CAIRO: For Wadi Group, it all started with an olive tree in 1984 in the Egyptian desert. Today, the family-owned agribusiness is diversified and goes beyond traditional methods to produce organic and fresh foods.
Currently, Wadi is working on what Executive Manager Khalil Nasrallah called “a multi-million dollar project” that will expand their tomato paste products, which will eventually be imported to Europe.
“We will be importing 50 percent of the product because we don’t have much tomato paste in Egypt, but the other 50 percent will be homegrown tomatoes from local farmers,” said Nasrallah.
The project will produce 1,000 tons of fresh tomatoes per day, which will eventually increase to 3,000 tons a day, over a 70-80 day yearly tomato-growing season.
The expansion will be taking place in Beni Suef, where Wadi is developing more land in the desert specifically for the project, as Egypt only has 5 percent of arable land.
With climate changes already affecting the amount of produce in Egypt and a growing pest problem, Wadi Group has implemented several new techniques to combat the problem.
“We’ve been experiencing warmer winter over the past four to five years, and it started to affect our crops of course, but we can’t stop production,” said Nasrallah.
As sandstorms have been increasing lately in Egypt’s deserts, Wadi Group had to find an alternative that would allow them to continue production.
Among their new, yet simple strategies is a tiny water sprinkler system, which turned out to be a small, yet efficient way to keep the thirst of their olive trees, which are located in the desert, quenched.
“We came up with the idea where we installed small sprinklers to help cool off the trees,” said Nasrallah.
While the sprinkler system has only been introduced among the olive trees, other Wadi crops have been experiencing problems, like the tomato plants, which have been suffering from a deadly pest problem in Egypt.
Just towards the end of last year, the country saw what some have called a “crisis” as tomatoes are the most used crops in Egyptian society.
Prices of tomatoes increased to LE 10 per kilo, sometimes reaching LE 16 versus an average price of about LE 7.
“We are witnessing the tomato problem firsthand, apparently, these pests came with the climate change, mainly due to heat waves,” Nasrallah pointed out.
Wadi, on the other hand, introduced a new method in order to alleviate the issue through a natural process.
“I don’t like to spray pesticides,” said Nasrallah. “So, we introduced predators that wouldn’t affect the crops, but eat the pests which were harming the tomatoes.”
Aside from this method, Wadi has been using pheromone traps, light traps for flying insects, and organic pesticides as an alternative to using chemicals.
Currently, Wadi is looking for a system where they could contract with local farmers, not individually but rather through farmer associations that would arrange and facilitate the agreements.
Nasrallah added that the farmers would be able to get training which would help them understand when to choose pesticides and how much to use in order to focus on food safety issues.
“I would advise others in the farming business to get together with local farmers and explain when to spray, engage with them on how to spray because using pheromone traps for example or other methods may be too expensive for local farmers.”
According to Nasrallah, there are several groups who are currently trying to create awareness for the issue as its essential that exchange happens to assure that food safety is focused on in Egypt.
He also hopes that other farms across the country would participate in alleviating the crop-waste problem that has hit the country.
“Currently, 30 percent of crops are wasted in the process of packaging, transporting, and selling,” he said. “We have our facility to package the products close to the farms, that way we only risk to lose about 1 or 2 percent of crops.”
Moreover, in order to encourage farmers and companies to adopt more environmentally friendly techniques as well as renewable energy methods, Nasrallah hopes that Egypt’s government will help in easing the costs of solar energy instead of subsidizing natural resources for example, which are currently on the decline.
Since 1992, Wadi Group has invested LE 320 million in agriculture and food processing business.