Surprisingly, the fertile fields of cauliflower and melons growing in a vast stretch of sand near Cairo’s pyramids are all too real. Tarek el-Kowmey points proudly to the banana trees he grows on what were once Sahara sands near the Development Centre where scientists experiment with high-tech techniques to make Egypt's desert green. "This used to be just sand," he said. "Now we can grow anything."
With only 5% of the country habitable, almost all of Egypt's 74 million people live along the Nile River and the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt's population is expected to double by 2050, and already crowded living conditions will likely get worse. So the government is keen to encourage people to settle in the desert by moving ahead with an expensive plan to reclaim 3.4 million acres of desert over the next 10 years. But to cultivate these areas, the government will need to irrigate the land with the scarce water resources of the Nile River because rainfall is almost non-existent.
Government authorities believe that greening the Sahara might be Egypt’s best hope of bringing prosperity to its people.
However, the plan has raised controversy among environmentalists. They think that authorities should focus on eco-tourism rather than agriculture, which might not be particularly profitable and could destroy fragile wildlife habitats that might otherwise be an attraction for tourists. They affirm: “We have long considered the desert the enemy we have to fight. But the desert cannot be conquered and we should live in harmony with it. Let’s enjoy the desert as it is. There’s enormous economic value in the desert without water.”