Would you tell us about the Egyptian Growers’ Organization, how it came about and what its goals are?
Hassan Zaher: The Egyptian Growers’ Organization (EGO) is proud to be the first cooperative concept for growers in Egypt, offering farmers a gateway to global produce markets. We are aiming to create and develop the co-op concept that is used in many countries in order to enhance the industry standards of farmers and offer the services and support they need to be sustainable. We want to help elevate farming practices and compliance so that our farmers can gain access to opportunities globally.
We believe in the co-op model and feel it has great potential for Egyptian growers. We aim to provide services such as: technical field support; compliance support and certifications assistance; market report information sharing; procurement services; and marketing opportunities for the produce grown by our different members and growers. We started our operations five years ago with six partners – farmers with land in various locations from the north to the south of the country.
How is the grape season shaping up?
HZ: The upcoming grape season looks to be a challenging one, due to the weather conditions. In addition, production is expected to start 7-10 days later than last year. Quality will be a bit tricky as the weather has been unstable with sudden temperature fluctuations in the build-up to harvest. Farmers must be diligent and take precautions to avoid problems.
Prices in Europe are also low compared with last season since India increased its volumes drastically. Low prices, coupled with increasing logistical costs from Egypt, mean shipments to Europe may be halted until better prices return. We all await the conclusion of the Brexit negotiations to see how this will change relations with the UK, potentially increasing demand there.
Are you making efforts to extend the grape season with new varieties?
HZ: We are always looking for farmers with exciting new varieties. This year we are introducing the Arra-15 and Inia Grape One varieties, the former being a white seedless variety, the latter a black seedless variety. Our regular offerings include the Prime, Sugraone, Flame, Crimson, Autumn Royal and Red Globe, among others. As the board members in EGO are farmers and nurserymen themselves, we are always aware of the latest varietal trends and keep an eye out for the opportunities they present.
How is the Chinese market developing?
HZ: It has great potential and will be of great importance for Egyptian grape growers. However, we must work hard to understand how to meet their specifications and deliver the right quality in order to better penetrate the market and tap its full potential. It is still early on in the relationship between Egypt and China, but the progress so far has been very positive and we must continue to market and introduce Egyptian grapes to Chinese consumers.
What are the biggest challenges you are facing?
HZ: It will take time for the EGO community to grow to its full potential and for us to convince farmers in Egypt of the co-op approach. However, the farmers that have joined EGO over the past few years have become convinced of the concept thanks to the results achieved and the services, support and transparency offered by EGO. We are looking to building trust among our growing farming community to form a lasting relationship where everyone can benefit, including the industry as a whole.