Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1164, (12 - 18 September 2013)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1164, (12 - 18 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Remember agriculture?

People think about politics in connection with the country’s new constitution, but a commitment to agriculture and the environment is just as important, writes Nader Noureddin

Al-Ahram Weekly

A constitution is a country’s legal guidebook, a text that shows a country where it is going and what it must keep in mind. In a country like Egypt whose past has been so undeniably connected to its agricultural wealth, it is necessary to make sure that the new constitution establishes ground rules for agriculture. This, I am willing to argue, is a crucial condition for our future health and survival.

The 2012 constitution had articles that addressed the question of agriculture, and these are given below.

“Article 15: Agriculture is a main pillar of the Egyptian economy. The state is committed to promoting the agricultural area and increasing it, to developing crops and plant strains, animal species and the protection of fish resources. The state is committed to food security, to providing the requirements for agricultural production, to good management and marketing of that production, and to the support of agricultural industry. The law should regulate the use of state land in a way that promotes social justice and protects farmers and farm workers from exploitation.”

“Article 19: The River Nile and water resources are our national wealth, and the state is committed to promoting, developing and protecting this wealth from transgression. The law should regulate the methods of using this wealth.”

While some might argue that these articles, together with articles 17, 20, 63 and 68 that also discuss health and the environment, are enough to protect our agricultural legacy. However, I beg to differ. I am concerned because the 50-member constitutive assembly put together to amend the constitution includes two representatives from the Farmers Syndicate, but not a single agricultural, water or environmental expert.

The problem is, and I say this with all due respect to the honourable members of the Farmers Syndicate, that some of the wider issues related to agriculture may be beyond their grasp. For example, syndicate chief Mohamed Abdel-Kader said recently that the constitution should mention the supply of fertilisers and seeds to farmers and also provide farmers with retirement pensions.

This statement, commendable as it may be, has no particular bearing on the constitution — a document which is supposed to offer guidelines and steer away from details. I am all for the Farmers Syndicate having a say in the constitution, but perhaps the best way to do this would be to invite its senior members for a hearing with the assembly, rather than involve them in work that is unfortunately beyond their grasp.

Countries should employ legal experts, intellectuals and scientists in writing their constitutions. Laymen should have their say, of course, but this needs to be funnelled and fine-tuned by the authors of the constitution.

Having said that, I would like to add a few articles that the assembly may like to include in the next iteration of the constitution. These are listed below.

- Arable and reclaimed land is naturally protected, and it is prohibited to use it for non-agricultural purposes. It should only be used for the purposes of producing food, clothing, animal feed and medicine and for pharmaceutical purposes. Preserving land from being trespassed upon is a major duty of the state, and any transgression on such land should be considered a constitutional violation not liable to out-of-court settlement.

- The state must be committed to the general principles of the UN, especially concerning the alleviation of poverty and the elimination of hunger. The right to food is a basic right for every member of the Egyptian people regardless of the level of income.

- The River Nile is the lifeline of Egypt, to which there is no alternative, and the state is committed to defending Egypt’s historical quota of river water and safeguarding its course from south to north. The state must also consider any pre-meditated pollution of the river to be a constitutional violation that must not be subject to out-of-court settlement, whether this pollution is caused by sewage, agricultural drainage or industrial refuse. The state should eliminate all sources of pollution immediately through plans to be drawn up by the competent authorities.

- Climate change and its impact on natural resources is a source of global concern that is recognised by the UN. All state institutions must examine its impact on agricultural soil, the coastlines, water resources and health, and draw immediate plans to address it and rectify its impacts.

- The president of the republic, the cabinet of ministers and the governors of the various governorates are required to protect the environment and biodiversity and protect both from deterioration. They must ban as necessary any food, agricultural or other technologies that may adversely impact people or environment.

- Agriculture and food production are the lifelines of the Egyptian people, and the state must commit itself to making the necessary efforts to ensure that agriculture is profitable. The state must provide all necessary financial and technical support to ensure that those involved in agriculture and food production can remain economically feasible.

These suggested articles are designed to help protect the health and welfare of this nation. It is unacceptable to allow 120 factories to dump nearly 4.7 billion cubic metres of toxic residue in the Nile per year, for example, a figure which was mentioned by the Ministry of the Environment in a report released in June 2010. It is equally unacceptable for 5,000 sewage facilities to dump untreated content into the river in Upper Egypt.

We need to remind ourselves that the Al-Rahawi drainage canal, which is laden with polluted water, is still being allowed to flow into the Rosetta branch of the Nile without treatment. Scientists who examined the water found that the level of micro-organisms in the water was about 400 times higher than the acceptable level, which may explain the elevated incidence of intestinal diseases in the area. This may also explain why infant mortality is about four times higher in Egypt than it is in countries in the same range of income.

We need to protect our agricultural land, not carve it up for airports and other facilities, including even water treatment and energy plants. If we need to increase inhabited areas, this should be done exclusively on desert land adjacent to cities. We cannot go on building shopping malls on agricultural land, or establishing tourist resorts on land that has been earmarked for agriculture.

Furthermore, we can make good use of the desert by using it to produce solar and wind energy. I would like the authors of the new constitution to mention that this country is committed to the promotion of clean and renewable energy, for this is the only way to protect current and future generations.

I would also like the new constitution to mention in no uncertain terms that scientific research is a national commitment and one that is promoted by the president and cabinet. The new constitution must not focus only on politics. It should offer insight into our way of life and the tasks which we as a nation must accomplish to have a prosperous, healthy and sustainable life.

 

The author is a professor at the College of Agriculture, Cairo University.

 

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