Bethesda company seeks to free Egypt Agriculture: The country has a socialized system, so Development Alternatives Inc. will work to free up the price structure so it is set by market forces rather than the state.

November 30, 1996|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

A Bethesda company, with a helping hand from the University of Maryland, is out to change the agricultural policies of Egypt -- taking it from a socialized system controlled by the government to a free market economy.

Development Alternatives Inc., an international consulting firm, has been awarded a $10 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to increase production, productivity and incomes in the Egyptian agricultural sector through the removal of policy barriers to private enterprise.

"Egypt has a heavily socialized economy," said David Wilcock, director of the agriculture and agribusiness group at Development Alternatives, "and our basic goal is the liberalization of the economy and the reduction of government participation."

Wilcock said the work will involve the privatization of facilities to free up the price structure so that it is set by market forces rather than the state.

The University of Maryland serves as a subcontractor. It is to provide backup brain power in the areas of marketing, world trade and even water management, which is a major problem in Egypt.

Tal Shehata, who came to the United States from Egypt in the 1960s, is involved in the project at the College Park campus. In Egypt, he said, "the government dictates what farmers grow, how many acres they plant and when and where they market their crops. They have fixed price controls on input and output."

"Now they want to free everything. They want to free farmers to make decisions on what to grow, where to grow it, how many acres to plant and where to market their crops," said Shehata, director of the university's Office of International Programs.

The university's overall efforts are directed by Bruce Gardner, head of the school's Agriculture Economics Department. Gardner, an economist, served in the Bush administration as assistant secretary of agriculture.

"We are just in the formative stages at this time," said Gardner. "So it is not totally clear what our role will be. We have to wait until we see what they need.

"If they need help in marketing, we have two or three people who could help train them in this area. If they're more interested in the macroeconomics picture, exchange rate policies and things like that, we have some trade people here who could help."

Purdue University will serve in a capacity similar to that of the University of Maryland.

James D. Murphy, acting director of procurement with the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the Egyptian project typical of its programs around the world.

He said the Development Alternatives will be working with the Egyptian government to bring about reform beneficial to both countries.

This agriculture project is the latest foreign aide plan for Egypt stemming from the Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt negotiated by President Carter in 1978.

The new program will last for four years, according to Wilcock. Over that span, the company will provide technical assistance involving all aspects of agriculture, ranging from crop production at the farm level to processing and marketing to consumers or exporting.

The Egyptian project is one of the larger in the Bethesda company's history.

Development Alternatives was founded in 1970 by four students who met at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

From the start, Wilcock said, the company specialized in working with the U.S. Agency for International Development, which falls under the jurisdiction of the State Department.

Its first long-term assignment came in 1970, when the company was assigned to help Zaire feed its people.

He said the food system had completely collapsed. The company's assignment was to help the country establish a corn crop and with marketing.

JTC It also got involved in the reconstruction of Zaire's road system so that the food could be distributed.

Wilcock said Development Alternatives still draws 80 percent to 90 percent of its $50 million in annual revenues from the government agency.

The company has a staff of 120 people at its Bethesda headquarters and another 100 employees scattered around the world.

Only about eight or nine people from the company's core staff in Bethesda will be involved in the Egyptian agriculture project.

"It can be rewarding work," said Wilcock who was with the Peace Corps in West Africa before joining the Development Alternatives in 1968.

"It is most rewarding when you can see changes being made. Yeah, it has its moments."

Pub Date: 11/30/96

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