Egypt sprays rice crops with poison




By Mark Huband in Cairo

Financial Times, 3 June 1998

Armed Egyptian troops are overseeing the use of chemical weed killers to destroy rice seedlings the government says have been illegally planted.

For the past two weeks, the Egyptian government has been destroying rice nurseries in areas it has not designated for rice growing.

The move has been triggered by a policy designed to save 3bn cubic metres of water a year by limiting rice production, introducing less water-intensive varieties and forcing farmers to shift to corn production. Current rice production absorbs 12bn cubic metres of Egypt’s Nile water – 20 per cent of the country’s total quota, according to the 1959 agreement with Sudan.

Up to 800 farms in the Qalyubia governorate north of Cairo have been visited by government officials guarded by troops. The officials have sprayed the seedlings with a non-selective herbicide, Basta 20 SL.

Wadi el-Nil Company for Agricultural Development, which produces the weed killer under licence from the Agrevon agricultural subsidiary of Hoechst, was concerned to learn the product was being used to kill crops in fields from which drainage water will seep into the irrigation system.

“No tests have been made on the residual affect of Basta 20 when it is allowed to spread in irrigation water,” Shehata Abdel Khalek, marketing¬† manager, said.

Late yesterday one local governor agreed to curtail the use of chemicals following a demand by Nadia Makram Obeid, the environment minister, who had not been informed that chemicals were being used.

Farmers have so far been meeting the arrival of the troops and officials without resistance. But on the troops’ departure they have been flooding the nurseries with fresh irrigation water to wash away the herbicide.

“The farmers don’t trust the government on the water,” said Mourad el-Essawi who grows rice on land north of Cairo. “For 10 years I have been planting rice and it hasn’t affected the water supply. The government tells us every year: don’t plant rice. But every year everybody does it.”

Rice production can earn farmers three times the profit of corn.

“These farmers are growing rice through encroachment,” said Abderahman Shalabi, under-secretary at the Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources, which has encouraged crop destruction as a way of increasing Egypt’s water supply. “They are fined every year. If we don’t enforce the law, the problem will be aggravated.”


© Financial Times