Egypt’s herb farm­ers eye over­seas mar­kets

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

On a sunny sum­mer day amid green fields in Egypt’s Fay­oum Oasis, Khaled Ab­dul Nabi sat un­der the shade of a mango tree watching his work­ers pre­par­ing lemon grass crops to be ex­ported to Europe.

Just like most of his peers and neigh­bors in Agamy­een vil­lage in Fay­oum Val­ley, 42-year-old Ab­dul Nabi in­her­ited farm­ing from his an­ces­tors.

For decades, Ab­dul Nabi grew wheat, rice, cot­ton and corn in his 50-acre farm. But 13 years ago, the man de­cided to shift to the cul­ti­va­tion of or­ganic medic­i­nal herbs to earn more money.

The mid­dle-aged man started a com­pany to grow, process and ex­port herbs and is now send­ing his pro­duce of some 20 species of medic­i­nal herbs and spices to Europe, the Amer­i­cas and China.

“The idea to grow or­ganic medic­i­nal herbs came across my mind when some farm­ers in my vil­lage started to plant them here,” Ab­dul Nabi said while the fra­grance of dried lemon grass filled the space. “They told me that Euro­pean com­pa­nies have tested the soil and the weather here and said they are unique for grow­ing medic­i­nal herbs.”

Care­fully ob­serv­ing the work­ers pack­ing the dried lemon grass at the col­lect­ing sta­tion near the farm, Ab­dul Nabi said herbs and spices grow well in the val­ley and dry ar­eas since they need both, hot cli­mate and small amount of wa­ter.

“These fer­tile val­ley farm­lands that are sur­rounded by endless desert are ex­cep­tional for herbs grow­ing,” Ab­dul Nabi proudly says.

Egypt has been home to a va­ri­ety of herbs for thou­sands of years as An­cient Egyp­tian relics, tem­ples and tombs con­tained hun­dreds of med­i­cal pre­scrip­tions with medic­i­nal herbs.

So far, Egypt still pro­duces the finest herbs, with Fay­oum as the only pro­ducer of or­ganic Medic­i­nal and Aro­matic Plants (MAPs). These crops are mainly grown in Up­per Egypt’s provinces of Minya, Beni Suef, As­siut and Fay­oum.

Some 1500 acres are cul­ti­vated with MAPs in Fay­oum, while the whole coun­try grows these crops in 100,000 acres.

Ab­dul Nabi says his prod­ucts reach the stan­dard spec­i­fi­ca­tions of the Euro­pean and global mar­kets, adding that he fol­lows prim­i­tive ways such as hand farm­ing and hand col­lec­tion to main­tain the high qual­ity of the pro­duce.

“We hand pick and har­vest the crops with our hands, sun-dry and clean them and then pack the crops at the fac­tory for ex­port,” he says. “My goal is to ex­port high qual­ity raw herbs to gain more cus­tomers.”

The cost of farm­ing or­ganic herbs and spices are rel­a­tively high, Ab­dul Nabi says, “but we make good prof­its be­cause most of the pro­duce is ex­ported.”

Ab­dul Nabi says Fay­oum has two farm­ing sea­sons, the win­ter and sum­mer sea­sons.

“In the sum­mer sea­son, we plant lemon grass, mint, sesame, moringa, basil and mar­jo­ram. In the win­ter sea­son we grow cal­en­dula, camomile, onion, gar­lic, fen­nel, car­away, anise and co­rian­der,” Ab­dul Nabi says, sip­ping from a hot cup of red tea.

Last year, Ab­dul Nabi man­aged to ex­port 70 tons of MAPs, a num­ber he be­lieves that can be dou­bled if he

finds more cus­tomers.

The man said that he started to ex­port lemon grass to China two years ago, adding that he hopes to send more of his crops to the Chi­nese mar­ket.

“Chi­nese mar­ket is promis­ing and big, hope­fully Chi­nese im­porters would buy more herbs and spices in the near fu­ture.”

Although Egyp­tian MAPs have a good rep­u­ta­tion in global mar­kets, the sec­tor does not largely con­trib­ute to the size of global herbs trade.

Last year, Egypt’s ex­ports of herbs, seeds and spices reached $100 mil­lion, while the to­tal size of ex­ports glob­ally ex­ceeded $60 bil­lion in 2016, ac­cord­ing to Egypt’s State In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice.

“All we need is a good mar­ket­ing sys­tem and re­ly­ing only on or­ganic farm­ing be­cause that’s what for­eign im­porters seek,” Ab­dulnabi says. “I ex­pect that this busi­ness will grow rapidly be­cause we have the po­ten­tials for this kind of farm­ing.”

He be­lieves that the gov­ern­ment should strongly helps farm­ers of MAPS with ex­per­tise and mar­ket­ing plan­ning since the in­dus­try is mainly meant for ex­port, which will help the coun­try get badly-needed for­eign cur­ren­cies.

“This sec­tor is more im­por­tant than nat­u­ral re­sources. It can be the main pil­lar of Egypt’s econ­omy,” he says con­fi­dently.

These fer­tile val­ley farm­lands ... are ex­cep­tional for herbs grow­ing.”

Ab­dul Nabi, farmer

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