After living abroad for 38 years, Hisham Haggag, a graduate of economics at Oxford University, decided to return to Egypt. Struck by a vision of bringing his expertise in aquaponics to his home country, Haggag had the revolutionary idea that this might be the key to self-sufficiency in Egypt, allowing for fish and crop farming without pesticides or pollutants.
Fighting existing traditions and the rampant consumerist culture pervading Egyptian society, he embarked on a mission to attempt to improve conditions in a country that is daily being stripped of its agricultural origins.
Despite the great success he had arrived at in his career abroad, the idea turned into a near-obsession.
Before undertaking his mission to introduce the Egyptian masses to aquaponics, he made several proposals to various governmental authorities, but was met with a lukewarm response, due to the lack of familiarity with the concept. Invariably, the authorities wanted tangible evidence that the method could be applied practically and achieve results.
Thus, Haggag decided to undertake the quest alone, spurred by the desire to prove that aquaponics could be applied and reap benefits on the ground. He was moreover determined to counteract what he perceives to be the pervasive mismanagement of resources nationwide, whether physical resources, or, more importantly, educational and ideological ones.
“I am not an inventor; I didn’t come up with aquaponics. I’m simply employing an existing science to try to serve my community and ameliorate conditions for people, in particular those with low incomes,” Haggag tells Raseef22.
Amid rising food prices and a colossal import bill, could aquaponics be the answer Egypt needs?
Meet Hisham Haggag, the man who had a revolutionary idea to return to Egypt and introduce aquaponics on a grand scale.
“Through my farm, I seek to teach Egyptians the science of aquaponics for free; that is, producing a self-contained farming eco-system that allows for nutritional self-sufficiency through the production of fish and some crops without fertilizers. This occurs in a sustainable cycle that doesn’t produce any environmental pollution, as the waste produced by the fish is used to fertilize the crops, while the leftovers from the crops are used to feed the fish,” he notes.
Egypt is the highest wheat-importing country in the world, and moreover relies on imports for much of its basic foodstuffs, including those used by the government to provide subsidized foods amid rising prices.
The Threat of Water Shortage
Haggag has participated in various studies on water shortages, the majority of which warn against the threat of water shortage in the Middle East.
Moreover, due to the imminent launch of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in the upstream Nile country, Egypt’s share of Nile water is set to be slashed, prompting fears of a severe water shortage in the country of 92 million.
In this context, Haggag notes that “the Middle East is suffering from the specter of water shortage, but governments have failed to take serious steps to address this issue. I decided to study the alternatives, as the Egyptian population continues to grow exponentially, and in turn each citizen’s share of water is declining.
“According to various studies, the average annual share of water per person in Egypt is 600 cubic meters, while the global threshold of water poverty is 1,000 cubic meters annually. This means that the average Egyptian lives below the water poverty line. Thus, the logical conclusion was to develop a nutritional system that utilizes the lowest amount of water possible.”
The major issue lies in the fact that farming methods in Egypt have barely developed for thousands of years, with Egyptians having adopted many of the same farming and irrigation methods that their ancient forefathers employed.
Approximately 97% of water is still sourced from the Nile, and no new methods have been employed to attempt to slash this figure. However, aquaponics could slash water use by up to 95%, according to Haggag.
Though he is not the first to attempt to introduce Egyptians to aquaponics, he is likely the first to pioneer it at such a scale.
Moreover, his farm does not suffice to simply teach people about aquaponics. It also introduces farmers to silk-production methods, whereby there are approximately 120,000 xx trees where silkworms are bred. This enables the farmers to later sell the silk at high prices, ensuring profitability for them.
The farm moreover produces environmentally-friendly building bricks, and teaches people to grow palm trees and produce dates that can later be exported.
Haggag also aims to provide free resources to those who wish to learn how to farm in sustainable, environmentally-friendly methods.
The farm has provided dozens of Egyptians with the tools for fish farming at home for free, despite their actual cost being 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($280).
He has collaborated with a number of civil society organizations to train low-income families on domestic fish farming, providing the families with appropriately sized equipment that can be used within their homes.
The system can produce up to 20 kilograms of fish per month for the family, allowing them to eat fish for free. Moreover, the aquaponics system can produce vegetables and fruit such as lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and other farm products.
This is dubbed the “meter squared system”, based on its actual size. Thus, it can fit on a balcony or the roof of a building, producing an average of 80 pieces of produce per month.
Your Project, Your Farm
Another type of training is available for those who own or wish to buy plots of land. On average, Haggah calculates the cost of equipment for a farm measuring 1,000 square meters at approximately 600,000 Egyptian pounds. With the training from this program, the farm owner can then produce about 20,000 products per month. In addition to rotating crop growth, such a farm can produce about a ton of fish every month.
In light of Egypt’s uncertain future in terms of its share of water, and various government-sponsored initiatives to promote farming in Egypt—many of which have failed—Haggag’s initiative may be the spark for a new agrarian revolution. Amid rising prices and a tempestuous battle to slash Egypt’s import bill to bolster foreign reserves, such battles may become a necessity in the near future.