Egyptian eco-activist turns agricultural waste into crafts

Enas Khamis’ Cairo workshop spreads the recycling message. (Supplied)
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Updated 18 January 2020

Egyptian eco-activist turns agricultural waste into crafts

  • Workshop set up by Enas Khamis in 2007 is recycling agricultural waste into paper crafts
  • An estimated 22–26 million tones of dry agricultural waste is burned annually in Egypt

CAIRO: The sustainable disposal of agricultural waste has long been a challenge in Egypt.
Despite a 2012 government ban on burning rice straw at the end of the harvest, every year thick black clouds choke the nation’s skies as farmers set their waste ablaze.
An estimated 22–26 million dry tons of agricultural waste in Egypt is burned annually, according to figures from the American University of Cairo.
As well as being burned in fields, agricultural waste is often used as fuel in primitive ovens that can cause health problems and damage the environment.
The type and quantity of agricultural waste in Egypt differs from year to year and village to village because farmers cultivate whichever crops are the most profitable at any time.
The five crops with the highest amount of waste are rice, corn, wheat, cotton and sugarcane.
In the past decade, government and civil focus has turned towards reducing agricultural waste, but much more needs to be done.
Enas Khamis, one of Cairo’s leading anti-waste activists, was ahead of her time when she set up El Nafeza, a waste reduction workshop, in 2007.
“The disposal of agricultural waste plays a big role in the pollution of our Egyptian skies. Yet a lot of the wastage can be recycled,” Khamis said.
Her social enterprise turns the huge amounts of dumped rice straw into a resource for both humanity and the environment. The workshop also trains and hires people with disabilities to recycle rice straws into paper products that are sold all over the country.
Proceeds from selling El Nafeza crafts are used to run further workshops for young people, women and people with disabilities, teaching them how to use papermaking skills to create products from agricultural refuse.
“It’s important that we empower these groups and teach them a craft that enables them to live in dignity,” says Khamis.
El Nafeza has established specialized training centers to teach and spread art techniques —especially skills working with rice straws, Nile water lilies and bananas stalks.
“The handmade paper industry is considered a non-traditional source of income in poor areas and the development of these crafts will help to solve the unemployment problem in Egypt,” said Khamis.
The El Nafeza workshop in Cairo produces more than 150 handmade products, including paper, envelopes, notebooks, handcrafted cards and frames.
Khamis relies on this workshop to act as a marketing tool for the brand, which sells to both locals and tourists.
“It is easy to sell our products from there because it is better for the customer to see the steps of our work in detail. They can see what a distinctive product it is and how much craftsmanship goes into it,” she said.
Khamis is busy working on a business and marketing strategy to take her wares into the international arena.
“We have plans to export our products to many countries, such as Germany, Italy and the US.
“We already have beautiful and unique products which we will continue to improve. Now our biggest challenge is selling our products and opening up our markets,” she said.


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. 


Iran nuclear deal commission meets to try to save 2015 accord

Updated 26 February 2020

Iran nuclear deal commission meets to try to save 2015 accord

  • Landmark agreement pact has been crumbling since the US withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran
  • Renewed US sanctions have almost entirely isolated Iran from the international financial system

VIENNA: The remaining parties to the faltering Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Wednesday in their first gathering after Britain, France and Germany launched a dispute process over Tehran’s successive pullbacks.
The meeting comes as the parties try to find a way to save the landmark 2015 agreement, which has been crumbling since the US withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran.
The Europeans hope to persuade Tehran to come back into line with the deal curbing Iran’s nuclear program after Tehran made a series of steps away in protest at the US pull-out.
Wednesday’s meeting at political directors’ level, convening the commission set up by the deal, will be chaired by EU senior official Helga Schmid.
“This is a chance though not of 100 percent to stop escalation before it is too late,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Russian Embassy in Vienna on Twitter.
In its last announcement in early January, Tehran said it would no longer observe limits on the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
It was its fifth step away from the deal since US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal and led to Germany, Britain and France triggering the dispute process on January 14.
The process spells out several steps, the last one of which is notifying the UN Security Council. UN sanctions would then automatically “snap back” after 30 days unless the Security Council voted to stop it.
A diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said that no time table had been fixed for solving the dispute, adding “we are still far from a result.”
“We all want to save the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is known) so that the inspectors can continue their work in Iran,” the diplomat said, referring to the inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The Vienna-based UN nuclear agency has been tasked with monitoring the deal’s implementation and issues regular reports, the latest of which is expected within days.
Western diplomats recognize it is highly unlikely Iran will heed calls to come back into full compliance without substantial concessions in return — such as an end to US sanctions or Europe taking measures to offset their economic impact.
But they hope the use of the dispute process will convince Iran not to make any more moves away from the deal, giving space for back-channel diplomacy aimed at bringing Washington and Tehran back into alignment.
The diplomat said that Iran could also “at least freeze its uranium stocks” as a possible positive outcome of the current discussions.
At a major international security conference in Munich earlier this month, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran would be prepared to move back toward the deal if Europe provides “meaningful” economic benefits.
Europe has set up a special trading mechanism called Instex to try to enable legitimate humanitarian trade with Iran, but it has yet to complete any transactions and Tehran regards it as inadequate.
The renewed US sanctions have almost entirely isolated Iran from the international financial system, driven away oil buyers and plunged the country into a severe recession.