Mohamed Shubek, a 47-year-old farmer living in Fayoum, nearly 100 kilometers south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, remembers when his field was productive and yields abundant. But since 2017, desertification has hit its farmland hard, making half of its 3.5 feddans (3.6 acres) infertile. The problem has spread to most of Youssef Al-Seddiq district in the governorate.
âI lost almost 60% of my harvest. I used to harvest up to ten tons of olives per feddan. This year I have only done about 150 kilograms. It’s a complete devastation, âhe said, gazing painfully at the parched and cracked surface of his small property.
Egypt is one of the world’s leading producers of table olives and its olive oil production accounts for 24.5% of world production according to the International Olive Council. However, the North African country’s olive production and its agricultural sector as a whole are plagued by climatic variations such as desertification.
Desertification is said to have an impact of 3.5 feddans per hour in Egypt. This is a staggering rate for a country where less than 3% of its land is arable. A rapidly growing population, over-cultivation, overuse of chemicals and other unsustainable farming practices, as well as climatic factors, all contribute to the problem.
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“Good for nothing land”
Farmers in Fayoum, a region known for its olives, are among the hardest hit by desertification. Shubek now lives on the financial support of his sons who have turned their backs on their father’s land and the ancestral profession of farming in favor of other sources of income. Yet he still thinks he is luckier than some of his neighbors, who own larger plots of land with even less productivity.
Emad al-Shimy is one of Shubek’s neighbors. He has 12 feddans, of which he can only use half in summer due to lack of water, and eight during the wettest winter seasons. Four feddans, he said, have been completely ruined by desertification and are barren.
âI can’t even sell them. Who would want to buy good-for-nothing land? Even if someone decides to buy it, it will be for nothing, âal-Shimy said, adding that his land was worth 500,000 Egyptian pounds ($ 31,824) just five years ago, but less than half today. ‘hui.
Like Shubek, al-Shimy’s own sons also left the village to seek work elsewhere.