There is a growing desire among global consumers for healthy and organic produce instead of genetically manipulated crops, as witnessed by the May protests worldwide against Monsanto. In Egypt there is a small but growing market of consumers looking for organically produced fruits and vegetables, but what not many people know is that one family business has been leading the produce market since the 19th century.
Makar Farms on Sakkara Road was founded in 1880 by George Makar, a graduate of the University of Agriculture in Grignon, France. George focused on introducing new crops to Egypt by finding ways to grow European produce locally.
Today George’s son, Mounir Makar, heads the company. “I started the hydroponics system in the late seventies/early eighties. I designed [the system] myself with the support of the American University in Cairo. At that time Dr. Fadel Assabghy was working on desert development in Sadat City. I combined his expertise with my pragmatic designs,” Mounir explained.
Mounir claims that Makar Farms was the first to introduce the hydroponics system to Egypt; “At the time we were making everything [we needed for the system] ourselves and no one knew what we were talking about.”
The first product that was grown using the system was endives. “Six years ago we started to use the system on other products, such as tomatoes and lettuce,” Mounir said.
The system has been renovated since its original installation, and now boasts sophisticated technology. “We use computerised and air-conditioned green houses, which have sensors to calibrate formulas [of needed liquids] and to make sure they are given to the crops at the right time,” Mounir explained.
Mounir proudly noted that they only use Egyptian expertise in their farms, making their products 100% Egyptian. “There is also a social aspect to it since local farmers are taught how to deal with the system and take care of it,” he added.
Which produce is available usually depends on the season, but Makar Farms has also devised a way to escape this limitation. “Our air-conditioned green houses allow us to grow high-quality winter crops during the summer. Every year we add two or three new products, to prove that we can grow them in Egypt and also to have the lead in the market,” Mounir said.
Makar Farms’ main edge is the introduction of new produce to the market. “Makar farms were the first to grow broccoli in Egypt,” said Amr Ashraf, the marketing manager. The farms’ growing list of products includes red, white and green asparagus, several kinds of lettuce, mangetout peas, salad flowers and Brussels sprouts.
Ashraf explained that since it was established, Makar Farms’ main client has been the tourism sector, but since last year, their produce is also available to regular consumers in stores like Gourmet Egypt and Metro Markets. Makar Farms also offers a home delivery service through their Facebook page.