More than one million Egyptian farmers have quit the land in the last 20 years, reshaping the country’s physical and political landscape.
One of the most potent sources of the Egyptian revolution was the fury of the poor who demanded economic security – including sufficient and affordable food. Fresh in the minds of the throngs in Tahrir Square was the food crisis of 2008, when sharp price hikes put many basic foods out of reach for the estimated 40 percent of Egyptians who live on less than $2 a day.
In the wake of the revolution, some experts in Egypt say the country is setting itself up for future food crises, and needs to protect itself by becoming more “food sovereign.” In recent years Egypt has accelerated its export-oriented agriculture, using its precious (and possibly soon-dwindling) Nile waters to grow high-value crops like strawberries and table grapes for the European market, while relying on the international market for staples like wheat.
These policies have brought in foreign exchange, but they have also forced more than a million poor peasant farmers off their land and into the cities. And, opponents argue, they have made the country as a whole more vulnerable to forces beyond its control.
Now, as Egypt prepares to elect new leaders, the country finds itself at a crossroads. Should it integrate more fully in the global economy, as the IMF recommends, or should it seek to become more self-reliant?
This piece aired on the eve of presidential elections in December 2011.
Egyptians used to grow nearly all their own food. Today, the country relies on imports. The people on the street aren’t happy.
Anger over food prices helped contribute to the toppling of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Through the story of one migrant family, we explore how displaced farmers, angry about agricultural policies that favor “crony capitalists,” now struggle to put food on the table.
Reporter: Sandy Tolan
Producer: Charlotte Buchen
Senior Producer: David Ritsher
Executive Producer: Sharon Tiller
Production Assistant: Mary Jirmanus
Camera: Charlotte Buchen
Editor: Charlotte Buchen
Local Fixer: Madiha Kassem
Additional field translation: Magdy Kassem