We set off on a two-hour drive to visit one of SEKEM’s farmer suppliers in the Fayoum oasis, a 6,000km2 basin, 30% of which is fertile farmland. This rich agricultural area, 90km southwest of Cairo, is watered by the Nile through a comprehensive series of canals and dams. The water then drains into a desert depression that forms a large lake.
We arrive in Fayoum after a sudden dip in the road. Going from dry desert to lush green we’re in a completely different world: we see farmers working small plots of land using simple tools and transporting harvested crops by donkey.
SEKEM has 16 farmer suppliers in Fayoum who farm with the support and guidance of SEKEM’s agricultural engineers. One of those farmers, Mr. Goma Iraqi, warmly welcomed us into his home with delicious teas from the farm – black, mint and chamomile – and homemade bread with buffalo cheese.
Aromatic herbs and agricultural training
Through our questions, ably translated by Nihan, our wonderful guide, we learned from SEKEM’s agricultural engineer that Mr. Iraqi farms on 55 feddans, or roughly 23 hectares, growing medicinal and aromatic herbs for SEKEM that include calendula, fennel, lemongrass, peppermint and spearmint. Mr. Iraqi and his six siblings inherited the land from their father. Land is a precious asset in Fayoum and is kept in the family where possible. Those who choose to leave hand responsibility for farming over to family members who stay.
SEKEM determines its overall production needs, studies which crops grow best where and then develops plans for its supplier farmers. A SEKEM agronomist visits each farmer regularly to provide support that includes agricultural training (onsite or at a SEKEM farm), supplying compost and seeds if needed as well as education and awareness-raising for issues such as waste management. By applying SEKEM’s organic and biodynamic methods, SEKEM supplier farmers have seen their incomes go up and crops improve – less disease, better soil, higher production and higher quality.
Supporting family farms
We had the opportunity to see Mr. Iraqi’s farm animals and plots of land, both those used for SEKEM crops and those used for the family garden. Our presence generated lots of interest and we were accompanied on our tour by a very friendly group of adults and children!
The four-hour drive back through Cairo rush hour traffic was quite an adventure, but it was well worth the trip to Fayoum to meet Mr. Iraqi and his family, invaluable members of the SEKEM value chain.
This is the fourth in a series of blogs covering a partner visit to SEKEM in Egypt. Partner visits provide people within the Oikocredit network the opportunity to visit and learn more about one of our partners across the globe. Those participating in the visit will keep you updated on their findings through this blog.
Beautiful post, Cheryl! Thanks for sharing.
Great to see that families can stay on their land and even make a decent living. Thank you for the insights into the SEKEM ecosystem.