East Owinat. Another Toshka Farm Fiasco.

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East Owinat. Another Toshka Farm Fiasco.

Post by Hafiz »

East Owinat. Another Toshka.

Just when you thought there couldn’t be another government/military led agricultural/land reclamation fiasco (although Sisi’s 1.5 million feddans is waiting in the wings – or waiting in the out house) there is Owinat. Its 1.2 million acres maybe, although official and unofficial documents on it are scarce. The Mubarak Cabinet claimed there was a strategy plan – or words to nearly that effect – but no plan, objectives, budget, revenues, responsibility, targets or timeline have been published and never a cost benefit strategy plan.

On a slow burn (of TNT) its been going since the 80’s but maybe a fast burn now. The basic research, if any on this area was done in the early 80’s and the following 2, inglorious, reports were written – one of them never published and these seemed to kick things off – so to speak.

NOUR, S.E. et al. 1983. Hydro-agriculture Study Project, East Oweinat Region, Western Desert, Egypt – Groundwater Resources., Interim Report (he didn’t do a final report) submitted to the General Petroleum Company, Cairo.
1984. Groundwater Resources in the East Oweinat Region, Hydrogeological
Condition. Unpublished final report of General Petroleum Company, Cairo,
Egypt. (no author named).

In 1990 the only named author worked for another failure of an organization - The General Authority for Rehabilitation Projects and Agricultural Development Land Reclamation Building Dokki, Cairo Egypt. A military led organization with 50 years of failure – and no successes.

In 1996 Nour declined to disclose his employment/affiliation in an article which contained mistakes. In it he said “The Nubia Sandstone aquifer system is one of the most extensive groundwater systems in North Africa,” He was wrong it’s the largest in the world – a fact well known. After ’96 he disappears.

It seems, as far as one can tell, that he wasn’t a hydrologist nor a scientist in any area relevant to artesian water, let alone farming. He was just one of 12 million not so good but very arrogant Egyptian engineers who often think themselves capable of anything. It started with a person who was probably an oil specialist and definitely working for an oil company.

What this failure of a state owned oil company, his employer, that kicked it off knows about water and farming – you will have to ask them. It has published that this failed government oil company wanted to use its ‘skills’ by moving into irrigated farming – and walking away from its oil mess.

Like all Junta disasters in Egypt they have a long history and multiple Presidential Canonizations. East Owinat was launched in 1998 and al Ahram was dribbling at its success at that time before anything happened. 250,000 feddans how marvelous – ‘we must drive there to admire the President’s genius’. At the same time there were another 11 Agricultural Mega-Projects – must track down their cadavers. There were also 12 Mega-Industrial projects announced at the same time. All wasted money and effort. http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/Archive/1998/393/eg1.htm. Here is a list of the Imperial agricultural projects at the peak of Mubarak’s Magnificence/delusions:

“agricultural projects include the two Sheikh Zayed canals at Toshka and Defreswar, East Oweinat, the Dakhla and Bahariya oases, the Siwa development project, Al-Noqra Valley, Al-Nasr and Al-Bustan canals, projects at Darb Al-Arbaein and in the North Delta and Sinai.” I think the canny army picked up on the fire sale of a few – Toshka and Sinai.

Nothing gets changed – not even a stuck LP.

Located c 350k’s East of the center of Lake Nasser – with its own International airport (with no lights). Who funded it isn’t clear. Probably the taxpayer. Whether the military, and who else is involved, pay tax or paid for the land or infrastructure isn’t clear. Its bigger than that tosser Toshka and initially planned under the same Presidential/military/central planning/Stalin system.

The fact its in the middle of nowhere means everything has to be built from scratch and there are no opportunities/savings for extending existing farming areas/towns/electricity/housing/roads etc. All inputs have to be trucked in – including food for humans. If you expanded existing areas these costs would be lower.


Something happened to Owinat, not much, because by 2007, 383 wells had been drilled at the taxpayers expense. (by 2013 over 800 wells have been sunk). Someone was doing something but there was no evidence of the external investment that later ‘arrived’ from the UAE – brilliant farmers and food growers that they are.

