Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute
The Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI) represents a vehicle within the Egyptian agricultural arena for the transfer and application of genetic engineering technology.
The challenge facing the world today is to provide food, fiber, and industrial raw materials for an ever growing world population without degenerating the environment or affecting the future productivity of natural resources. Meeting this challenge will require the continued support of science, research and education. A high demand for attention to these problems lies in developing countries, where 90% of the world's population growth will take place within the next two decades.
In Egypt, a limited arable land base coupled with an ever growing population are the main reasons for the ever increasing food production/consumption gap. Egypt is living on 7.4 acres which must feed 60 million people. Increasing the agricultural land base to 14 million cropping acres would only satisfy 50% of the requirement for the current population. Modest calculations indicate that by the year 2000 the country’s population is expected to reach about 75 million and swell to 110 million by the year 2025. The consequence of this phenomenon on the agricultural sector is that Egypt has and will have the problem of availability of arable land.
In addition, agriculture represents the spearhead of socio-economic development in Egypt: accounting for 28% of the national income with almost 50% of the country’s work force dependent on the agricultural subsector, and agricultural commodities generate more than 20% of the country’s total export earnings. In recent years, with an increasing population, agricultural commodity exports have dropped to 15% of total production due to increased domestic demand.
With a growing population and increasing pressure on limited land, the traditional system of intensifying production is not going to help solve Egypt’s food problems. To bridge the food production/consumption gap and to fulfill the goal of self-sufficiency, expanding the land base and optimizing agricultural outputs are urgently needed.
Genetic engineering offers major tools to enhance agricultural production. Techniques in genetic engineering specifically aim at bridging species barriers to allow for genetic changes considered impossible just a few years ago. Biotechnology research offers new approaches to agricultural sustainability whereby human requirements may be met and tackled, the environment shall become enhanced rather than destroyed, non-reusable natural resources could be used more effectively and farm operations could be salvaged.
A significant contribution to increased food production could be achieved by protecting crop yields from losses to pests, pathogens and weeds. The total loss of world-wide agricultural production ranges from 20 to 40% including both pre-harvest and post-harvest losses, which occur despite the widespread use of synthetic pesticides. It is in this area of crop protection that genetic engineering could offer great benefits to the environment, by replacing the present policy of blanket sprayings of crops with herbicides, fungicides and pesticides, with a combination of inherent engineered resistance to pests and diseases.
In addition, because almost all arable land is currently in production, researchers are eyeing the desert as the only new place to cultivate and must modify crops to cope with the salinity, heat and drought prevailing in this desert.
Egypt is increasingly aware that it must use its own limited resources in a cost effective way. Failure to develop its own appropriate biotechnology applications and inability to acquire technology developed elsewhere could deny Egypt timely access to new important advances that can overcome significant constraints to increased agricultural productivity.