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Chapter 3
Agricultural production systems


The rapid increase of the population in Egypt together with a limited cultivated area result in an acute need for additional production of various crops.

During the past century, Egypt’s population has increased more than sixfold, from 11 million in 1907 to almost 70 million at the beginning of the year 2004, while the area of cultivated land has increased from 2.25 million ha to around 3.5 million ha during the same period. The area of land per capita has fallen from 0.2 ha in 1907 to 0.05 ha at the beginning of the year 2004.

Table 5 summarizes the situation. As can be seen, the area of land per capita and the availability of water per capita are steadily declining. The situation has reached crisis proportions and it has many serious consequences.

Efforts are being focused on measures that lead to a significant increase in crop production. Among the many factors involved in achieving this aim are the balanced fertilization of different crops and the adoption of suitable fertilizer use practices.

Population, land and water per capita



Land per capita

Water per capita












5 084




2 604




1 034

Source: Hamdan (1983); Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS, 1989).

Crop production systems

The successful implementation of two agricultural strategies in the 1980s and the 1990s had a positive economic impact at both macro and sector levels. Farmers are very responsive to technology transfer, extension activities and price incentives.

The total cropped (cultivated) area increased from 4.7 million ha in 1982 to 6.5 million ha in 2003 due to an increase in cropping intensity to 180 percent. This was made possible by the cultivation of earlier maturing varieties of various crops, permitting the possibility of harvesting three crops a year. The aim is to reach a cropping intensity of 220 percent within the next 20 years. This target requires new varieties that combine earliness with higher yields.

Agricultural production can be divided into four systems, which are complementary and interrelated. They are as follows:

In Egypt, the major field crops are cotton, rice and maize in the summer rotation and wheat, berseem clover, and faba bean in the winter rotation.

Plant production contributes about 65.8 percent of the total value of agricultural GDP. The value of field crops in 1997 is estimated at about LE23.8 billion representing 38.8 percent of the total plant production value. The value of vegetables and fruits is estimated at about LE7.4 and 8.7 billion, representing 12.1 percent and 14.2 percent, respectively, of the total plant production value. The value of medicinal and aromatic plants is estimated at about LE0.44 billion representing 0.7 percent of the total value of plant production.

Cereal crops represent about 50 percent of the value of field crops, occupying about 2.72 million ha out of the total 6.5 million ha of cropped area. Wheat occupies approximately 1.05, maize 0.88, rice 0.59, sorghum 0.15 and barley 0.19 million ha (Table 6). In 1982, the total area occupied by cereal crops was estimated at about 2.03 million ha, producing 8.5 million tonnes.

Field crops: areas, yields and returns, 2002/03


(‘000 ha)




Net return




1 221




1 053

1 147

1 147





1 659

1 152





1 373




Source: National Agricultural Income, 2002; Agricultural Statistics, 2003.

Total cereal production amounted to 20.1 tonnes in 2000. Wheat production increased from 2 million tonnes in 1982 to 6.8 million tonnes in 2003 as a result of the cultivation of high yielding, long spike varieties in the context of the National Campaign for Wheat Improvement and the price incentives offered by the State to wheat growers. Maize production increased from 3.35 million tonnes in 1982 to 6 million tonnes in 2002 due to the cultivation of maize hybrids that now cover almost 70 percent of the area grown to maize. Rice production increased from 2.4 million tonnes in 1982 to 6.1 million tonnes in 2002 because of the cultivation of short duration, high yielding varieties, which are sown on almost 60 percent of the area grown to rice, in the context of the National Campaign for Rice Improvement. The increase in cereal production has had a significant impact on cereal imports and exports.

Fibre crops occupy 315 000 ha (cotton 298 200 and flax 15 750 ha). In 1993, lint cotton achieved the highest ever average yield of 19.4 kentars per ha (871 kg/ha). The production of seed cotton from 352 800 ha was similar to that produced from 0.84 million ha in the 1950s. The cotton acreage in 2003 amounted to 296 692 ha and seed cotton production was estimated at 4.9 million kentars (220 000 tonnes). The decrease in the cotton acreage, which is accompanied by an increase in the yield, has permitted an increase in the wheat acreage from 0.63 million ha in 1951 to 1.01 million ha at present.

