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.
Sandy Tolan and Charlotte Buchen’s report from Egypt for PBS NewsHour. It’s part of the “Food for 9 Billion” project, a collaboration between Homelands Productions, the Center for Investigative Reporting, PBS NewsHour and Marketplace.