USAID Feed the Future Egypt Food Security and Agribusiness Support Project Triples Basil Production and Increases Farmer Incomes in Assuit
As we walked through Al Sawalem Al Bahareya village in Assuit, a city in Northern Egypt, a sweet scent emanated from the local basil plant. Basil, the village’s main crop, occupies 700 feddans or about one-third of the village’s total 2,160 feddans of cultivated land. Basil is a strategic crop for farmers in this region since it is easy to grow and affordable to produce. Additionally, basil harvesting can occur as often as once per month over five successive months. This means it acts as a steady source of income for farmers and employment for laborers during the harvesting season.
Decreases in Basil Production Due to the Downy Mildew Parasite
In 2015, farmers in Assuit experienced a sharp drop in production as a result of the downy mildew parasite that had begun to infect basil plants in the region. After several inconsistent harvesting seasons, many farmers decided to abandon their basil crops for more consistent crops. “The basil farmers were not able to identify the type of pest that affected their basil and damaged the crop, which made them decide to remove such a strategic crop from their lands,” said Engineer Eslam Al Adawy, Technical Advisor of Feed the Future Egypt, Food Security and Agribusiness Support (FAS) project.
Farmer Abdel Mola Bakry, a board member of Al Sawalem Al Bahareya Agriculture Association, and owner of 20 feddans, including five feddans cultivated with basil, said, “In the last three years, the basil leaves became yellow, with dark dots on the back, and the stem dropped the leaves which decreased the production to 300 kg per feddan for the second and third harvest. We barely harvested three times, while we were used to harvest five times in the season in the last years. This was the reason why we decided to remove the basil crop from our lands and replace it with a more profitable crop.” Additionally, Ayman Solhy, farmer and owner of four feddans told FAS, “I used to produce an average of 4,750 kg of basil per season from the five periods of harvesting. When I faced the downy mildew three years ago, my average production decreased to 1,600 kg per year. I had no access to finance and was not able to hire enough workers for harvesting, land preparation, and transportation. I decided to remove the basil and replaced it with more profitable crops like wheat.”
On the marketing side, Hassan Thabet, a local trader, who makes a prior agreement with the farmers to buy their basil production in return for providing the farmers with advance payments, fertilizers, seeds and pesticides, advised that for the last two years the demand in the market for basil was weak. This resulted in the low selling price of basil and therefore lower incomes for farmers. “Farmers need to use organic spray in order to enable the export of basil, and we need to explore new market channels for basil,” said Hassan Thabet.
With the support of the FAS project which aims to increase the incomes of small holder farmers, the problem was identified, and the farmers were advised on the appropriate pesticide to face the downy mildew. “We did a lot of research to identify the main cause of the problem facing the basil, asked the herbs and spices experts, surfed the internet about the basil diseases, till we discovered the downy mildew. We provided farmers with the technical support to control the downy mildew, which resulted in raising the basil productivity to reach 700 kg per feddan for the second through the fifth harvests, and increased the harvest times back to five times per season instead of three,” said Engineer Eslam Al Adawy, Technical Advisor in FAS project.
Basil Market Constraints and the Way Forward
To combat this, FAS project interventions have been very instrumental in aiding qualifying farmers to produce high quality basil crops, in accordance with the required specifications of the local and export markets. Engineer Eslam Al-Adawy, FAS technical advisor explained, “We trained the farmers on identifying the targeted pest, the use of organic chemicals, the time of spraying, and the maximum residue levels in order to enable exports of the basil production and to generate higher incomes for farmers. The total production of basil per feddan reached 4700 kilos per feddan in the five rounds of harvest compared to 1600 kilos per feddan, with an average increase in sales of EGP 40,000 compared to EGP 14,400 per season, which resulted in a tremendous increase in the incomes of basil farmers in Assuit.”
Preparation of the dry basil