Tension in Egypt shows potency of food crisis

About 60 miles north of the Egyptian capital lies the country's agricultural heartland. Less than 3% of Egypt's territory is arable land. The best of it is found in the rich farmland of the Nile Delta.

Under a broiling sun, farmers trade rumors of the next move in commodities prices. Despite high prices for their crops, farmers here feel beset on all sides.

Their irrigation systems lack adequate maintenance. The cost of seeds and fertilizer has skyrocketed. Many pay rich landowners ever-higher rents for the right to work their modest lands. Those who own their own simple farms end up with smaller and smaller plots as each generation's inheritance subdivides farms among several sons.

Standing in a wheat field amid dive-bombing flies, farmer Samy Halim quotes a peasant proverb to explain his survival strategy: "Stretch your legs as far as your blanket. If you have a short blanket, don't stretch too much."

Smiling wanly, he adds, "We try to make a living. Sometimes, it's hard, but we do what we can."

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