Boosting knowledge for a better harvest

Training and intuition help an Egyptian farmer to cut losses

Grape farmer Mabrook “Rabea” Khamees (right) learns how to produce healthy grapes while minimizing losses from FAO technical expert Yehia Salah (left). ©FAO/Heba Khamis


Growing grapes takes a mix of agricultural know-how and constant adaptation in the field. This has been the experience of Mabrook Khamees, who has been farming grapes for 20 years now — and who is still learning new techniques. 

Mabrook, who prefers to be called by his nickname Rabea, recently learned new approaches to pruning, spraying and other practices through an Italian-funded FAO training programme, developed in close collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation. The programme, which has already trained some 2 000 farmers, is designed to help them recognise and treat disease and maintain crop quality, both before and after harvest. This helps to prevent loss and waste along the food value chain, from production to sale. 

The most difficult part is when Rabea waters the grapes because the sprigs, or new stems, are especially sensitive after watering. “I have to make sure there is no damage or rot,” he explains. 

“I learned to avoid over-fertilization and losses on the farm. And more importantly, I now know when and how to pick the grapes,” he adds. 

Rabea has learned how technology can help to improve the marketability of the grapes. For example, a refractometer can be used to test the levels of sugar in the fruit as it grows. Ideally, he says, the sugar level should be around 20 percent when grapes are ready for harvest. 

This is especially important in a country where half the grapes and other produce are lost through inefficient practices during production and distribution.

Left: FAO training includes learning how to test the soil for quality and disease. Right: Mabrook “Rabea” Khamees has learned to use a refractometer to test sugar levels in the grapes. ©FAO/Heba Khamis

Rabea adapts the techniques he has learned to conditions in the field and also shares what he learns with others. 

He moved to Tiba, Nubaria, from his hometown of Beheira, because he needed work to meet his expenses, especially school and medical fees. 

“I respect food because I get it only after I work hard and sweat,” says Mabrook “Rabea” Khamees. ©FAO/Heba Khamis

“I love to be on the farm,” Rabea says, “to touch the bunches of grapes, and check them carefully for problems, to examine the leaves and branches for disease. I like to bring my children to the farm, to teach them what is right and wrong, and how to do things. Food for me means my family, which is my life.” 

Although Egypt is the world’s fifth biggest grape producer, it imports most of the raisins it consumes. 

Rabea is looking forward to the construction of a raisin-drying facility during the next phase of the FAO programme, which will allow farmers to dry grapes and add value to their products. In the past, farmers like Rabea sometimes left crops to rot instead of harvesting them due to low market prices. 

By training farmers to protect and improve crops sustainably and reduce food losses, FAO is empowering them to take action and be a part of the global goal to achieve Zero Hunger. 

Learn more:

1. No poverty, 2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth