Arab land investors to visit Toshka

Agriculture Minister Ayman Abu Hadid is scheduled to host a three-day visit next week by the Chairman of the Arab Authority for Agricultural Investment and Development to discuss plans by the AAAID to invest in 50,000 acres of Egyptian Agricultural land.

The visit will follow-up on a venture announced at an AAAID meeting in April that Egypt is prepared to lease 60,000 feddans of agricultural land “in compliance with the strategy of sustainable development in Egypt.” 

The AAAID is an organization of 20 Arab and African states seeking to achieve food security for their populations by maximizing agricultural production. Saudi Arabia is the largest shareholder, contributing over 22 percent of subscribed capital, followed by Kuwait with 19.5 percent, and the United Emirates, Sudan and Iraq, each of which hold a 15 percent share. Egypt’s capital amounts to just three percent. In 2011, the AAAID launched the Arab Holding Company for Agricultural Investment, which seeks to attract investment in agricultural projects in Arab and African countries.

At the April meeting, Hadid declined to disclose where the land offered would be located, or what crops would be grown on it. An announcement Wednesday from the Agriculture Ministry gives some clues. 

Among the sites the delegation will visit are Toshka and Sharq al-Owainat, which constitute the New Valley Project, a grand scheme to irrigate the Western Desert by building a 240 kilometer canal to transport water from Lake Nasser. Orignally conceived as part of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s plans for the High Dam at Aswan, the project was revived under Mubarak in 1997, with hopes of relieving overcrowding along the Nile by relocating 20 percent of Egypt’s population to this “New Valley.”

Details of the project remain shrouded in secrecy, but experts estimate that fewer than 20,000 feddans have been irrigated, despite claims from Egypt’s State Information Services that 54,000 feddans have been irrigated. 

Previous New Valley agricultural projects by Gulf investors have run into controversy. In 2011, Saudi Prince al-Walid bin Talal had to return 75,000 of 100,000 feddans of land his Kingdom Agricultural Development Company purchased in Toshka in 1998 for just LE50 per feddan. The contract was annulled following the January 25 revolution, and after months of dispute, the Saudi prince agreed to the deal in June 2011, telling reporters he had done so to preserve Egypt-Saudi relations.