Who controls Oweinat then or now isn’t clear. Whilst there is a land reclamation authority (run by a retired but alive Major General resident in the life support ward of the Maadi Military Hospital) the minutes of the chamber of commerce in Cairo imply the army actually run it and we all know their success rate – both in war and peace. https://www.amcham.org.eg/online_servic ... t_id=30859.

As ever there is confusion on responsibility – won by the organization with least skills but most power/greed. In the last year of so the Army ‘acquired’ 50-100,000 acres from that friend of Charles Prince of Wales, Saudi Prince, al Waleed (detained for corruption and a business partner of the Egyptian mistress murderer Talaat Moustafa, 2 (possibly 3) Muslim wives and a very virtuous man –at Toshka and have very large farms an hour or two north of Luxor. So the Army is on the move but not in Sinai, Yemen, the Libyan border or with terrorists who are everywhere.

A 2000 FAO report says that then there were 5 private farms and one owned by the Ministry of Agriculture at Owinat but as you will see its now different and some private and public owners, possibly all, have now moved on probably after failure. http://www.fao.org/tempref/AG/Reserved/ ... SCairo.pdf

It works, or not, as a farming area on the basis of the huge artesian water reservoir that covers this area and 4 other countries.

There is a problem. Water from the aquifer, which NASA, silly non-military fools who know nothing, say is non-renewable.
https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/image ... pts-desert So it’s a bit like that great leader Stalin and ‘his’ Aral Sea, the 4th largest source of fresh water in the world – just pump it until it goes dry. All great projects ‘need’ great men and most great projects end up in the toilet – particularly in dictatorships.

Here is the 68,000 sq k’s Aral Sea – ’68 on the left and now on the right. Water for mainly cotton – white/black gold destroyed by dictator central planning and that was a renewable water resource. The water source is depleted as well as most farming.


An aside. There is no international agreement for this aquifer which extends under 5 countries so Egypt is on a collision course with the other 4 as the largest by far ‘pumper’ and with Libya having few if any significant rivers It’s the Nile dispute all over again with Egypt, as last time, telling .the others to get lost and taking no account of exhaustible resources. Its clear where it ends, just as clear as the need to use modern drip irrigation systems to ensure the water lasts at least a few generations.

As extraction grows water quality deteriorates but knowledge of the whole system is limited except that salinity increases the further north you go and few can find any water filling the total system in the last 20-30 years – some science articles say 20,000 years. It is also likely that the areas of major extraction may create internal and underground flows in the system leading to concentration of poor water in a far away area of the smallest use (Sudan and Chad). It needs a lot of research and the Centre of Arab Civilization has contributed little – possibly nothing – and all the work is done in the West. The 12 million Egyptian engineers have better things to do. http://colinmayfield.com/public/WaterHe ... df#page=14

By 2002 the science had progressed, at a snails pace and never involving other countries in the aquifer system or international experts, and it was becoming clear that the total system supply of water was at best stable or possibly declining and not subject to new water inflows.

By 2011 Cairo academic studies had started to ring alarm bells and 85% of the water had salt levels making it unsuitable for farming. This could be dealt with, at cost, by an unspecified method. Sodium in the water also carries risks to soil and plants.
http://www.sciencepub.net/nature/ns0808 ... 8_1_17.pdf

Like Toshka its been promoted in a well lubricated Hollywood launch. The Infallible Government of Egypt said this 4 years ago (possibly on its third launch) about the project:

“Within a couple of years, the UAE companies plan to grow and sell several hundred thousand tonnes of wheat to the Cairo government — equivalent to about 10 percent of the domestic crop bought annually from farmers.”

They have failed – and failed in a big way and not for the first or last time. https://www.reuters.com/article/egypt-e ... MA20141205

4 years ago someone predicted this: ‘“They will eat the cost. It will not be profitable. It doesn’t make sense economically,” said Toby Jones, history professor at Rutgers University in the United States.” As if that ever mattered on Grand Projects.

Reuters is brutal and says this:

“Experts say growing wheat in the desert makes no economic sense given the logistical and environmental challenges.”

