Pomegranate boom in Upper Egypt

Profits from enhanced agricultural practices renew small farmers’ hopes for prosperity


Farmer checking his pomegranate fruits

Al Badary is a village in the heart of Assiut governorate in Upper Egypt. The small village made it to the news headlines in the past when the raging fire of vengeance between competing tribes spread wreaking havoc in the area.

Highlights

  • Pesticide residual tests conducted by labs in Spain indicated that 85 per cent of sample pomegranates produced by 23 small farmers, from Al Badary village, were compliant with EU regulations.
  • SALASEL directly assisted over 180 farmers of the farmers' associations in Badary, Refaa el Tahtawy, Sahel Selim and el Doweir to improve their production, cultivation practices and receive extensive marketing guidance and support. Together those farmers grow around 750 feddans of pomegranate
  • SALASEL embarked on a pilot programme to promote pomegranate aril production, building the capacity of 30 women in Minya to master this skill. It brokered a deal to supply one metric ton of pomegranate arils to a major processor, adding value to the crop and creating new job opportunities

Recently, the name of the village is circulating in local news, telling a totally different story: results of pesticide residual tests indicate that the majority of pomegranates produced by Al Badary’s small farmers were compliant with European Union regulations.

This major breakthrough for the farmers and the region renewed hope for increased profits and new business. It came at a much needed time following a decade of steady decline in exports and local sales of the fleshy sweet red and lightly acidic fruit.

“These shrubs are dear to me like my own children,” says Mohamed Abd El Rahman. “For more than twenty years I have been caring for them, pruning, feeding, and yes … loving them.”

Abd El Rahman, a founding member of Al Badary farmers’ association, explains that pomegranates had a promising market locally and internationally, especially that its seeds and thick reddish skin are widely used in the pharmaceutical and dyeing industries.

Despite this, exporters and local traders were turning away from buying their fruits because of their heavy use of pesticides and outdated pruning techniques.

In Assiut, a central Upper Egyptian governorate, government records show that farmers cultivate pomegranate shrubs over an area exceeding ten thousand feddans (1 feddan=4,200SQM), making it the highest pomegranate concentration in the world and a strategic crop for the country.

Upper Egypt disproportionately houses around 66% of Egypt’s extreme poor and 95% of the country's poorest villages.

One major reason for the widespread poverty is land fragmentation, and the inability of small holders, with less than two feddans ownership on average, to produce high quality crops, especially with the absence of quality extension services and market guidance. Worse yet is farmers’ inability to trade their crops as a collective body resulting in middlemen getting their produce at the lowest possible prices.

In close cooperation with the government, UNDP teamed up with three other UN agencies to start the “Pro-poor Horticulture Value Chains in Upper Egypt (SALASEL) to address the problem. The USD7.5 million programme funded by the MDG fund employs a market oriented approach to improve extension services and ‘value chains’ for small farms, hence the name SALASEL, which means ‘chains’ in Arabic.

The programme links the introduction of advanced best practices in agriculture, which enhance efficiency and productivity of small farmers are directly to effective marketing of their produce with a focus on promoting group and contract farming.

In Assiut, UNDP and a team of dedicated agronomists and marketing experts helped local farmers to improve the crop in the current season through a comprehensive pomegranate promotion programme comprising assessments of the sector’s main problems, communication with relevant stakeholders and addressing gaps through training, and appropriate technology.

SALASEL helped link Al Badary farmers with ten exporters and local wholesale traders. They sold their produce at rates at least 50 piasters per kilo higher than the market price.

“Fifty piasters makes a big difference for me in view of the total amount we are selling," says Ahmed, a young pomegranate tenant farmer in his mid-twenties, with a radiant smile of satisfaction.

He and his fellow farmers got a good deal totalling a gross profit of EGP 4.0 million for a thousand tons of pomegranates.

“I am proud that my own crop is totally free of pesticides. I deserved a higher price for my efforts,” says Ahmed, “This year’s crop will finance my wedding.”