There's been wide spread panic over the last three weeks that Egypt's food supply has started to dwindle, the continued state of instability and unrest caused by the ongoing protests have been blamed. While the continuation of #Jan25 is conveniently transformed into a scapegoat for upcoming food shortages, the truth is that Egypt's system of food production has been, since the construction of the Aswan Dam and the modernization of agriculture in the early 1900s, on a trajectory towards decreased food production. While most of the world experienced the onset of the Green Revolution much later on in 20th century, Egypt's green revolution started with an intricate scientific restructuring of Egypt's old flood irrigation system to a modern irrigation system of canals and drains, as part of the British colonial project. The new irrigation system would support intensive crop production that would be then appropriated by the British colonizer. The agricultural production system became extractive and unsustainable. The development of high-yield agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticide, coupled with the irrigation changes that resulted in the loss of the rich clay deposits especially after the advent of the High Dam ultimately stripped away the fertility of Egyptian soil to cater to cash-cropping. The modernization of Egypt's agriculture has eroded the nutrients from the top-soil inevitably leading to the current state of low yields and is the real culprit behind the dwindling food supplies and not the people that are still protesting.
The trend in agricultural yields has been gradually declining, necessitating the increased use of agricultural inputs. With the series of uprising in North Africa, there's been a sharper and sudden surprising predicted decline of 30% in Egypt's agricultural productivity related to a long and complex commodity chain that links Libya's oil production with Egypt's fertilizer industry. Many of the factories in Egypt have currently stopped production altogether (Despommier 2011). The decrease in fertilizer production, considering Egypt's agricultural production's heavy dependency on high-inputs may prove disastrous in this upcoming harvest. To be absolutely clear, I am not blaming Libya's uprising on Egypt's upcoming food shortages. The lack of Libyan oil is merely the straw that broke the camel's back in an already crashing agricultural system. The more complex the commodity chain for agricultural inputs the more vulnerable agricultural production becomes to extraneous political and economic fluctuations.
Egypt's long history of the exploitation of farmers remains unchanged. Whether it was the age-old feudalism family exploitation of labor, or Nasser's land reforms of state exploitation of labor, or the current exploitation by agricultural conglomerates. The means of production whether it is the actual land or machinery is owned by a select few, and with production geared towards profit in a global market, labor remains the only element where surplus value can be extracted. In a system where production is for profit, the difference between breaking even and profiting is really about how much wage the farmer eventually gets. So, by virtue of having the start-up capital the land owner reserves the right to monopolize a means of production, where all the profit comes from uncompensated work that the farmer is putting into the production process.
Whether it is the state, or whether it is the select few that own land, the reality is that the majority of people do not own the means to feed themselves. The state and the large agribusinesses own the majority of the means of food production and are able to derive revenue with every transaction through taxation or services, such as sales taxes, farming taxes and the rental or sale of agricultural machinery. We cannot overthrow such a deeply embedded system of exploitation, while the very way we are able to acquire our own food in and of itself, leaves us vulnerable to the whims of those who's only interest has been profit or control.
Food sovereignty per se, is one way to emancipate ourselves from those who control the means to produce food and also reshape not just the relationship between those in power (who we do not want to be in power) to our food, but also the relationship between the land, sustainability and our methods of food production. When we think of the prospect of producing our own food, the harsh reality of the difficultly to acquire land comes to haunt us, but what if we did not need land to produce our food and we could each grow a few crops to subsist or at least to partially subsist, in a way that could possibly marginalize those who have monopolized our food production, exploited our labor and are constantly degrading the land? Low-cost, sustainable and organic urban farming whether as community farms, roof-top gardens or vertical farms that take into consideration land and water shortages may be a necessary solution to not only address food shortage, but the badly needed socioeconomic restructuring of #Egypt. If #Jan25 is a revolution that strives for #democracy truth be told, we cannot have #democracy without social justice and we cannot have social justice when the very basis of our needs is owned and controlled by a dictatorship, those who have supported that dictatorship or those who are looking for profit.
Reference: Despommier, Dickson. "Ripple Effect or Tsunami". The Vertical Farm Project.
This commentary draws theoretically from Mitchell and Marx, Factually from Mitchell's Rule of Experts, Despommier's blog and lectures by Soraya El Torki, and has been inspired by conversations either in real life or via social media with @sumayaholdijk, @atlemk, Dalia AbulFotuh, @bassemk and @KartikeyaSingh