Details emerge on Egypt land claim

The Monitor | September 30, 2008

Tabu Butagira


President Yoweri Museveni initiated talks with Egyptian officials over the possibility of growing wheat and corn for the north African state in Uganda but no firm offer of land was made, Egypt and State House sources have separately said.

In an exclusive interview with Daily Monitor on Friday Egyptian Ambassador Reda Abd el Rahman Bebars denied claims attributed to Cairo’s Agriculture minister that Uganda had offered over 2 million acres of land to his country, insisting that no figures were agreed upon.

The ambassador said after initial contacts during the Africa-India Forum summit in New Delhi in April, Mr Museveni requested and hosted Egypt’s International Cooperation minister Fayza Abul-Naga in Kampala on June 27 to discuss the planned investment.

“They talked about the possibility of growing wheat in Uganda and exporting Uganda’s organic beef to Egypt,” Mr Bebars said in an interview on Friday. “The President very much welcomed the initiative of [economic] cooperation for the benefit of the people of the two countries.”

The Daily Monitor, quoting the Egyptian weekly newspaper, reported on Thursday that Egypt’s Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza had claimed that Uganda had offered his country 2 million feddans of arable land for establishing wheat and corn plantations.

The next day Parliament demanded an explanation from the government, prompting Lands Minister Omara Atubo to issue a statement denying the Egyptian land claim.

Mr Dennis Obbo, the Spokesman for the Ministry of Lands, in a statement issued on Friday, however, said officials from the two countries had discussed the issue.

“It is necessary to recall that when the two Egyptian Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Agriculture visited Uganda in June 2008, they paid a courtesy call on President Yoweri Museveni,” the statement read in part.

“The Egyptian Minister for Agriculture indicated that his Government could promote research and growing of wheat by local farmers where the soil and climate permit. No request for allocation of 2 million acres was made nor discussed.”

The Egyptian envoy, however, confirmed reports in the same paper, that a delegation comprising Egyptian entrepreneurs and scientists would visit Uganda in October to carry out soil analysis on the preferred farmland and ascertain its suitability. This, he said, would help the investors determine which variety of the cereals to plant for optimal yield.

The team will hold substantive deliberations with Ugandan counterparts on the location and size of land obtainable for the project; its tenure conditionality, and move to assess the rain pattern in the country as well as explore the possibility of establishing an irrigation scheme for the initiative.

Mr Tamale Mirundi, the Press Secretary to President Museveni yesterday weighed in favour of the agricultural scheme, saying opposition leaders such as MP Betty Kamya (FDC; Rubaga) - who have questioned the deal - are intent on “scaring away investors and inciting people against the government.”

Egypt is largely a desert country that relies on irrigation, using water from the River Nile, to feed its population of 81 million.

With global food prices soaring, many countries, including oil-rich but arid countries from the Middle East, are looking at buying land in naturally gifted fertile countries to set up huge commercial farms.

It has also emerged that Egyptian businessmen are also interested in setting up abattoirs to process and export Ugandan beef.
Original source: The Monitor

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