressive 49% from 1997’s 5.7 million metric tons. If we go back to 1981, when Mubarak assumed power, Egypt produced a mere 1.9 million metric tons of wheat. So, as is much of the case with Mubarak’s legacy, it is more a case of incomplete and inefficient reform, combined with corruption, rather than complete failure.