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 Desert Development Center

Professor Emeritus: A. Bishay
Director: R. N. Tutwiler

The AUC Desert Development Center (DDC) was established in 1979 as a center of excellence in applied research and training.  As an integral part of AUC, the DDC shares the University's educational mission and, in particular, the goal of carrying out applied research to address development challenges facing Egypt and the Middle East and North Africa Region. In addition, the DDC serves as a bridge linking together scientists and researchers in the Egyptian national institutions and civil society with their colleagues at AUC, in the Region, and in the global community. The focus of the DDC is on the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of desert communities through increased productivity and economic benefits, enhanced diversity of outputs, and improved conservation of natural resources. The DDC maintains an extensive program of research, training, and informational activities to meet its objectives.

The DDC operates two field research stations. The smaller (11 hectares) is in the urban desert development complex of Sadat City some 90 kilometers northwest of Cairo, where the research emphasis is on small-scale, labor intensive, high value agricultural activities suitable for household enterprises in urban and peri-urban desert situations. The larger research station (240 hectares) is located about 140 kilometers northwest of Cairo in the South Tahrir section of newly reclaimed desert land in Buheira Governorate. At South Tahrir, the research focus is on the needs and problems of new rural settlements in the desert, and especially the adaptation and integration of traditional farm enterprises, together with modern technologies, in sustainable farming systems for new desert settlers. The DDC operates a residential training facility with a capacity of 150 men and women trainees on the grounds of the South Tahrir Research Station. Since 1993, several thousand desert farmers have received practical, hands-on training at the DDC Research Stations, where a wide range of operational demonstrations are maintained for instructional purposes. The DDC currently maintains a full time professional staff of over 55 researchers, trainers, and support personnel, in addition to 24 part-time faculty seconded from Egypt's national universities and research institutes.

As an integral part of the American University in Cairo, the DDC is a non-profit organization obtaining the majority of its operating funds from charitable grants and donations.

Research Program

Within the strategic goals of research and training for sustainable desert development, the DDC research program can be characterized under four categories:

Externally-funded Research Projects:

These are research activities based on formal proposals with specified outputs and limited duration supported financially from grants by donor organizations.  A sample of recently completed and currently operational externally-funded projects include:

  • Adaptation and propagation techniques of Australian pine trees (Casuarina species) inoculated with Frankia bacteria strains to promote fast growing, nitrogen fixing shelter belts with low water utilization in new desert farms and communities.
  • Local Institutional Frameworks for Poverty Alleviation and Reducing Environmental Degradation in Rural Egypt.
  • Assessing the Performance of Water User Associations in Egypt.
  • Optimizing water use by annual and perennial crops under different desert farming systems.
  • Improved architecture for desert farms and communities utilizing local materials and renewable energy.
  • Utilizing renewable energy and recycling agricultural waste in desert farms and communities.

Collaborative Research and Development Programs:

The DDC has established collaborative research and development activities with other research institutions, private sector bodies, universities, and other institutions that have similar interests in desert development. Examples of current collaborative activities are:

  • Socio-economic Baseline Survey and Pre-Project Characterization of the New Lands of the East Delta Development Region.
  • Collaboration with the Agha Khan Foundation to develop a working model nursery at the DDC South Tahrir Station for the  propagation and adaptation of ornamental trees, shrubs, climbers, and ground cover plants in South-Tahrir for establishing a National Park in the old city of Cairo.
  • Cooperation with the Sixth of October Company for Agricultural Projects to establish a research and development program for the Shabab Area, West Suez Canal region.
  • Cooperation with the East Delta Desert Settlement and Development Project to establish a Socio-economic Baseline and Pre-project Characterization of the settlers and new lands in the East Delta area.
  • Cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and the GTZ in the National Project for Improvement of Citrus Production in Egypt.
  • Cooperation with the Central Laboratory for Agricultural Climate, Agricultural Research Center, Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation to collect and analyze micro-climatic data at the DDC South Tahrir Station for use in modelling crop growth and pest and disease incidence due to climatic factors.
  • Cooperation with Cairo university, Fayyoum Campus on screening for resistance to nematodes in tomatoes, adaptation of improved varieties, and establishment of economically sound organic production systems for small holders.

