Unemployed Youth Regain their Pride as City Farmers: Green rooftops in Cairo
Unemployed Youth Regain their Pride as City Farmers: Green rooftops in Cairo
The Cairo House, that is Emad Adly's first thought when we ask him about his dreams. A dream that has become a reality, though it was later nipped in the bud by the authorities.
An ecocentre, where Cairo's youth could learn to deal with the urban setting in an environmentally friendly manner. A catalyst for the necessary transformation of Egyptian society in a sustainable direction. That was Adly's aim with the Cairo House. Courses on efficient water management, renewable energy and sustainable building; demonstration projects and leadership trainings; debates about the future: it was all going to come together in the new centre. By Western standards, this doesn't sound overly revolutionary, but in the Egypt under the old regime it was. The new building made of sustainable materials was located on the border of the Christian and Jewish neighbourhoods in the old centre. For Adly, the Cairo House symbolised the new Egypt: an inspirational meeting place to build a shared vision of the future. "That is what Egypt needs: a shared dream, a vision of where we want to go. This is how we can step into the future together with the young generations."
Dangerous dreams, the authorities concluded, and they took over the Cairo House before its official inauguration. The centre became part of the Ministry of the Environment and now houses public servants. "It is no longer the ideal place for changes in behaviour and inspiration," says Adly, who claims he has been "literally ill" for a long time because of this state of affairs. A good friend of his who works for the government explained that the independent centre's success posed a threat. People were saying: those activists are doing better than the government. That was unacceptable, and so the authorities took over. Adly: "I told them: you have to create your own dreams, not take away those of others."
To no avail - the Cairo House dream fell apart. Adly found new inspiration in the Egyptian Revolution, the successful uprising of mainly young people. Many changes still need to be made in the country, but the seed of revolution has been planted and will bear fruit. The visible result today is that young people have regained their self-confidence, which had been paralysed until recently by the hopelessness of their situation. Cairo is bubbling with many new initiatives, many of which focus on the introduction of urban agriculture and horticulture in the metropolis. Youth organisation AOYE (Arab Office for Youth and Environment) - which Emad Adly created when he was a student together with some fellow students - is hosting the GEF Small Grants Programme that is experimenting with this initiative and has a couple of demonstration projects. Under the name Food Sovereignty Project, they work with another group of young people to spread knowledge, e.g., through an online platform where aspiring and beginning city farmers can exchange experiences and tips. The goal, they say, is to break through the city dwellers' dependence on the poorly regulated commercial agriculture, horticulture and food industries, and, in turn, to reconnect the people who live in the densely populated city neighbourhoods to Mother Earth.
Greenies, or hippies, yearning for a time that will never return? Not at all, Adly insists. He talks about creative and promising initiatives. In the background stands the debate surrounding food security for the rapidly growing Egyptian population. The country largely depends on one single water source, the Nile River. Adly: "The current situation is that there's not enough water to satisfy the needs of 85 million Egyptians. So what will happen in the future, when there are 100, 120 or even up to 150 million inhabitants? We must get to work at once or things will go terribly wrong." He is looking for solutions in three directions: education, a mix of traditional values and new techniques such as drip irrigation and urban agriculture, and intensive cooperation amongst the Nile governorates.
A Gift from God
So how will all this pan out in, say, 20 years from now? Adly outlines well-organised societies, based on strong local communities that make optimal use of the natural resources such as water and fertile soils. In the Nile Commission, the river governorates work closely together, following the model of the European Union (Adly adds laughing: "Though without the euro"). 'One Nile, One Family', is their slogan. This strong state community - which cannot be compared to the current, relatively powerless consultative body - shares the Nile water equitably. There is enough for everyone. It is clear that agriculture, which from time immemorial has been using some 80 percent of the available water, can manage with much less. The starting point is to maximise reuse. By applying techniques such as drip irrigation, the farmers no longer waste water. They know that water is a gift from God.
One of the characteristics of the new society is the dominant mix of traditional values and state-of-the-art technologies. They work very well together, says Adly. "There are no contradictions whatsoever between the values and ethics of an Arab Muslim society and new techniques and initiatives. They go hand in hand." Is it not the Koran that stresses the need for carefully managing vulnerable natural resources such as soil and water, and for sparing nature? And the Holy Book is also clear on the use of new methods. Adly: "The Prophet Mohammed himself said that it is every Muslim's duty to gather new knowledge. Even if it comes from a non-Muslim country such as China. The message, in other words, is to work with everyone. In brief, the Koran can be used perfectly well when one is training local communities and working towards achieving sustainability."
