Egypt : A Land with 6,000 Years of History

By Masato Umeda,
Representative in Cairo

When you think of Egypt, you think of the Pyramids, and when you think of the Pyramids, you think of Egypt. You can’t talk about Egypt until you’ve seen the Pyramids, and in the autumn of 2007, when President Kishimoto of Summit Agro International visited us, we welcomed him with an invitation to visit them.
But there’s more to Egypt than the Pyramids. The country is a member of the “Next Eleven,” the group of nations that, after the BRICs, have the potential to become the world’s largest economies in the future. The reason for Egypt’s inclusion is its huge population.
The population is 80 million at present, but is growing at such a rate that it should surpass 100 million in 10 years time. Even the government doesn’t really know the true population figure, and every time you ask someone what it is, it seems to have increased.
With the belief that “where there are people, there is food, and where there is food, there is agriculture,” we are trying to establish ourselves as an “agricultural solutions company” in Egypt. We mainly sell agricultural chemicals and vegetable seeds produced by Japanese companies now, and in addition, we are making preparations for expanding into the fertilizer business. We have a total of five staff, mainly engaged in registration and sales. They are all unique characters.
After all, this is Egypt. The modern world sits on fallow land with 6,000 years of history. Egypt was the birthplace of agriculture, and no matter how much Japanese people extol the logic of their methods, agriculture in this country is not going to change easily. Even in the 21st century, farming villages still look like this:

The people are warm hearted. They don’t worry about details. When they hand over a 100-poundbill for 21 pounds’ worth of shopping, they get 80 pounds back in change. That’s the kind of people they are.*

This is that Egyptian national dish, Kushari. It consists of rice, pasta, and beans topped with tomato sauce, vinegar, and red pepper.

The man on the far right of the picture above is a farmer wearing a simple, white garment called ‘Jellabiya’. He is one of our customers. The men wearing suits are our agents. The young man in the T-shirt is a member of our staff.
Business negotiations in Egypt begin with the formation of personal relationships. Discussion of money is left to the end. They say things like this:
“Young people today have no spirit.”
“Does stuff like McDonald’s and KFC taste good? In Egypt you should eat Kushari (a delicious Egyptian national dish).”
“Young guy like you (even a middle-aged Japanese man of all of 42 is considered young in Egypt) need to study history. I’ve been growing tomatoes here for 120 years.” (!?)
Maybe Japan was also like that in the old days. Come to think of it, something that Japanese people have long forgotten is still part of day-to-day life here in Egypt.

River Nile (look out of the window of our office)

Breathing in the smell of the land as you engage in these “business negotiations,” you feel that human beings really are part of the life of the farm. If the job of a trading company is to wrap up major business negotiations, the fun of working in a trading company is coming into contact with the life of the earth and transforming it into energy for the future.
I think that this agribusiness that we engage in is about putting down roots locally and taking part in the life of the earth. Egypt is one such place that we can do that.

* An Egyptian pound was worth around 0.17 U.S. dollars as of June 2009.

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