Could This Underutilised Grain Be a Fix for Egypt's Water Problems and Food Security?
We're the world's largest wheat importer, rice fields have been culled and then there's the water issue. Could the Ministry of Agriculture have found the solution?
Let’s start with a riddle. What’s insanely nutritious, adaptable to Egypt’s harsh weather conditions, set to open up new job opportunities and is rather yummy in a kind-of creamy, kind-of nutty, kind-of tasteless way?
The answer is every health-fad-following pseudo-hipster’s favourite en vogue grain, quinoa.
A staple ingredient in many a Cairo salad-bar’s menu and an increasing favourite among shoppers at the country’s higher-end supermarkets who buy it as some sort of hollow confirmation of the healthy lifestyle they’ll never, ever commit to, it’s now being championed as the way forward for Egyptian agriculture, food security and water usage.
“All that from one type of grain?” we hear you gasp? Well, the Ministry of Agriculture thinks so and, as reported in Egypt Today, it has launched a national campaign that proposes quinoa as a viable alternative in Egypt to the likes of wheat and rice – a proposal well worth hearing out, considering that Egypt is currently the world’s largest wheat importer and that the agriculture area of rice is being reduced from 1.7 million feddans to 724,200 feddans in order to save three billion cubic meters of water.
Though quinoa was first grown on these barren lands in 2005 in South Sinai, it is now grown in over 20 governorates across the country. Surprisingly versatile, quinoa can be roasted and made into flour – which means it can be used to make breads and pastas, which is good, but also means that those health-fad-following pseudo-hipsters were onto something all along, which is bad.
You see, aside from its versatility in the kitchen and its nutrition in the body, the benefits of quinoa start in the fields; one feddan of rice, for example, requires 6,000 cubic meters of water, whereas one feddan of quinoa requires just less than 500 cubic meters.
On top of that, Minister of Agriculture, Abd El-Moneim El Banna, has pointed to an Agricultural Research Center study that suggests that, not only is quinoa a cost-efficient crop for the demand of Egypt’s domestic grain market, but it also has the potential to be a high-value export.
What this ‘campaign’ will entail is unclear at present, but if the Ministry of Agriculture has its way, it could fix a big piece of the puzzle that is Egypt. And it can win us some cool-points with health-fad-following pseudo-hipsters abroad, because boasting about cotton export is so eighties.