Egypt, 4 September - The scene is of tranquil village
life, where mud brick houses stand surrounded by the lush green
of rice paddies and fields of maize.Water gushes from a pump and
farmers tend their crops. The Nile flows majestically past,
dotted with the white sails of feluccas.
This is Aryamoun, a village in the Delta of the Nile,
but it could be any one of a thousand villages in Egypt, where
farmers, the backbone of the Egyptian economy, have used
ancestral skills to cajole the land into yielding just a little
more each year. Representing over half of the population and 27%
of the labour force, farmers have helped Egypt become one of the
few countries in the world that yields three harvests a year.
Overall productivity per hectare is among
the highest of the developing countries, and Egypt holds the
world record for yields of rice, sorghum and sugarcane. On the
other hand, rural people continue to struggle against
traditional adversities -- declining soil fertility and
environmental degradation, coupled with high population growth
and low literacy rates.
In a simple room in
Aryamoun's Agricultural Extension Center, six young men and
women suddenly enter in a burst of music. Volunteer performers
in the Rural Theater Troupe, they twirl to the rhythm of drums,
their gaily colored traditional costumes flashing, while the
audience applauds in anticipation. Then the drama -
"The People and the Land" -- starts to unfold.
Learning from the
As the plot onstage
thickens, the audience, composed of entire families, cheers on
the heroes and shouts advice. The villain of this play is the
wealthy local purveyor of fertilizers and pesticides. He aims to
prevent the farmers from introducing new techniques for
recycling agricultural by-products, such as rice hay and maize
stalks, into compost fertilizer and fodder for livestock.
Traditionally, these by-products have been
burned in bonfires, whose black smoke was blamed for a
mysterious cloud of stinging smog that hung over Cairo for
several days a few years ago. In addition, recycling and
composting can reduce fertilizer use by up to 50 percent, as
well as cover all fodder expenses for several farm animals. This
alone can represent a substantial saving for farmers.
"A simple plot, half a dozen volunteer
amateur actors and an open space are all we need to deliver
vital messages on crop protection, increasing productivity,
protecting the environment, birth spacing, girls' education
and adequate nutrition," says Dr. Ahmed Wahba, National
Project Director of the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture.
The author of the play, Issa Hammad, is a
local mathematics teacher. "The play attempts to
address issues of concern to farmers in familiar language, using
an entertaining medium to hold their attention," he
says. For example, a concept like birth spacing is conveyed
using messages well known to farmers, such as the need to leave
sufficient space between plants to encourage growth. The
importance of maternal nutrition is explained by using the
example of crops, which need adequate nourishment to grow strong
A time for planting -
and for marrying
"Farmers know that there is a specific time
for planting, and that it is no use trying to force plants to
grow before their season," Mr Hammad points out.
"This deeply entrenched knowledge is used to advocate
against early marriage: just as there is a correct time to
plant, there is also a correct time to marry one's
Rodent control is
another major worry in the countryside, since a few dozen rats
can devastate an entire season's harvest and be the ruin of
a farming family. Proper waste management can eliminate their
breeding areas and thereby reduce their numbers. By introducing
each message into the script, the audience shares the
characters' concerns and searches for a solution, also
offered by the play.
Theatre troupes are
entertaining and teaching audiences throughout rural areas in
four Governorates in Egypt, where the problems of agriculture,
environment and population converge most seriously. Ongoing for
eight years, the project provides a manual containing the basic
formulas, which writers then adapt into dramatic storylines. The
project has also supported training for trainers in how to link
family planning and agricultural messages.
FAO is responsible for technical support and overall
management of the project, which is funded by the United Nations
Population Fund and the Government of Egypt. The Government also
participates actively in all the steering committees through its
Ministries of Education, Health, and Agriculture. The success to
date means that it will be extended to a third phase next year.
When the play ends, the actors receive a
standing ovation from the spectators, many of whom have already
introduced composting and fodder recycling into their
activities. Dr Wahba estimates that today almost half the
farmers in the Aryamoun area practise composting and fodder
recycling. Most villagers now acknowledge the importance of
environmental protection and population control. Not only have
they escaped the debt cycle endemic to farmers who must purchase
fertilizers and pesticides on credit, they are now empowered to
take the major decisions affecting their own families, their
productivity and their environment.