An Egyptian farmer in the Nile valley: Egypt's government wants to create more farmland out of desert.Foto: AP
SPIEGEL: Are Egypt's seven fat years now behind it, and must we now brace ourselves for images of underfed cows?
Mahmud Safwat Mohieldin: The recession is behind us. Instead of a meager growth rate of 3.5 percent, last year alone we generated seven percent growth -- the trend is upward.
SPIEGEL: That sounds good. Yet, Egypt is struggling with serious problems, especially in agriculture, which has been neglected for decades. That is why Egypt imports two-thirds of its food at great cost -- also an upward trend.
Mohieldin: We indeed need to focus on the agricultural sector, which still employs the most workers. Our fields still account for more of our gross domestic product than industry and money transfers of Egyptian guest workers in the Gulf states.
SPIEGEL: How can the agricultural sector be reformed?
Mohieldin: We can get closer to that goal, if we, for example, reclaim desert areas, as we are on the shore of the Aswan High Dam, where together with the state of Sudan we will use the unused dam water to reclaim land.
SPIEGEL: But the huge reservoir has been available for the expansion of farmland for the past 38 years
Mohieldin: and we will now tap into it. We are in contact with the government in Khartoum, which is starting land reclamation projects in north Sudan.
SPIEGEL: The modernization of Egyptian agriculture will require a lot of money. Where will that come from?
Mohieldin: The state and the private sector will be equally needed because the infrastructural preconditions, such as roads and railway lines, will need to be created. The reclamation of one Feddan (0.42 hectare) of desert land costs at least 15,000 Egyptian Pounds ($2,885).
SPIEGEL: The land owners, most of whom own only parcels of land, cannot keep up with that.
Mohieldin: We know that and we are working to alleviate their financial burdens. That is why we are supporting specially created agricultural credit institutions, which offer low-interest, long-term loans. We're using Pakistan as the model, where the system has proven itself. We're also bringing in experts from India.
SPIEGEL: Are you not getting any help from the World Bank?
Mohieldin: The World Bank is financing 38 agricultural projects that have a total budget of $2 billion over two years, which are also being used to ensure the modernization of irrigation systems and to secure an efficient water economy.
SPIEGEL: Despite all these plans more and more farm land in the Nile delta is disappearing and in the Nile valley towns and villages are eating into the countryside like cancer.
Mohieldin: That's true. There is, however, an urban development plan that takes into account the natural population growth. We prefer to lose a couple of hectares to planned developments than to let the uncontrolled growth just continue to expand unbridled. The new satellite towns on desert land are another way of getting a handle on these problems.
SPIEGEL: The 80 million Egyptians use ever more energy, but the existing resources are insufficient to cover the demand. Why doesn't your government make more use of the : wind and sun?
Mohieldin: The production of solar energy is still too expensive, even though we have already gained experience in that field to a limited extent. In wind energy, on the other hand, we have made good progress. One of the world's best wind farms, for example, is located near Suez. We're already looking into the possibility of exporting the electricity generated by wind power to Europe via Spain and Bulgaria. We will have to invest a lot more in this sector in the future.
The interview was conducted by Amira El Ahl and Volkhard Windfuhr.