People work in an orange company's packhouse in Beheira Province, Egypt on May 2, 2020. Egypt recently announced its status as the world's largest orange exporter, after citrus farms have been prospering in the North African country over the past few years. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)
by Mahmoud Fouly
BEHEIRA, Egypt, May 5 (Xinhua) -- Egypt recently announced its status as the world's largest orange exporter, after citrus farms have been prospering in the North African country over the past few years.
"Egyptian oranges have reached most of the world's markets as Egypt now ranks first worldwide in exporting oranges, surpassing Spain that has been in the lead over the past few years," said Ahmed al-Attar, head of the Central Administration of Plant Quarantine (CAPQ) which belongs to the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture.
Since the beginning of 2020, Egypt has exported 1.3 million tons of oranges amid a growing demand for Egyptian agricultural products, the exports of which have reached 2.2 million tons since January despite the global outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent statement by CAPQ.
At one of the farms of Maghrabi Agriculture (MAFA), the largest orchard in Egypt and probably in the world, Samy al-Sayyid, manager of CAPQ exporters service department, was supervising the stages of citrus processing from harvesting until packing and loading for exportation.
"CAPQ inspectors are present all day at citrus farms for supervision. They are also present at sea, air or land ports to complete exportation procedures without any delay," the CAPQ official told Xinhua at MAFA's packhouse.
Sayyid pointed out that nearly 100,000 tons of oranges have been exported to China this year.
MAFA stretches on a vast reclaimed desert area in the Beheira Province in the north of Egypt's capital Cairo, with rows of citrus trees shining with golden fruits waiting to be harvested and sent to the packing facility to be prepared for shipment to Arab, African, Western or Asian countries.
Sherif el-Maghraby, chairman of MAFA, said his company exports between 100,000 and 115,000 tons of agricultural products annually to about 142 supermarket chains in 57 countries around the world.
"We export between 60,000 and 85,000 tons of citrus per year, of which from seven to 10 percent goes to China. But in our future plan, China will be a key destination of our exports because of its huge and promising market," the MAFA chief told Xinhua.
MAFA has been exporting citrus to China for 12 years, Maghraby said, adding he was a member of the delegation that visited China about 20 years ago to negotiate the opening of the Chinese market for Egyptian citrus.
MAFA has more than 2,000 full-time employees and workers, as well as 2,000 to 4,700 day laborers per year according to the season.
At an MAFA farm, workers have been harvesting citrus trees with a distance of at least two meters between each two of them.
"We keep only one worker for each tree to maintain social distancing. We also make sure that the fruits are sound and clean and the boxes not too full of oranges in order not to be squeezed or ruined," said Ibrahim Abdullah, MAFA's agricultural supervisor.
"Egyptian oranges are characterized by high quality and large size, meeting all exportation standards and specifications," added Abdullah, who has been working for MAFA for about 20 years.
After being harvested, oranges go to the packhouse for initial sorting, washing and drying. Then, they go through a second manual sorting stage before passing through an electronic sizer to automatically separate them according to their size, color and defect degree.
Finally, the oranges continue their journey on conveyors until they are manually packed.
Every 30 minutes inside the MAFA's packhouse, a woman carrying an alcoholic disinfectant comes and sprays the hands of each employee and worker who all wear face masks.
Ahmed al-Saeedy, who is in charge of training MAFA's workers, said he trains them to maintain constant hygiene and safety, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We instruct the workers to wear face masks and sterilize their hands and feet before getting in the packhouse. Furthermore, anyone who passes through the farm gate, whether an employee or a visitor, has to be sterilized before getting in," the 50-year-old man told Xinhua.