There is no published or news/research report that anyone has determined whether the heat and evaporation increases, and maybe sand storm increases, associated with climate change will make this project non-viable (assuming its viable without subsidies now). In fact there is no mention of climate change at all.

It grows wheat which is mad. Wheat doesn’t like extreme heat except for final ripening and not even then and is a bulky item costly to store and to transport from this end of the earth location. Egyptian wheat has zero potential for export – its just for import substitution to feed the gross carbo/bread diets of Egyptians which kills them and makes them fat. Wheat works providing you can keep your costs very low and reclaimed land and pumped water is very expensive. You also need varieties of wheat that will sell at a premium on the international market. Genetic variations help and non-tillage planting and use of high tech herbicides but what do I know compared with the hugely successful Egyptian farming/military sector. I only live in a very hot climate, little rain with bad soils that produces three times Egypt’s total wheat harvest from a farming workforce about 1% of Egypt’s.

This area has hot dry winds, the structure of the soil is problematic and high day and night temperatures must mean that evaporation rates are very bad. A recent but not fully reliable Egyptian survey of the area said “The mean monthly minimum wind velocity is 21 kmh in December and January while the mean maximum is 32 kmh in September.“ Besides increased evaporation that means their spray systems are less than effective in these winds. Spray systems in high evaporation areas make no sense at all. http://www.sciencepub.net/nature/ns0808 ... 8_1_17.pdf

It seems to be based at this stage on UAE money but the law says foreigners are prohibited from owning farming land so this is illegal and a criminal prosecution should follow. I suspect the Army and overseas partners are the ‘owners’ of this public land.

Al Dahra of the UAE (with food/farm/distribution interests in Pakistan, Morocco and the US –a bit unclear but no experience in a desert of hot climate) is one player who claims 20,000 acres in Egypt (illegal). Oddly, given what the army says about domestic sales from the project (to poor Egyptian people who just like bread and shisha) it makes a deal of its citrus exports from Egypt which might however come from farms they own in the delta – its typical vague Gulf stuff. Very oddly they say this:

“As part of a new agricultural development mega project consisting of the cultivation of about 100,000 acres of land with permanent and seasonal crops, Al Dahra is planning to increase its citrus production capacity over the coming few years.” Looks like another criminal offence coming up for Dahra at Owinat. http://www.aldahra.com/en-us/business-d ... ahra-egypt

From their desert assets they say they produce about 50,000 tons of wheat – ½ of which is for Egyptian consumption which means their exports, at max, would gross $US50 million including the costs, if any, of production and transportation to the end user. I reckon they might make a few million a year which may or may not be taxable in Egypt. Egypt imports over 60 times that value in wheat.

Al Dahra also stated they were pursuing another sand flurry in Toshka where they intend to grow wheat (there are informed voices who say the water supply at T is one of its many problems). I don’t think this went ahead because their web site doesn’t now mention it.

They also claim to produce 25,000 tons of corn from somewhere in Egypt but its difficult to trust anything they say because they produce no accounts, are evasive about profit and their staff are secret. I think the company is probably owned by the royal family of Abu Dhabi who have had a remarkable 10 years – everything they touched turned bad. Their 40 year old Chief Executive seems a royal and was a diplomat with a doctorate in History who now eats too much bread. http://www.aldahra.com/en-us/business-d ... ahra-egypt

Jenan of the UAE is also involved in the Owinat desert mirage. Here is what they say:
“Located 1,200 km south-west from Cairo near the Sudanese and Libyan borders with over 14,000 ha, Sharq Al-Owaynat project is a well-established operation (no its not), producing green fodder, corn silage, and wheat for export and the local market. This project uses the central pivot irrigation system, (not the most innovative, not invented for this desert climate and about 50 years old) also using water from the Nubian aquifer, which provides excellent quality (no it doesn’t) and quantity of water.”

I’m too lazy to fully check them out except to observe they are amateurs with no relevant experience to this demanding site about which little is known in terms of plant growth. They know a lot about press releases, glamorous websites and ‘entertaining’.

