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Cairo: Egypt has disclosed an ambitious plan to export crocodiles as a new source of foreign currency for the dollar-hungry country.

The plan was outlined this week in parliament by Environment Minister Khalid Fahmi who called for legislation to allow the export of the reptile known for its quality skin.

The move comes as Egypt is struggling to revitalise its economy battered by years of turmoil in the Arab world’s most populous country of 92 million people.

“I am convinced that investment in crocodile breeding has economic returns as one crocodile now sells for $400 (Dh1,469),” Fahmi told the parliament’s Environment Committee on Sunday.

He added that a site has been designated for breeding crocodiles in Lake Nasser behind the high dam in Upper Egypt where there are an estimated 3,000 crocodiles at present.

The project is undertaken by an Egyptian company in cooperation with experts from Zambia and South Africa, according to the official.

“The problem of the excessive number of crocodiles in Lake Nasser can be turned into economic benefits. The Environment Ministry has drawn up a national programme for the breeding of the Nile crocodiles in Egypt.”

The Nile crocodile is the largest in Africa and generally regarded as the world’s second-largest after the saltwater crocodile.

The average size of the Nile crocodile ranges from 4.5 metres to 5.5 metres.

Fahmi said that Egypt’s potential export of the Nile crocodile has become possible after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an inter-governmental pact aimed at protecting wild animals and plants, has allowed trade in this specimen under certain restrictions.

“CITES no longer prohibits Egypt from exporting the Nile crocodile. But until now, unlike other African countries, Egypt has not got an export quota because we have no experience in breeding crocodiles,” the official said.

“We seek to make use of African expertise in setting up crocodile farms in Egypt. There is a global demand for the Nile crocodile because of its high-quality skin.”

The official expected Egypt to start exporting its crocodiles by 2020.

In recent months, Egypt has stepped up its efforts to increase its exports that stood at $18.3 billion (Dh67.22 billion) in 2015 against imports worth $64 billion that year, according to the state-run Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics.

“It is necessary to encourage local and foreign investment in crocodile-breeding farms in Egypt,” Fahmi told lawmakers.

He added that his ministry is ready to approve the construction of commercial aquariums for crocodiles.

The Egyptian economy has been in the doldrums due to the unrest, which followed the 2011 uprising that scared away tourists and investors.

The country’s foreign currency reserves have dwindled from their peak 36 billion dollars in 2010 to 19 billion in October this year.