Most Hungarians (and foreigners) don’t even know that the country called Eritrea exists. And even fewer people know that the small East African country is one of the success stories of the southern opening policy: Hungarian hens have been clucking in the country for several years, GLOBS Magazine said.

We’re on a neat farm a few kilometres away from Asmara, capital of Eritrea. The first thing I notice is the immaculate cleanness of the huge buildings – you can tell that everything is freshly painted. Then we’re welcomed with loud clucking upon entering. Being a laic, all I see is the incredible amount of poultry flooding the chicken pen. Keepers try to make their way through to feed them. Almaz, a kind lady with a white cloak, is the leader and the heart and soul of the farm. She’s been dealing with Hungarian chickens since they first arrived in Eritrea. She states that the hybrids from Bábolna adapted to the unique circumstances of Eritrea much better than the Dutch poultry they used to import before they started working together with Bábolna. She adds that Eritreans came to love Hungarian chickens.

The reason behind the freshly painted walls was that they were waiting for the next delivery at the time of our visit.

Because the charter flight of the Bábolna Corporation lands in Asmara twice a year with new supply. Then, the chickens are incubated and bred there, while also being used to improve the poultry stock of the country.

The Minister of Agriculture – after welcoming us in his office – talks enthusiastically about the cooperation with Hungary. He is clearly not a political delegate in the ministry: he’s a real expert, who knows incredible details about the characteristics of poultry hybrids and many other things. Agriculture is one of the key sectors in the cooperation between the two countries, and Minister Arefaine Berhe has clear ideas and visions about what the next steps should be. “The next flight will deliver nine horses and a carriage from Bábolna.” The horses will contribute to the improvement of the local stock, while the carriage will serve the Eritrean tourism, which is in an early stage for the time being. But when tourists visit the country, they will be able to go round Asmara’s World Heritage old town on a horse carriage.

But getting back to agriculture, it’s not only stock-farming that offers great opportunities for Hungarians in the African country. The Minister of Agriculture – who visited in Hungary Gödöllő several times – sees potential in cooperation in the field of horticulture, especially pomology. The climate of Asmara and its surroundings is ideal. It’s no surprise that Italian colonisers took a liking for it – the Eritrean upland is the land of eternal spring. The temperature is around 25-28° Celsius all year around and even though the country is found in the tropical zone, the altitude (2200 metres) cools down the air. Therefore some tropical, subtropical fruits grow all year around. And Hungarian experts could train and teach local farmers how they should experiment with Hungarian fruit trees that endure the local climate, such as peach and pear.

The negotiations also touched upon the import of Hungarian cattle, since dairy is one of the main sectors in Eritrea.

This is partly the result of the Italian colonisation – excellent cheese are made in Eritrea, which are up to the original Italian versions.

eritea flag
Photo: Globs Magazine

Péter Kveck, Hungarian Ambassador to Cairo who was first accredited to Eritrea, said that the country has several benefits for Hungarian companies, enterprises.

One of the main advantages is that Eritrea belongs to the smaller African countries, and we, Hungarians tend to have better chances on similar size markets than in countries where the competition is much stronger. Another advantage for Hungarians is that Eritrea is one of those rare African countries, where corruption is basically unknown. The country has been led by the same party since the declaration of independence in 1993, and the party grew out from the former partisan movement. Besides strong centralisation, the leadership lays emphasis on puritanism – even though all of the leaders are well-educated experts who speak several languages, they all share the views of President Isaias Afwerki about not seceding from common people. So not only a scene – almost inconceivable in Africa – portraying a minister who personally brings an official international agreement in an envelope to an ambassador in a downtown hotel could happen in Eritrea, but it is also quite frequent that ministers answer the emails sent to the ministries themselves.

However, something that poses difficulty is the underdevelopment of the infrastructure, and even locals admit it. Minister of Information Yemane Gebre-Meskel confirmed that this is currently the biggest challenge for the development of tourism. Because although the road network is surprisingly good – the country is proud that all villages can be approached on road – and there are less and less power blackouts, foreign mobile phones still don’t work in the country and a functioning Wi-Fi network can hardly be found anywhere.

Nevertheless, the country makes great efforts to boost development, and international organisations admit that out of the African countries, Eritrea is in the closest position to achieve the so called millennial development goals.

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Source: by Tamás SZŰCS, Journalist in foreign politics

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