There are other dogs looking for a bone in the same area. At some point a few years ago Agip the Italian oil company got interested, in its own oil interests, and sponsored some charming mad Italians to come down and live in the desert and ‘defeat’ climate change and grow food. I assume it failed but probably not before a civil war between the Italians and then between the Italians and Egyptians. A deal of money was wasted – but its successor Eni got all the oil spoils (now seemingly in every criminal court in the world for corruption). I think the kids came from the Veneto region, which is the ‘same’ as the desert, and were university graduates with no farming backgrounds.

The Italians may have done only one thing - large elegant things were planned – but probably with scant knowledge of soil, heat, water and remoteness.


What the UAE and Army actually grow there is anyones guess. Here is a 2017 photo on Facebook of something they never mentioned – a cold/moderate climate plant – the potato with a very expensive overhead irrigation system that doesn’t do well in wind/heat/salinity/evaporation.


Bizarely here is the entrance to their International Airport. (its a commercial airport for transporting food but the Army/conscripts knows better in clipping hedges for famous visitors. There a 1 return passenger flight a week to get the elite out to Cairo/but not to Luxor or Aswan for the weekend to prevent them going mad).


Here is a conventional spray system at Owinat (but still 40 years old), note the irregular growth patterns in the field and the bleached color of whatever is growing. Doesn’t look like they know what they are doing or how to run the spray system.


They grow, probably irrigated lucerne or similar, (again off the agenda of wheat for the ‘starving’ Egyptian brothers as promised by the Army) to cut it into baled hay. Expensive green feed for animals and its expensive to transport. It can’t be exported and is a very low value added product with limited demand from cattle in Egypt owned by farmers who can afford such inputs) I know of no place on earth which grows lucerne or related for hay in 35-45C climates. Where it is hot, less hot than Egypt, they grow it only in the cooler winter/early Spring and without sand storms and related evaporation/salinity problems. Its an absurd low profit (if indeed profitable there) crop.


At the beginning the Army and its free labor were there. Here are a few conscripts planting saplings in 1998 at Owinat (sure to die (I don’t necessarily mean the conscripts) because they are too large to survive the shock of replanting in a tough soil/climate) at his Eternal Magnificences launch.


So its supply of water is an ‘issue’ its cost base must be gross, the skills to run it in heat, wind, variable water and soil quality enormous and unexplored and led by the Army of Egypt and 2 UAE idiots with absolutely no skills in farming in a desert environment and a couple of train loads of taxpayer cash (precise amount a state secret) bulking these puny weightlifters up.

Did anyone learn anything. Probably not because after this and Toshka ‘they’ are ploughing ahead without much science, no cost benefit analysis and truck loads of cash to develop the new 1.5 million feddans project in hot areas with no transport infrastructure – actually with no infrastructure at all.

All this is very odd because Egypt used to feed itself but arguably now imports more food per head (low cost/low nutrient/high volume and expensive transportation to bloat the population) than any place on earth. At the same time it used to export food and other agricultural products, including cotton, but this has not only collapsed but its getting worse and these ‘giant’ projects just don’t show up on the radar in the dwindling agricultural export of low value added, not well farmed, poorly packaged and disastrously marketed (killing customers or making them sick) agricultural products to the world market that doesn’t want them.

The fundamental problems are poor plant species, poor farmer training, lack of access to capital and wasteful government and private water systems/techniques. Marketing/processing/packaging and just producing what the western customer wants are also problems. As with Russia and China agricultural socialism/communism/central planning always fails. A diluted version in India works badly – except in alienating farmers.

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Re: East Owinat. Another Toshka Farm Fiasco.

Post by Who2 »

Could you please encapsulate all the above in a 4 lined sentence,
that might entice me to read all that, Professor ?..... 8)
"The Salvation of Mankind lies in making everything the responsibility of All"

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Re: East Owinat. Another Toshka Farm Fiasco.

Post by newcastle »

Who2 wrote:Could you please encapsulate all the above in a 4 lined sentence,
that might entice me to read all that, Professor ?..... 8)
Well...he's been away for a few weeks working on this magnum opus.

I'm rather busy at the moment (as they say) but hope to comment on Hafiz's post in due course :ct

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