Desert Development Center to Begin Phase Out Plan
This summer, after more than 30 years in operation, the Desert Development Center (DDC) will begin an orderly scaling down of its activities in order to close by October 2014.
The DDC, an applied research and training unit of The American University in Cairo was established in November 1979, when a prime ministerial decree allocated a 575 feddans of unreclaimed desert in South Tahrir (Buheira governorate) for development of a research station and training center. In the succeeding 32 years, the University and its supporters invested more than U.S. $30,000,000 in promoting sustainable development through the work of the DDC in South Tahrir. This investment has resulted in major benefits to the Egyptian people and economy, particularly in areas of improved water and soil management, citrus and other horticultural export crops, and small-holder livestock enterprises. More than 12,000 Egyptian farmers, teachers and students have received training at the South Tahrir training center.
“Over the years, the DDC’s biggest research contribution has been the improvement of Egypt’s citrus production,” said Richard Tutwiler, DDC director. “Citrus is now Egypt’s number one agricultural export commodity and is worth about $1 billion per year. It was not a significant part of the economy 30 years ago. Another major impact is on the educational front. An evaluation by the Ministry of International Cooperation cited the DDC training as the best program of its kind in Egypt. We are particularly proud of that.”
In an announcement last week, the University explained that the decision to close the DDC comes after the expiration of the original lease agreement for the South Tahrir land in 2009. Since then, AUC has been negotiating terms of renewal with the government agencies responsible for the land. The final offer from the National Company for Construction and Development was for a five-year renewal at a rental rate more than 2,000 times greater than the previous rate. The University agreed to a five-year extension on these terms, paying back rent owed at this increased rate from 2009 through October 2014, in order to arrange an orderly departure, knowing that an increase of this magnitude would mean that it is no longer financially feasible for AUC to maintain and operate the South Tahrir research station and training center. The DDC will reduce its level of operations and begin disposing of its assets in South Tahrir in a process to be completed by the end of October 2014.
At the same time, AUC will launch a new multidisciplinary research institute dedicated to promoting sustainable development in Egypt and the Middle East and North Africa region. The Research Institute for Sustainable Environments, or RISE, will carry forward the DDC’s legacy and many of its research and training activities on AUC’s New Cairo campus. While Tutwiler, who has led the DDC for more than a decade, is disappointed to see it close, he believes the location of RISE on campus will have added benefits. “With RISE being based directly on the campus, there will be much better interaction and integration between sustainability research at RISE and AUC students, faculty and staff than in the past when so much of what the DDC did was not easily accessible to the campus community,” he said.
RISE represents a reaffirmation and strengthening of the University’s commitment to sustainable development and environmental education in Egypt and the region. Building on the accomplishments of the DDC in natural resource management, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture in desert areas, RISE has been given an expanded mission to promote sustainable development in a diversity of environments in Egypt and the region, including rural and urban, desert and non-desert, through applied research, education and training programs.
“The DDC is an inseparable part of the University’s history, with decades of contributions to both AUC and Egypt. Throughout the years, the DDC has had an impact on the lives of many Egyptians and has flourished thanks to a number of dedicated AUC faculty and staff who believed in the importance of its role,” said President Lisa Anderson. “As we work over the next two years to ensure a smooth transition, I am pleased that the DDC’s core research and training legacy will continue in RISE, as the flagship institute for sustainable development at AUC and across the region.”
During the transition, Tutwiler and members of the human resources office, who have been meeting with staff at the DDC over the past few months, will work closely with the workforce at South Tahrir to ensure that this move takes place with the least disruption possible. There will be a number of positions at RISE and in Buildings and Grounds on the New Cairo campus, and the University will endeavor to offer the option of transfer to as many DDC staff members as possible, according to their qualifications and the availability of suitable positions. “AUC has established a transition team representing all the major stakeholders involved that meets on a regular basis to plan the process and communicate progress in the transition to all who may be affected,” said Tutwiler. “We fully intend that the process will be as transparent and fair as possible.”