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Old meets new

Posted by Greg Benchwick Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Egypt learning route continues to Old Lands of Sharkia

March 14-15 - Old Lands of Sharkia - After a visit to the New Lands in West Nubaria, the Learning Route continued its journey to a completely different area in Egypt: the Old Lands of Sharkia in the Nile Delta. Here, farmers have been using traditional agricultural methods and crops for centuries, inherited from their grandparents. But inheritance also resulted in highly fragmented land. This context of small plots in one of the poorest areas in Egypt requires a different approach to water management, the ruteros found out.

Walking through the fields around Zankaloun village, the difference with the New Lands is obvious. The village is full of people, the fields are small and the land is green. Using traditional flood irrigation systems, farmers maximise use on their pieces of land of around 1-1.5 acres. Typically, a farmer family in the Delta devotes part of the farm to livestock, part to nourishing their own family, and part to cultivate for the market. The area in Sharkia that we visited is located at the end of the irrigation system using Nile river water, so the communities here suffer from bad quality water and badly managed water distribution.

The ruteros were warmly received by a group of farmers and researchers at the ICARDA water research station in Zankaloun. Here researchers work with farmers, assessing their needs, to develop a package of water management techniques that are most suitable for the farms in this region. They studied the optimal dimensions for raised bed farming, which allows farmers to save on water use while increasing their production. Dr. Atef Swelam, technical coordinator of the Learning Route and himself a farmer in this area, also developed a machine suitable for small plots for creating the raised beds while sowing at the same time – which is becoming a great success.

“At first, to be honest, I wasn’t convinced,” farmer Hajj Mohammed confessed. “I looked closely at the machine and at how much seed would be lost. Then I saw with my own eyes that it worked!” The ICARDA researchers selected Hajj Mohammed, an experienced farmer with a leadership position in the community, as a pioneer farmer to test and demonstrate the raised bed technology on his field. “My field is on the main road,” he explains to the ruteros. “Everyone who saw my crops wanted to know how I did it.”

The ruteros identified a number of reasons why this technology became a success. Yes, the machine was simple and well adapted to the small plots, but one of the crucial success factors was the good relationship between the farmers and the researchers. The research station lies between farmers’ fields and research outcomes are shared with farmers in an understandable manner. This makes the farmers of this area, who are generally reluctant to adopt new technologies, open to learn new things.

Perhaps it is because of this relationship that the farmers who received the Learning Route were happy to exchange knowledge with us, as visiting outsiders, as well. The different nationalities in the group of ruteros aroused the curiosity of some farmers. What are the success stories from all these countries, they wanted to know. Ruteros from Sudan, Palestine, Morocco, Syria, Tunesia, Lebanon and Yemen shared some interesting initiatives, creating an inspiring atmosphere of mutual knowledge exchange. “When we thought of the Learning Route methodology,” said Guillen Calvo, the general coordinator of the Learning Route, “this is exactly what we had in mind!”

IFAD is funding Learning Routes across Africa, Asia and Latin America through the international knowledge-broker Procasur. A global catalyst for change and knowledge sharing, Procasur's work positively impacts the lives and livelihoods for rural talents across the globe.  

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