Agriculture is the largest contributor to the gross domestic product of Egypt, even though less than 4 percent of the land is arable. Egypt’s 7,000 cooperatives, which have a total membership of around 5 million, are mainly related to agricultural production and marketing, but these cooperative are strictly controlled by the government.
While the political reverberations of the 2011 revolution continue to resound throughout Egypt, many of the country’s farmers are hoping positive change will reach the agricultural sector, suggests the International Labour Organization (ILO). Farmers are hoping for a change in law, which the ILO says could boost Egypt’s economy and help farmers be more profitable.
“There is too much government control and bureaucracy. We don’t have full control of our finances. We would like to see someone from the co-op be a representative in the local governorate (state),” said Ahmed El Komy, who heads a 300-member cooperative of small-scale farmers.
Farming is organized in the cooperative form of business so that small farmers can share and manage resources, infrastructure and services such as irrigation equipment, fertilizers and energy supplies. Group buying provides for better fertilizer prices, and the cost of managing and maintaining the irrigation system is spread out.
Eighteen million people live below the poverty line in Egypt, most of them in agricultural areas, according to ILO expert Huseyin Polat. There is a need for reform, to make co-ops more member-controlled rather than being an extended arm of the government,” Polat said.
Egypt’s new constitution includes a commitment to support the cooperative system—which Polat said is an ideal time to push for changes in the law and reforms within cooperatives.
Coinciding with this look to the future for cooperatives are efforts to help farmers improve their production practices and yields with several different international organizations involved, including the ILO.