Egyptians voted in the first free presidential elections in the nation’s history last week, so I’d like to dedicate this post to them.
There’s a lot of debate over how fair these elections can be in a nation still essentially controlled by the ruling military council and lacking a concrete constitution. But, as Egypt’s democracy is suffering what I hope are only growing pains, it’s organic cotton industry is in full bloom.
Cotton is a crop that requires a lot of water and is often defended against pests by being doused with harsh chemicals that not only harm the environment, but are dangerous to the health of the cotton farmers. Egyptian cotton, long-revered as the best in the world due to the length of the fiber itself, was no exception.
Then, in 1977, Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish founded SEKEM. The name comes from the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic for “vitality,” and vitality is what the organization injected into the Egyptian desert: cultivating organic crops using new biodynamic methods, establishing schools and helping communities, and eventually helping to reform the entire Egyptian agriculture industry.
In 1990, the Egyptian government tasked Sekem with finding a biodynamic method of growing cotton to reduce the use of pesticides. Not only did Sekem develop this concept, which was based on the use of pheromones to control cotton insects, but the results were so convincing that the Egyptian authorities officially promoted the methodology. Through an organization that became the Egyptian Biodynamic Association (EBDA), the method was spread and by 1999 had been applied to almost 80% of Egypt’s cotton fields, reducing pesticide use by 90% and saving an annual average of 30,000 tons of the chemicals. The average yield of raw cotton increased by nearly 30% to 1,220 kg per acre and a number of fiber quality parameters were better than those of cotton from conventional agriculture. (Data from this book excerpt)