Boosting private-public sector cooperation to strengthen Egypt’s food security
Unlocking Egypt’s agricultural potential was the focus of a two-day, high-level forum “Private Sector for Food Security: Improving the Investment Climate in Egypt’s Agribusiness Sector” which ended in Cairo.
Organized by FAO and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), in collaboration with Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, the forum brought together some 140 policy-makers, investors and representatives of international financial institutions. The forum sparked dialogue on ways to increase the efficiency of Egypt’s agricultural sector and reduce its food trade deficit.
‘Partnerships between the private and public sector play a crucial role in improving food security in the country’, was the main message conveyed and agreed upon by all participants.
“Stepping up investment in Egypt’s agricultural sector is of vital importance, considering the country’s dependence on food imports,” said Gilles Mettetal, EBRD’s Director for Agribusiness. “The EBRD can help mobilize investment from the private sector, taking its share of the risks and capitalizing on its experience in the transition region.”
“The Egyptian Government is open to new and innovative ways to bring on board experiences and expertise from the private sector. We have achieved important goals in the last years in terms of production but the way is still too long. We do value the support and the collaboration of the private sector,” stated the Egyptian Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, Ahmed Mahmoud Aly El Gizawy.
In a joint Letter of Intent FAO, the EBRD and the Ministry acknowledged “the importance of the agriculture sector”, and expressed their commitment to continue to strengthen their cooperation “to engage in transparent, long-term and predictable policies.”
Challenges and needs for integrated solutions
Nevertheless the challenges are considerable. Egypt is the world’s largest importer of grain. Wheat is crucial in the Egyptian diet, yet, the country depends on imports, thing that puts its food security at stake. Although Egypt’s level of self-sufficiency in grain may be improved through a more efficient use of resources, it is unlikely that the country can produce all the grain necessary for its growing population, or that would be at a highly unsustainable cost.
Targeted investments can reduce the cost of Egypt’s grain import bill, and make the grain import supply chain much more efficient.
Egypt has a very dynamic horticultural sector, delivering markets in the Middle East and Europe. The sector has a positive trade balance and generates very much needed foreign currency. However, the sector is characterized by heavy post-harvest losses and its efficiency could be further improved.
Ad hoc investments can make the horticultural sector more efficient contributing to a better use of already scarce and not evenly distributed resources and reducing post harvest losses.
How to make a difference
The private sector, bolstered by cooperation with the public sector, can help Egypt to move towards a sustainable long-term approach to tackling food security concerns. This can also provide a boost to existing, promising developments. For example, export revenues from fresh produce have increased 240 percent in five years to over US$ 2 billion and the sector is an important source of rural employment.
“FAO is convinced that private sector investment can make a difference not only in strengthening the efficiency of how Egypt’s agriculture uses scarce natural resources but also in terms of competitiveness,” said Abdessallam Ould Ahmed, FAO’s Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East. “FAO is more determined than ever to engage with the private sector in order to support more efficient and inclusive agricultural systems. Fortunately there are many success stories in Egypt to build on. I refer to the increase in exports of horticulture products reached also through the use of brackish water. We will continue to work with the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture to step up dialogue between the private sector and public authorities on creating a supportive policy and regulatory environment.”
The forum was organized with funding from the EBRD’s southern and eastern Mediterranean (SEMED) Multi-Donor Account (MDA). Donors to the SEMED MDA include Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.