Sugar crops occupy 147 336 ha (sugar cane 126 336 and sugar beet 21 000 ha). The average yield of sugar cane has increased from 84.7 tonnes/ha in 1982 to 121 tonnes/ha in 2001 and that of sugar beet from 31.5 tonnes/ ha in 1982 to 51 tonnes/ha in 2002. The area under sugar beet is increasing rapidly on the newly reclaimed land; it reached 630 ha in 2002 producing 188 thousand tonnes with an average yield of 35.1 tonnes/ha.

Grain legumes are grown on 156 324 ha (faba bean 123 480, lentil 4 620, and chickpeas 6 300 ha).

Oilseed crops occupy approximately 113 358 ha (soybeans 26 040 ha, sunflower 31 080 ha, sesame 30 240 and groundnut 44 520 ha).

Forage crops, which represent 18 percent of the total value of field crops, are grown on about 1.11 million ha (catch or long season berseem clover on 0.71 million ha, catch or short season berseem clover on 0.26 million ha, and alfalfa on 0.11 million ha).

Horticultural crops (vegetables and fruits) are produced in sufficient quantities to meet domestic demand and to provide some surplus for export. Vegetables are grown on about 560 000 ha and contribute 10.5 percent of the total value of horticultural crops. The main vegetable crops are potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons, beans, peas, onions, melons, garlic, peppers, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, cabbage, and leaf vegetable crops.

Fruits crop and trees for timber are grown on approximately 0.4 million ha. The main fruit crops are citrus, grapes, mangoes, dates, bananas, olives and deciduous and evergreen trees.

Medicinal, aromatic and ornamental crops represent a rapidly growing farm business of importance for both domestic and external markets. Egypt now ranks first, by international standards, in the yields of rice (9.2 tonnes/ha), sugar cane (121 tonnes/ha) and sorghum (4.6 tonnes/ha).

Cropping patterns

Several different crop rotations are followed in the Nile Valley and Delta areas, depending on the soil type and crops.

In the early 1960s, the government of Egypt regulated the area and production of many crops including cotton, wheat, rice sugar cane and onions. Ministerial decree No. 34 issued in 1968 refers. In addition, the farmer was obliged to deliver all or part of his production to the government at a fixed price, which was lower than the free market price. The government handled marketing and processing. The justification of this measure was that the agricultural sector is interrelated with other sectors of the economy. For example, a shortage in the supply of cotton would lead to considerable losses in the industrial sector. A "basic cropping pattern" was prepared by the cooperatives in each village for the agricultural year (November 1 to October 31). The system also specified the quantity, crop variety and the quantity and type of fertilizers and pesticides to be supplied to farmers for each season. The Principal Bank for Development and Agricultural Credit (PBDAC) provided all agricultural inputs. Farmers were subject to monetary penalties for violations of the cropping pattern.

These policies had negative effects on the performance of the agricultural sector. There were large transfers from the agricultural sector to other sectors.

In 1980, a significant reform of these agricultural policies was introduced in the framework of the agricultural sector strategy for the 1980s. By 1986/87 the Ministry of Agriculture had pioneered an economic reform programme, concerning prices and marketing control, delivery quotas for the main crops and reduced subsidies for inputs. It encouraged private sector investment in crop marketing and the supply of inputs. By 1993, the agricultural sector had been completely liberalized i.e.:

These reforms, especially those involving the removal of governmental controls on areas planted, prices, procurement and domestic marketing, had a positive impact on crop production. They improved the value and profitability of the crop rotation, resulting in an increase of the more profitable crops at the expense of crops with lower profitability.

The aim of the present development strategy is to optimize the cropping pattern and the use of agricultural and water resources. By 2017 it is planned that the cropping pattern should involve:

The productivity of "old land" is relatively high but additional yield gains could be achieved with improved seed quality, more mechanization, strengthened extension support and better land and soil management. The performance of the newly reclaimed areas has been below expectation.

The area under cultivation should increase from 3.3 million ha in the year 1997 to about 4.7 million ha by the year 2017 i.e. an increase of 1.4 million ha, according the objectives of the agricultural strategy (FAO, 2003).

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