Konstanze Abouleish, Managing Director of Naturtex, an enterprise for Egyptian organically grown cotton and part of the SEKEM Group spoke with OWN correspondent Malea Birke.
OWN: What is the situation of organic farming in Egypt?
KA: When we started, it was difficult. Now the organic and bio-dynamic methods are well-known, and our projects have grown. Organic farming is the basis for everything. No one can live without peasants. We have done a 100% study for all of Egypt. The result was that organic farming is much cheaper than conventional. For conventional agriculture, many things are subsidized.
It is clear that there is clean water. Erosion, pollution, and sick people are not included in the equation. That's why conventional agriculture seems cheaper. Oon the other hand, organic farming, which considers all resources, seems more expensive.
In the cotton sector, some employees who have learned from us have become self-employed. There are now more suppliers than just us.
OWN: Does the government support organic agriculture?
KA: No. There are standard agricultural subsidies, but not for organic farming.
OWN: What is the situation of agriculture in general in Egypt?
KA: As everywhere in the world. I do not know a country where the farmer is valued. He has the disadvantage. This has to do with our economic system, where the last one in the supply chain is the strongest. The farmer is the weakest. Fair trade is a step. But the supply chain can be very long.
OWN: What values do people have?
KA: A lot has happened with the 2011 revolution. It has broken a lot. It has stopped the endless old council that has been spinning for centuries. That made it clear that something has to change. We notice that especially in the women, who are now stronger. They have a social awareness that goes beyond the private sphere. The young people realize that they no longer just accept things, but they know what they want.
OWN: What does it take to support these processes?
KA: We had a team meeting with the topic: What would I wish for the world? There were wishes like: no more hunger, education for all, no pollution. We have noticed that in all our wishes there is a manipulation of time. Because humans have to go through different processes for their development. That is, you can only do what you have in front of your nose. Worldwide initiatives will not come from politics, but from the private sector.
That is, we do our things as best as we can. We work in four dimensions: social, environmental, economic and cultural. The combination of these aspects creates sustainability. It's about consciousness. That's the biggest and most important goal. But that takes time. We do our job to create awareness. There are many team meetings where self-responsibility is mentioned again and again. Every week, the Sustainability Officer discusses a theme: water, women, men, old age, about the customers, so that everyone gets an overview of the company.
OWN: Is there anything else you would like to mention?
KA: The topic of tolerance. I know the people here (in Egypt) and in Germany. I wish that there would be less tolerance and more understanding. By that I mean affection, sympathy and love. Then a true exchange would take place. That needs understanding. You have to learn about the others. Know the Koran, know the Bible. Both are very valuable.
Once a Christian employee died and employees wanted to go to the funeral in Cairo. We took everybody in buses. A Muslim employee said he enjoyed the incense ceremonies in the church. But he did not want anyone in his village to hear that he was in a church. People are afraid. There is an invisible barrier in society. One wants to belong to it and not venture to unknown places. The first step is to recognize this fear.
For the situation with the refugees, I see people want to be told how a culture is. This approach generates problems. You cannot decide which rules apply or that the refugees are guests in Germany, for example. But it has to be said. Without the statement, it is a state of limbo with which one gets stuck. I wish for more courage. There is a fear of being a racist. But that thought is racist.
OWN: Sukran (the Arabic word for "thank you")
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