Sahara Farming Village Struggles for Survival

Steven Stanek in Abu Minqar, Egypt
for National Geographic News
January 8, 2008

Deep in Egypt's western desert, the farming village of Abu Minqar appears like a mirage.

In a part of the world remarkable for its absence of life and color, this village of 4,000 people and their pastel-green fields seems to sprout miraculously from nothing in defiance of the laws of nature.

But the village is one of the most extreme examples of Egypt's plan to "green" its deserts, or take once-uninhabitable earth and convert it to farmland.

(See photos of Abu Minqar and other desert projects.)

Abu Minqar is far more remote than the majority of desert farmland in Egypt, being closer to the Libyan border than it is to fertile lands and flowing water of the Nile Valley.

Its unlikely existence is proof that Egypt can set up farms anywhere. But the hardships endured by its settlers raise questions about the resources and political will to sustain such projects.

Electricity and water run for just a fraction of the day, and many of the village's mud-brick huts are crumbling.

The government-built canals are mostly unlined and leaking, and farmers water their fields with primitive methods because there is no technology in place for more efficient irrigation.

"This is one of the most isolated communities—by distance and by desert—in Egypt," said Richard Tutwiler, director of the Desert Development Center (DDC) of the American University in Cairo, which leased a house in Abu Minqar two years ago to study the village's social patterns.

"In many ways these folks have been left to their own devices."

A Finite Water Source

Abu Minqar is far beyond the reach of the canals that channel the Nile water to most of Egypt's desert farms.

Continued on Next Page >>


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