Although the symbols of the toppled regime are now in prison, their memory, regrettably, lives on in the people's food. Thousands of encroachments have been reported on cultivated land in Egypt since the January 25 revolt. In a country already suffering shortages of food, this is a serious problem.
Remnants of the previous regime are to blame for starving the local market of subsidised fertilisers, thousands of tonnes of which never reach the deserving farmers.
Black market traders get their hands on them and sell them for double the price, forcing many farmers out of business. Because the farmers aren't getting their fertilisers, Egypt is making agricultural losses of LE5 billion ($840 million) annually. Meanwhile, the decision to ban the exportation of agricultural fertilisers is merely ink on paper.
There also seems to be a conspiracy in the agricultural sector, with people being allowed to build homes on valuable cultivated land. Another problem is that the State has sold off all the fertiliser plants.
Mohamed Hussein, Gaber Awad and other farmers went to the Agricultural Society to get their quota of fertilisers, only to be that they hadn't yet arrived and they ought to come back in a few days' time. "We then discovered that a private-sector trader had got hold of the fertilisers, which he is hoarding in his warehouse," they told Al-Akhbar semi-official newspaper.
The deliberate destruction of the agricultural sector started in 2005, when former Minister of Agriculture Amin Abaza, now behind bars pending trial, assumed office, according to Professor Nader Nur Eddin of the Faculty of Agriculture, Cairo University.
"Abaza raised the price of fertiliser from LE900 to LE1,500 per tonne," he says, adding that Abaza pretended to create free market in this sector. "The fertiliser plants get subsided energy, but they sell the fertilisers far too expensively, leading to the creation of a black market. The absence of control makes things worse."
Chairman of the Farmers' Association Mohamed Abdel-Qader notes that many employees in the agricultural societies have made huge fortunes out of trading in subsided fertilisers. "All they have to do is pick up the phone and talk to a black market trader. This practice still continues. The new Government needs to realise that some members of the toppled regime have made billions out of illegal fertiliser trading -- and they're still operating," he comments.
According to Dr Nur Eddin, the fertiliser crisis meant that the summer yields of vegetables, fruit, cotton and rice have all suffered. The shortfall has to be made up by imports, which are crippling the economy. The same dirty game is going on with the sugarcane crop, much of which gets spoilt, so the importers are delighted.