This is a part of a documentary titled “Transforming The City” which is an episode of a six one-hour series called “The People’s Planet”. The series was shot in 23 countries on Hi-Vision system (full HD) and was co-produced by Antelope and NHK of Japan for CNN and Télé Images. (2000). In addition to being featured in Cairo episode, I was also an associate researcher, location fixer, and interviewer for the production.
Draft transcript made by CNN
Cairo is a city that has used its rich heritage to help build a sustainable future.
NARRATOR: Cairo is a megacity with over 11 million people. Like many ancient cities, it wasn’t planned, but grew haphazardly, the rich and the poor sectors of society living elbow to elbow. During the last 30 years, millions of people have moved here from the farming villages in search of a new life and new opportunities.
And many migrants brought with them their ideas about growing food. They have given Cairo a rich culture of urban farming. This self-sustaining food supply helps the city limit its ecological footprint.
Said Samir runs a research institute that studies urban farming around the city. This morning, Said talks to two farmers who’ve worked here most of their lives. Tarik works the land in the afternoons. He helps his brother-in-law, Hag Ahmed Abdallah, who has a large family and farms full-time.
SAID SAMIR, (through translator): Do you think this land is important for the town?
Tarik (through translator): It’s important for food. That’s the crucial thing. The town lives on the countryside. If the agricultural land ceases to be, then the town won’t be able to feed itself. The land must be cultivated so the people can feed themselves.
NARRATOR: Much in this urban farmland is protected from development by tough city laws. Water from the Nile is crucial. It irrigates fields of vegetables for the local markets and clover crops for animal feed. The animals also provide manure for fertilizing the fields.
In farmhouses, people use century-old bread ovens to bake bread for the family. They sell the surplus at the market.
Locals say the food is a lot fresher than anything brought into the city.
Hag Ahmed Abdallah (through translator): Produce arriving from outside the city takes a day to be gathered, then a day to arrive. It hangs around for yet another day, then it takes a day to sell it. But our produce is sold on the day we pick it.
SAMIR (through translator): And the people like to eat your fresh food?
Hag Ahmed Abdallah (through translator): Of course, yes. When the produce reaches the consumer the day he eats it, he will notice the difference compared to eating something that is produced the day before.
NARRATOR: But one look at Cairo’s skyline shows it’s not just the land that’s farmed. Rooftop space is used for gardening and animals. Nearly one-fifth of Cairo’s household keep animals for food click to find out more.
SAMIR: The place we are in now is a typical rooftop of popular districts in Cairo. People use animals and raise them to cope with the high prices and low income, and the majority of population of Cairo live in areas like this, and for them, there are two different ways to cope with the high prices: to raise animals and poultry, and at the same time it’s like a hobby. This hobby is a habit that they are getting used to, because most of the population of Cairo are coming from outside. They come and bring the country traditions and hobbies with them.
As we can see here, most of the rooftops, there are animals, there are goats, there are chickens, ducks. And for them, as well, it’s much better than the stuff they bring from the market, because they say it has more, rich flavor, homemade raising food.
NARRATOR: Samir says this is a classic example of small-scale sustainable farming. It helps feed the city and replenishes the land at the same time.
In one of 500 small factories hidden away in Cairo’s streets, other frugal and sustainable ideas are at work. Abdul Wahid (ph) inherited this factory from his father. He’s run the family business for more than 30 years. The plant produces over 3,000 small wheels a day for trolleys, beds and refrigerators. They use waste metal from a local air-conditioning factory.
The wheels are a fifth of the price of imports and save on tons of steel at the same time. The factory next door has been here for more than 150 years. They buy glass waste from Cairo’s garbage collectors and recycle over 220 pounds a day. Glass workers make lamp shades for the mosques and other items for the local shops and tourist market.
Cairo grew with almost no planning. Through the years, it held onto ancient traditions that make it one of the liveliest cities in the world. In a moment, we’ll journey 6,000 miles away to another city, which hopes that careful planning is the key to a sustainable future.