Individual Research Programs:

The DDC hosts individual post-graduate and under-graduate students, as well as non-degree researchers, provided that the individual research topics contribute to the goals and mission of the DDC. Students may be affiliated with AUC, national, or international universities or institutions.

Operational Experimentation and Assessment:

In-house applied research activities are directed to solving production and sustainability problems on the research stations of the DDC. These activities include conducting experiments and trials, testing new techniques or methods, and establishing demonstrations for training purposes. In addition to addressing immediate problems, operational experimentation and assessment of performance often provides essential information for preparing proposals for externally-funded research projects.

Training Program

DDC has established a training center unique in Egypt for its excellent residential and educational facilities located on site within an exemplary newly developed desert farm. The DDC training facility has been utilized by international and national training and development agencies; governmental and non-governmental as well as universities, research centers, and individuals.

National Training Programs on Desert Development for University Graduates

Egypt's success in expanding desert development programs while accelerating their effectiveness depends, in large part, on its ability to produce substantial numbers of people who command basic desert farming skills, and who are well grounded in desert agricultural technology. Competent, action-oriented desert agriculture workers and leaders can be produced through appropriately and purposely designed training programs.

The DDC has been training new desert settlers since 1993 through grants provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation under the United States Department of Agriculture 416B Program. The residential training at the DDC facilities is tailored to the specific needs of new settlers on small farms, many of whom have no prior experience in agriculture or farm management. The training exposes them to the major issues in developing sustainable farms and farming systems on their newly reclaimed land. In addition, they are given demonstrations and knowledge about renewable energy use and environmentally appropriate house construction and maintenance. Altogether, the DDC has trained thousands of new settlers since the inception of this program in a wide diversity of subjects in sustainable desert agriculture and resource management.

Continuing Education and Short Evening Courses

This program caters for the needs of desert farm managers and owners needing specific technical and managerial expertise. The Program consists of a series of four-week modules with three-hour class instruction twice a week at AUC in the evenings and a full working day at the DDC sites each weekend. The courses and field visits emphasize hands-on experience and deal mainly with practical problems faced by the participants. A total of almost one thousand men and women have participated in this program

The DDC and the Center of Adult and Continuing Education at AUC have agreed to offer jointly a series of training courses on desert agribusiness, agro-industry, and applications of desert agricultural technologies and practices.

Training Programs with National Universities

The DDC provides national universities in Egypt with a variety of summer and winter session opportunities for training their students in the applied aspects of desert agriculture and development. These arrangements include the Open Education Program with Cairo University and Summer Session Practicum activities with Alexandria University, Cairo University, and Tanta University. These group-training sessions are in addition to individual student research programs conducted at the DDC research sites.

Individual Special Training

DDC offers tailored training programs for both Egyptians and non-Egyptians upon the request of individuals or their sponsors.

Direct Services to Desert Communities

In recent years, DDC interaction with desert communities has extended to virtually all the major desert development areas in Egypt. In addition to the areas west of the Delta where the DDC facilities are located, the DDC has been active in the East Delta zone, Port Said relamation area, Fayyoum settlement area, East Oweinat area and Tushka in the far south of the country. Services provided to desert communities include: 

  • Land survey and soil, water and plant chemical and physical analysis,
  • Soil, water and plant microbiological analysis (nematode, insects, mold, rot, pathogens, etc.),
  • Clinical services for diseased plants,
  • Improved, higher value crops and varieties, which the DDC has tested and adapted to desert conditions. Tissue culture products and selected citrus fruit and wood-trees species are representative examples,
  • Consultancies and advisory services for farm land use planning and management,
  • Extension and outreach services are provided to farmers and investors through on-and off-farm demonstrations, meetings and pamphlets,
  • DDC, in cooperation with the National Illiteracy Education Program, has offered evening literacy classes for both men and women in villages neighboring DDC research stations.

Last Updated July, 2001

Copyright 2000-2001, The American University in Cairo