The ‘Our Children’s Wheat’ programme, now in its second year, establishes model farms in five governorates across Egypt, with 10 each in Luxor, Aswan, Sohag and Beheira, and 30 in Minya. Each year the programme sets up new farms in the governorates, each on main roads, to maximise farmers’ exposure to the pilot sites.
The aim of the project is to improve Egypt’s self-sufficiency in wheat, its most important staple food crop, according to Ola Loutfi, corporate and government affairs manager for Egypt and Levant at Mondelez. While Egypt produces around 8m tonnes of wheat per year, it imports up to 10m tonnes more.
“We found out that farmers were using a very old planting technique, which they learned from their ancestors – this was the only way they knew. The farmers used a huge number of seeds to plant an area – when the seeds started to grow, the fields were very green, they looked nice. This was a sign for the farmers that they’d be having a good crop. And they used to irrigate the fields for six or seven hours,” said Loutfi.
“The result was, the roots of the plants were very tangled, and created a suitable environment for catching diseases and pests. They were lacking minerals from the ground, because too many seeds were growing in any one area, and there was too much water, so the roots started to go bad over time,” she added.
Care and Mondelez worked with the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture to develop a new planting system which would be effective for the country’s wheat farmers. The new process sees wheat rows elevated by 1.2m, more space between plants, and irrigation channels which are used for a maximum of three hours a day.
“The result was very healthy crops, with enough minerals in the soil to give the plants good nutrition, and not vulnerable to pests. We made around a 60% saving in seeds for planting, and more than 30% for water. And we increased the production per feddan (0.42 hectare),” Loutfi explained.
Above the saving on seeds and water, yields were also up significantly, by an average of more than 10% across the model farms which adopted the techniques, where harvests brought in around 1,200kg per feddan before the new system. According to Loutfi, one farmer from the first year saw yields rise to 2,700kg per feddan in year one, and this year to more than 4,200kg.
She said one of the biggest challenges was resistance from farmers to the new system: “When they heard about our new technique, they said they weren’t going to use it – when the wheat started to grow, the fields didn’t look very green, like they were used to. We explained this was not about how the field looks, but about the result, and told them if they didn’t see better results, we would pay them the money for their feddans.”
In fact all the farmers saw improved harvests – and as a result, became the project’s best advocates in their communities. Mondelez estimates that, beyond the farms directly involved in the scheme, another 98 farms have followed its system this year alone, and by the end of the project around 7,500 farmers will have been educated.
“The success we’ve seen during the project is making us think about the way forward, and whether we should continue the project. People just started to get to know about the project, and talk about the new techniques – we’re finding that after three years, the project will be at the peak of its success. So this is driving us to think whether we should continue, on a different angle but with the same topic of wheat harvests,” said Loutfi.