EGYPT: Fish college to cut reliance on red meat

A recent hike in prices of beef products in Egypt has angered many in this country of 80 million people, 40% of whom are believed to live below the poverty line. Pro-consumer groups are pushing for a boycott of beef, traditionally a key dish on the menu. The creators of a new college, majoring in fish sciences, have promised a drastic change in food patterns.

The college, which will open to students in the next academic year, is the brainchild of Ali al-Zayat, who believes the new institution will fulfil a host of aims for Egypt. "It will help change Egyptians' food patterns by cutting our heavy reliance on animal protein by inducing a switch to fish," said al-Zayat, a specialist in fish culture.

According to him, raising cattle for meat production in Egypt prompts the cultivation of three million acres (feddans), or 1.2 million hectares, to produce fodder for them. "This limits the country's ability to grow badly needed wheat, thereby having to import more than 50% of its wheat needs in order to meet growing local demand."

Egypt has coastal stretches of 2,000 kilometres along the Red and Mediterranean Seas, in addition to seven lakes and the River Nile. For al-Zayat, these resources have yet to be optimally tapped to bridge the wide food gap.

"Egypt produces only 920 tons of fish annually, 60% of which are cultured in fish farms. In sharp contrast, China produces 40 million tons of fish in farms. One acre, used for food culture, produces seven times higher in China than in Egypt, simply because the Chinese, unlike the Egyptians, make use of fish science," explained al-Zayat.

These figures apparently prompted al-Zayat and several other colleagues to visit China, where he said five universities teach fish sciences and processing. They also toured similar institutions in Japan and the US. China, however, impressed them the most.

In Egypt, fish sciences are taught on a very small scale in veterinary departments and agriculture colleges. "This is not enough and reflects a haphazard approach to fishing."

Al Zayat argued that the launch of the first local fish college will help create a major industry in Egypt. "It will also encourage local fishermen to be trained in efficient ways to increase their production instead of having to illegally trawl in other countries' territorial waters where they are often prosecuted," he said.

"We aim to groom well-qualified graduates for this industry, to develop local fish farms and make fish a staple in Egypt," said al-Zayat.

The new college has been approved by Egypt's Ministry of Higher Education. Its staff are already selected and in place, and it is drawing mainly on Chinese expertise and assistance. The college is located in the coastal city of Suez, some 120 kilometres north-east of Cairo.