Everyone takes part in the new society, Adly stresses, and everyone will receive his or her fair share. To realise this, however, it is essential that we engage the youth. They are the agents of change, a source of transformation and the engine behind revolutions. Look at the Egyptian Revolution. While it may initially be about more freedom and less corruption, in the future, the youth will fight for a more sustainable society. Their energy and skills are decisive in this struggle to be successful. In the absence of an active government, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) have the important task of educating young people on how to discuss the challenges their country faces and developing a shared vision of the future. Adly: "Instead of being participants in a programme, they then become active players who use their skills to build a better future."
Small Companies Rent the Rooftops of Buildings
For example, people will rent rooftops as city farmers. In the new Egypt of let's say 20 years from now, young people will have mastered the art of rooftop farming. They have probably learned from young people in Gaza who, forced to do so as a result of the Israeli blockade, have started this initiative some time ago. Through their pioneering work, they have clearly shown that urban agriculture offers great promise for the entire Middle East. There are many other places in the world where people who lack space become creative, and these people also serve as a source of inspiration. Thus, the city-states of Hong Kong and Singapore are already producing 20 percent of all of the meat and vegetables they need to feed their inhabitants. And this percentage will only continue to increase, they believe. In turn, Adly is convinced that urban agriculture and horticulture in Cairo are a potential gold mine. He dreams of thousands of young people setting up small businesses and closing deals with flat owners for leasing their rooftops. Balconies, fallow land and neglected parks would be used for productive ends as well. With limited means but a dynamic exchange of experiences, poor city dwellers would be able to earn an (additional) income from growing vegetables and fruit.
Idealistic trainers from NGOs will discover that it doesn't make much sense to try to convince today's youth of the environmental benefits of urban agriculture, even though there are many. Poverty amongst the young is such that their main motivation will be earning an income. But, as the success of urban agriculture grows - Adly is convinced that at least one-quarter of the food needed to feed Cairo can be grown in this way in the future - so too will the understanding of the other benefits. The liveability of the city will improve since fewer trucks will be needed to transport fruit and vegetables from rural areas to the city, thus leading to a significant decrease in the suffocating air pollution - which is notorious in big Middle Eastern cities such as Cairo - that is a direct result of the traffic congestion. This will be further curbed by the purifying action of all those new green spaces. Urban agriculture also has a cooling effect during the hot summer days while, during the cold winter months, the green rooftops will retain the warmth. And, perhaps the most beautiful result, according to Adly, will be the return of the birds, bees and insects that abandoned the city long ago and this will be to the delight of many an inhabitant.Urban agriculture is obviously not the only strategy necessary to solve all of the Middle East's problems, Adly is quick to point out. But it is an important part of the solution. "It helps the cities and their dwellers to become less dependent on industrial food production elsewhere. And it makes them more resilient. This is important, also with regarding climate change. Let's get to work fast, then, so our dream can become reality."
| Emad Adly, doctor and activist
While he was a first-year medical student at Cairo University, Emad Adly (1957) joined the 'medical caravans', an initiative to bring medical services to the city slums. He soon realised that the lack of hygiene and environmental problems were at the root of the most common diseases in the deprived neighbourhoods, which led to his slogan: 'Treat the causes, not the symptoms'. Ever since then, Adly has been active in environmental issues. During his student days, he helped set up the Arab Office for Youth and Environment; more than ten years later, the Arab Network for the Environment and Development followed. In 1996, Adly was one of the founders of the Mediterranean Information Office for Environment, Culture and Sustainable Development, headquartered in Athens.
Like all Egyptians, Adly has a special bond with the Nile. He lived for years on the island of Manial, located in the Nile where he set up many environmental and communal projects. In 2001, this led to yet another new organisation, the Nile Basin Discourse Forum, which he has since chaired. Adly is also a member of various national and regional water organisations, and he is the national coordinator of the GEF/UNDP Small Grants Programme and the Local Initiative Facility for Urban Environment. Since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, he has been involved in the international discussions surrounding sustainable development.
Emad Adly has written several books about the environment and sustainable development in Egypt and the Middle East, and he is the editor in chief of Montada Al Biaa (Environment Forum Newsletter) and the Sustainable Mediterranean Newsletter.
Read more about this subject
Video / 8 November 2019
The Athi River Community Network is made up of communities who live along the Athi River watershed. Members of the Athi River Community Network promised to join forces with the Friends of Ondiri Wetland to ensure that this critical wetland is restored and conserved for the sake of current and future generations.
News / 8 November 2019
On Thursday November 7th, a group of European NGO's including Both ENDS, sent a letter to Vice-President of the EU Frans Timmermans, in which they ask him to support the phase out of European Investment Bank’s fossil fuel financing by the end of 2020.
News / 5 November 2019
After a complaint filed by women's groups from Ixquisis, Guatemala, the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) has started an investigation on several policy violations, amongst which the Gender Equality policy. This is a unique chance to create a precedent, because complaints on the IDB's gender policy are very rare. The women from Ixquisis are fighting for their rights with support of the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA).
