“ We must encourage cooperative ventures rather than individual initiatives.”
Hussein Marei – Chairman of the Citrus Council in the Horticultural Export Improvement Agency (HEIA) and Vice Chairman of the Citrus Council in the Agricultural Research Center (ARC) of Egypt. Photo DR
The Mediterranean’s third largest producer and third largest exporter of citrus fruits, Egypt’s growth prospects in foreign markets are bright in light of the continuous improvement in the quality of its fruit.
However, due to political events in Egypt following the revolution in January 2011, several phenomena have hampered our ability to export. The removal of citrus fruit export subsidies has reduced the volume of citrus fruit exported.
The logistics begin with the carriage of the produce from the packing station to the port or airport.
Firstly, the lorries used to transport the produce are often in poor condition. The drivers have very limited knowledge and training in how to handle the different perishable goods. Furthermore, the lack of road infrastructure maintenance increases the transit time from the packing stations to the port. Once the produce has arrived at the quayside, the drivers’ cargo handling methods lead to the loss of part of the crop.
The cooling systems often leave much to be desired. Furthermore, the lack of knowledge and of care when handling and storing the crop also lead to losses along the way.
Discouraged from owning a farm that complies with international standards
Another matter of concern for producers is that in light of the economic situation, refrigerated vessels and planes have reduced their turnaround times, thus forcing a reduction in the volumes loaded. This only serves to worsen the problem with transporting large quantities.
Aside from the logistic, shipping and road haulage issues, we face packaging and quality control problems in the packing stations. The quality control issue is a double-edged sword. Although there are packing stations that comply with international certification standards, a large number do not yet meet these standards.
Furthermore, production and labour costs in Egypt remain very low. On average, one hectare of citrus fruit cultivation costs around 685 euros per month. Due to this low production cost, a large number of farmers confess to being discouraged from, or incapable of, managing a farm that complies with the international standards.
Consequently, the majority of exporters tend to rely on their own production for export and cooperation is very rare. We must encourage cooperative ventures rather than individual initiatives.
Efforts must be made to cooperate within the citrus fruit sector with a view to involving and supporting small farmers and increasing productivity and quality at every level.
Government, cooperatives and NGOs must join forces in order to improve working methods at every stage of the supply chain.
Training, targeted subsidies and better information management will allow Egypt to increase its share of the citrus fruit export market.
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