The FINANCIAL — Egypt’s agricultural sector is facing a number of challenges, such as the impacts of climate change, scarcity of water and land, high levels of urbanisation and increasing demand for healthy and nutritious food.
These issues were the focus of Promoting Sustainable Investment in Egypt’s Food Security – a high-level forum held on December 5 in Cairo to discuss investment opportunities in Egypt’s agricultural sector, and in particular, ways to make the sector more efficient and sustainable, according to the EBRD.
More than 200 key players from the public and private sectors gathered at the forum, which was organised by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) together with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank. This was in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, the Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation, and the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade.
Despite improvements in agricultural productivity, Egypt still faces major constraints on water and land use, which limit its domestic food production. The UN estimates that Egypt’s population will soar by 60 per cent to over 150 million by 2050. Consequently, the consumption of staple food products, including grain and sugar, is set to increase from 2 to 16 per cent over the next decade.
Participants at the event, including producer associations, policy-makers and investors, focused their discussions on two key themes: making Egypt’s agriculture more sustainable and supporting the country’s food systems in becoming more efficient, specifically in terms of import supply chains and subsectors with high potential for exports.
“The Egyptian government is keen on creating an appropriate investment environment to attract more local and foreign investment from both the public and private sectors, advancing the country’s development and ensuring more job opportunities for youth,” said Dr Abdel Moneim El-Banna, Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation.
He added that the Egyptian leadership has adopted the 2030 Sustainable Agricultural Development Strategy, incorporating Egypt’s vision to achieve by 2030 a competitive, balanced, and diversified economy, social justice, and improved livelihoods for the Egyptian people. This strategy seeks “comprehensive agricultural development for a new Egypt capable of achieving fast sustainable growth based on creativity and intensive knowledge, and providing a new agricultural environment to encourage investments.”
Cross-sector issues such as water and land use were discussed as well as the grain, sugar, horticulture and poultry-meat value chains.
Egypt has taken great steps to reform the grain sector, reduce wastage, introduce the smart-card consumer support system and improve public grain storage, but various bottlenecks remain.
Bearing in mind Egypt’s increasing demand for grain and oilseed imports for both food and feed, many at the forum identified streamlining phytosanitary and quality inspections, and developing port and inland storage infrastructure, as viable ways to reduce risks and facilitate investment along the supply chain. In addition, further public-private dialogue is crucial to the sector’s development.
FAO and the EBRD have been supporting the industry through sector research and analysis as well as supporting policy dialogue, activities and training.
Catarina Bjorlin Hansen, EBRD Deputy Head for Egypt, reiterated the importance of public-private dialogue and added: “The EBRD remains firmly committed to Egypt by supporting private sector competitiveness through stronger value chains, resource efficiency and improved access to finance in agriculture and agribusiness to unlock the sector’s potential.”
Since 2013, the Egyptian horticultural sector has exported over US$ 2 billion worth of fruit and vegetables each year, accounting for over 40 per cent of Egyptian agri-food exports, creating rural employment, generating foreign currency and reducing Egypt’s agri-food trade deficit. Participants discussed viable options for improving export access for Egyptian fruit and vegetable products, focusing on food safety standards and in particular the use of agricultural pesticides.
Also during the forum FAO and the EBRD unveiled the key findings of their recent review of the Egyptian sugar sector on improving production and the efficiency of resource use, which points to the potential to reduce natural gas consumption by as much as 40 per cent in some cases, which would translate into considerable gains for the economy.
Speaking at the forum, Simeon Ehui, Director of the World Bank’s Food and Agriculture Global Practice, said: “The World Bank looks forward to working with the government of Egypt and other partners to enhance the productivity and competitiveness of Egypt’s agriculture. We will aim to do this by strengthening the allocation and management of water resources and improving efficiency of supply chains with an emphasis on linking farmers to markets, enhancing the productivity of and access to markets for labour-intensive agriculture, and creating employment opportunities along the main supply chains.”
Sustainable investment to boost employment and food security
“The constraints placed on Egypt’s land and water resources by our changing climate definitely force us to look at solutions to make the country’s agricultural sector rigorously efficient,” said Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa Region, during his speech.
“After these discussions, I am convinced that there are economically sustainable investment ventures for Egypt’s agriculture that can improve the country’s food security and create jobs for youth, while making the best use of resources,” he added.
Ultimately, improved efficiency and sustainability in Egyptian agriculture will not only improve the lives of those working in the sector, but will benefit Egyptian consumers and producers alike.
The forum also featured the signing of a joint declaration by the government of Egypt and the three institutions, committing to collaborate on joint activities to further promote sustainable investment in Egypt, thereby safeguarding food security.