A new initiative to encourage Egyptians to eat locally grown fruits and vegetables was launched in late October by the Bozoor Baladi (Seeds of My Country) youth campaign.
Bozoor Baladi is a civil campaign involving hundreds of youth volunteers who seek to improve and increase agricultural production in Egypt. The campaign was launched by a coalition of four civil society organisations: Nawaya, Nabta, 350.org -- which seeks to solve the problems of global warming -- and Greenpeace International.
The campaign aims to raise the level of awareness about food production problems in Egypt by spotlighting key issues that relate to the health of Egyptians.
These issues include the spread of genetically-modified seeds -- produced by international companies at the expense of local varieties -- and the risks their spread pose to the viability and sustainability of local agriculture.
According to the campaign's Facebook page, over the past two decades the Egyptian market began increasingly relying on genetically-modified seeds, to the point that some native seeds known for their high nutritional value disappeared entirely.
According to Hoda Baraka, the campaign's media co-ordinator, campaign activities include "seed bombing", an activity in which dozens of young volunteers throw seed balls into neglected green spaces and public squares in residential areas in the provinces of Cairo and Alexandria.
Seed balls consist of clay, organic fertiliser and seeds (including native wheat, barley, fenugreek and fava bean seeds) collected from Egyptian farms that still use local seeds.
The campaign plans to throw about 20,000 seed balls in a number of other provinces, Baraka said.
"[A few] days after the balls are planted, they automatically sprout the plant of whatever seeds they contain, which will in turn draw the attention of the residents of those areas and spur them to exploit those unused green spaces to produce rewarding crops, and at the same time reassure the public that it is feasible to rely on local seed once again," she told Al-Shorfa.
According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, total arable land in Egypt amounts to 8.6 million acres, representing around 4% of the country's surface area.
Ahmed al-Droubi, campaign founder and co-ordinator for a Greenpeace sustainable development initiative, said the new campaign's main objective is to preserve the biodiversity of Egyptian seeds and raise awareness about the health and environmental risks of consuming genetically-modified agricultural products.
"Over the past few decades, Egypt lost the agricultural standing it enjoyed for thousands of years due to the degradation of agricultural policies and successive governments' neglect of this important sector," al-Droubi told Al-Shorfa.
"Among the policies that led to this deterioration was reliance on importing seeds, most of them genetically modified, to meet the needs of the Egyptian agricultural market, instead of solving problems related to using local seeds," he added.
This reliance on imported seeds creates an economic risk with constantly rising global food prices, in addition to the health risks that genetically-modified imported seeds pose to Egyptians, he said.
Young Egyptians spoke to the reasons they joined the initiative.
Mohammed Omar, 26, an engineer and campaign volunteer, told Al-Shorfa, "Egypt is suffering from a big problem in regard to agriculture and food, whose prices increase on a daily basis."
He said this fanned his enthusiasm to join the campaign, "because giving attention to agriculture and the Egyptian farmer is the first step towards reviving this key sector".
Israa Mustafa, a 20-year-old college student, told Al-Shorfa, "Importing all our food needs makes us, the younger generation, feel as though we are incapable of cultivating our land, which is known for its fertility."
"Ensuring that every Egyptian citizen has access to healthy food must be a top priority on the government's agenda, because the right to food is not a luxury, but rather a fundamental right," she said.