Egypt’s Minister of Planning and Economic Development Hala El-Said has participated in a high-level dialogue on food security in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which took place on Monday.
The World Bank Dialogue, entitled “Food Security in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis: Pathways from crisis to recovery”, was held via video conference. It is part of a series of events organised for the Spring Meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
El-Said spoke about investments and future reforms in the food system in Egypt, with the country’s food sector managing to address the effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The minister also said that the country did not witness a shortage of food or a decline in any of the strategic crops. Egypt was also able to ensure food security for the poorest groups, which was achieved through many financial and monetary measures put in place by the government to cushion the economic impacts of the crisis.
The Egyptian Government undertook a set of measures, including stimulus policies such as a financial package of EGP 100bn at a rate of 1.8% of GDP. This was in addition to the initiatives put in place by the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE), to extend its programme of EGP 100bn to cover lending at preferential rates to the agricultural sector. Cash transfers to the most vulnerable families and groups in Egypt were also expanded.
El-Said said that Egypt’s agro-food sector takes into account agriculture and food processing as well as related inputs and trade. The sector makes up around 24.5% of GDP, and 23.2% in the added value of labour in Egypt.
The minister indicated that agriculture and food production are among the most attractive investment opportunities in Egypt. The country also boasts good quality soil and climatic conditions, as well as its geographical location close to the Arab region and Europe, along with its large participation in trade agreements.
She said that the Egyptian Government’s launch of the structural reform programme in 2016 focused on raising the productive capacity and competitiveness of the real economy. It had a special focus on industry, information and communication technology (ICT), and agriculture.
Moreover, the programme focused on elements related to food security, such as the green economy, environmental protection, and facing the challenge of an increasing population. It recognises the fact that there is a need to control population growth rates and deal with water scarcity.
Egypt aims to increase the GDP contribution of its agriculture sector to 12% by 2024, in addition to increasing agricultural production by 30% by 2024.
This will create job opportunities in this sector, and increase the income of small farmers, whilst increasing exports. This will take place by doubling the sector’s share in exports from 17% in 2020 to 25% in 2024, according to El-Said.
Regarding water management, the minister revealed that the Egyptian Government aims to increase water share through: desalination; conserving water consumption by modernising irrigation technology; improving infrastructure through the renewal of the national network of water canals, at a cost of EGP 80bn; and providing new water sources such as reusing wastewater in agriculture and maximising groundwater use.
El-Said also indicated that the Egyptian Government is implementing a project of land reclamation and cultivation of 1.5 million feddan, to improve food security. It is also adopting a participatory approach to rehabilitating rural areas through one of the largest social protection programmes, the “Decent Life” initiative, which has received investments amounting to $45bn (EGP 700bn).
She explained that the programme, which is looking to cover over 50% of the Egyptian population, aims to modernise rural infrastructure, and provide basic and social services to 4,700 villages.
El-Said reviewed the green economy, and pointed out that Egypt issued green bonds worth $750m for a period of five years. This represents the first sale of these bonds by a government in the MENA region.
The minister added that Egypt’s vision is consistent with the global trend, as the global green debt market is expected to rise this year.
She noted that the Climate Bond Initiative expects that global green bonds, loans, and sukuk will reach $400-450bn. This will follow a record growth of the green bond market in 2020, which saw an issuance exceeding $269.5bn.
El-Said added that Egypt faces two main challenges, in addition to the challenge of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, namely climate change and water scarcity.
She added that the private sector represents a major component of national and regional efforts to strengthen food systems. El-Said noted that the role of The Sovereign Fund of Egypt (TSFE) is as a main tool that helps in strengthening the role of the private sector.
The conference was attended by: Ferid Belhaj, Vice President of the World Bank Group for the MENA region; Waed Abdullah Badheeb, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation in Yemen; Elias Moussa Douali, Minister of Economy and Finance in charge of Industry and Planning in Djibouti; and Aziz Akhannouch, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water and Forests in Morocco.
Other attendees also included: Carola van Rijnsper, Ambassador for Sustainable Development at the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Director of the Inclusive Green Growth Programme; Clemens Pressinger, President of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); and Louis Lahoud, Director-General of the Ministry of Agriculture in Lebanon.