News / 31 October 2019
Earlier this month, we learned that Golfrid Siregar, an Indonesian environmental lawyer working for our partner organisation WALHI died under suspicious circumstances. We call for a thorough and transparent investigation and have brought the case to the attention of the Indonesian embassy in The Hague and to the Netherlands' embassy in Jakarta.
Press release / 24 October 2019
Press release 24 October 2019
Starting today, investors can use five criteria to test whether companies in the fossil sector are actively working on phasing out their fossil activities. Too many investors still seem hesitant to switch to a profitable future of sustainable energy and these criteria should help them do this. The organisations DivestInvest Network, Sustainable Energy (Denmark) and Both ENDS (the Netherlands) publish the report "Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Businesses" today, which describes these five criteria. The criteria aim to help investors choose investments that are in line with the Paris goal "stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius warming." The recommendations are presented at the World Pension Summit deliberately, because pension fund investors in particular can take more responsibility in this.
Publication / 24 October 2019
News / 11 October 2019
In Indonesia, US-based mining companies succeeded to roll back new laws that were meant to boost the country’s economic development and protect its forests. This is the level of impact that investment treaties can have on social, environmental and economic development and rights. Why? Because of the ‘Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS) clauses that are included in many such treaties.
News / 11 October 2019
Indigenous communities in Paraguay saw their attempts to regain their ancestral lands thwarted by German investors. This is the level of impact that investment treaties can have on social, environmental and economic development and rights. Why? Because of the ‘Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS) clauses that are included in many such treaties.
Indigenous communities in Paraguay saw their attempts to regain their ancestral lands thwarted by German investors. In Indonesia, US-based mining companies succeeded to roll back new laws that were meant to boost the country’s economic development and protect its forests. This is the level of impact that investment treaties can have on social, environmental and economic development and rights. Why? Because of the ‘Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement’ clauses that are included in many such treaties.
Publication / 4 October 2019
Event / 27 September 2019, 13:00
On Friday 27 September, Both ENDS joins the Dutch Climate Strike and the march in The Hague.
This way we let our government know that there is no more time to waste and that it must take significant action in all policy areas to stop climate change.
More information on the Dutch Climate Strike can be found on https://klimaatstaking.nl/english/
News / 25 September 2019
52 charity organisations, community groups, foundations and NGOs, many of whom are not primarily concerned with climate change, have come together to express their concern about the dangers of climate change for everyone and everything in a joint declaration. They call for urgent action and support the Climate Strike this Friday 27 September in The Hague.
Press release / 23 September 2019
Amsterdam, 23 September 2019 - The world's 5th largest pension fund, with assets of over €430 billion, Dutch ABP is continuing to invest in companies that are on a collision course with the Paris climate goals, such as coal and oil companies.
Publication / 23 September 2019
News / 20 September 2019
We are shocked and alarmed by the news of a planned raid into the headquarters of an environmental organisation in the Philippines. Although the raid has not materialised until now, we are deeply concerned for their wellbeing.
Event / 20 September 2019, 19:30
Last June, after months of negotiations in five different 'climate roundtables', the Dutch government presented its Climate Agreement . Negotiations had taken place in a roundtable for 'industry', for 'built environment', for 'electricity', 'mobility' and for 'agriculture and land use'. Climate measures that the Netherlands can take within its borders are pretty much covered by these climate roundtables. But the Netherlands also has a huge climate footprint outside its borders. It seems we have forgotten about the 'International' Climate Roundtable.
Blog / 19 September 2019
Reward high-risk international business projects investing in a green future and stop support for the international fossil industry
The climate is 'hot'. Everyone is talking about it. 'Everyone needs to do something' calls the government in its recently started public campaign. Good plan. Let's really do something. For a start, we can stop supporting international trade in fossil energy by our own multinationals. That would free up 1.5 billion euros which we could use to combat climate change on an international scale and at the same time give our own innovative businesses a boost. Today's Vergeten Klimaattafel (Forgotten Climate Roundtable) will discuss the opportunities for the Netherlands to have a real impact. And those opportunities are enormous. Because our big money and our influence lie beyond our borders.
News / 17 September 2019
On September 20 and 27 the global climate strike takes place. Both ENDS joins the Dutch Climate Strike on September 27 in The Hague. This is why.
Event / 12 September 2019, 08:00 - 10:00
At the UNCCD COP14 in India, which is taking place from 2-13 September 2019, Both ENDS is co-organising a number of side events.
The rising demand for soy is having negative consequences for people and the environment in South America. Both ENDS reminds Dutch actors in the soy industry of their responsibilities and is working with partners on fair and sustainable alternatives.