A high-level delegation of Executive Board members and senior staff of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) began an official one-week visit to Egypt on 23 October. Daily News Egypt interviewed Donal Brown, Associate Vice-President, Programme Management Department; Yaya Olaniran, Spokesperson and Lead of IFAD’s Executive Board delegation and Permanent Representative from Nigeria to IFAD, and Dina Saleh, Regional Director for Near East, North Africa, Central Asia, and Europe Division, to learn more about IFAD projects in Egypt.
What’s the visit purpose, and what are the expected outcomes?
Donal Brown: I am coming with some Board members from IFAD’s Executive Board. They visit a country once a year, to see the projects, engage with the government to understand more of our work on the ground and see for themselves the results.
We have a delegation of six board members, this time Ambassadors from Rome and capitals. We will be here for six days, meeting with the government, visiting the projects near Alexandria, and having a chance to assess the programme.
Yaya Olaniran: I want to add that it’s good to read reports, but it’s better to have the opportunity to go the field and speak with the people involved to talk with them. Most time, the reports are there, but the nuances are not there, and the nuances are not the only factors. If you know the background of the situation, you will assess it better.
In going out on missions on the field, we don’t only learn from people that IFAD is partnering with, but also the team and the Executive Board members get to know each other better.
I’ve discovered that after field visits, Board Members are always more willing to see the point of view of the management and the staff on the ground, making the whole process better and easier.
One other important thing is that IFAD is being transformed, mainly because the old formula for financing is outdated. IFAD decided to have a new formula for allocating resources. With these new components, you need to understand what is on the ground before seeing what experts say.
Are there any new agreements or deals that will be signed?
Donal Brown: We have a big project, “Sustainable Transformation for Agricultural Resilience in Upper Egypt (STAR),” This is our new project with a lot of innovation; our board approved it in December 2019. It is for over $200m, involving several partners and generating a lot of interest.
We negotiated with the Egyptian Government but we are awaiting their final approval. I hope that may happen this week while we have the Board Members here and myself here because it’s been a bit delayed, and we need to get started.
Can you elaborate more on the project, its total cost and beneficiaries?
Donal Brown: STAR aims to improve the income and resilience of smallholder and landless families by strengthening rural institutions, enterprises and markets and improvement of smallholders’ productivity and resilience through an investment of $269.64m, and reaching 200,000 beneficiaries.
In your opinion, what distinguishes Egypt in its relation with IFAD? What are the total number and value of IFAD’s projects in Egypt?
Donal Brown: Egypt is crucial for IFAD. It is our largest recipient of financial assistance in the Near East and North Africa and was one of the first countries to receive the Fund’s financing.
Since 1978, IFAD has supported rural poverty alleviation in Egypt through 14 developmental programmes and projects with a total value of $1.1 bn, of which IFAD directly financed $519.28m, reaching more than 7 million people.
We have had over 14 projects here, and IFAD has directly invested over $500m. But we have managed to also mobilise about $500m of additional financing. So the total portfolio here has been worth over $1bn.
We are the biggest funder of agricultural projects in Egypt, and we’ve had a very strong partnership with the government on that side.
One of the most interesting things for us with Egypt is that we try projects here, doing a lot of innovation, and often we test some quite new ideas and technologies in Egypt, which is very useful for Egypt but also allows us to take the lessons from that to other countries.
How many of the 14 projects are still ongoing?
Donal Brown: IFAD currently has a portfolio of three ongoing projects in Egypt; Promoting Resilience in Desert Environments (PRIDE) working in Marsa Matrouh Governorate; Sustainable Agriculture Investments and Livelihoods (SAIL) working in Minya, Beni Suef, Aswan and Kafr El-Sheikh; and the Promotion of Rural Incomes through Market Enhancement (PRIME) project working in Qena, Sohag, Assiut, Minya, Beni Suef, Beheira and Kafr El-Sheikh in Lower Egypt. IFAD is investing $203.47m in these rural development projects out of a total cost of $ 284.49m.
The projects are expected to benefit over 616,000 people in rural areas. It aims to reduce rural poverty, build the resilience of poor rural households, and increase their food and nutrition security. It will do so by building farmers’ capacities to help them improve their incomes and living conditions and their communities by developing institutions, rehabilitating infrastructure, and influencing public policy on land tenure and land settlement systems.
Recently Egypt’s Minister of Agriculture discussed with Dina Saleh the possibility of financing irrigation modernisation projects, especially concerning the establishment of a cane nursery to provide 40 million seedlings to be used in the cultivation of cane by the seedling method because of its significant impact in reducing irrigation water used by traditional methods, as well as increasing the productivity of acres of cane.
Could you elaborate further on this project?
Dina Saleh: This is still at the very early stages as we have only discussed it with the Minister. It is obviously something that we could consider. But at the moment, we don’t have enough details; we need to do a feasibility study before moving ahead.
How did the COVID-19 impact your projects in Egypt? And how did IFAD deal with that impact?
Dina Saleh: Obviously, it had an impact on most of the supply chains. Also, access to the markets was a big issue for our farmers because, with the lockdown, farmers could not go to the market, they could not sell their products, there was a lot of waste and a lot of overproduction, yet farmers were stuck.
In terms of what we did, the first thing we tried was to connect those close by to local markets and help them sell their products. We also help those who could not sell to the market fresh but could sell to processing companies to process adding juices or jams or even for canned vegetables and fruits. .
The other thing we did was that we had an awareness campaign on TV for smallholder farmers in terms of hygiene and sanitation. We did that quite actively with the Ministry of Agriculture, FAO and WFP.
We also conducted an impact assessment in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, FAO, UNIDO and WFP to study the impact of COVID-19 on production, processing, transportation, and food handling.
We did this study, we gave it back to the government, and based on that, they also started to make certain decisions about how to help small farmers get to the markets, and handle the productionand safety measures including hygiene in their homes.
What are the main challenges facing farmers in Egypt?
Dina Saleh: The main challenges are access to finance and markets, as well as productive land and availability of water, this is a big challenge as not all farmers have access to water for irrigation.
How does the IFAD help them to overcome these challenges?
Donal Brown: In Egypt, IFAD loans support settlement of land reclaimed from the desert in Lower (Northern) Egypt and support for productivity improvements in the old lands in the Nile valley and Upper Egypt. IFAD has a two-pronged strategic approach, the first centred on livelihood options available to rural households and the second focused on improving the policy space for sustainable and inclusive rural transformation. This will allow IFAD to use its project-based investments to illustrate concrete results on the ground while opening up policy spaces for sector-wide transformational measures. In its efforts to help reduce poverty, IFAD seeks to bring about more sustainable use of natural resources, promote climate-smart strategies and leverage opportunities from growing private-sector involvement in agriculture.
IFAD activities support Egyptian farmers by strengthening the technical skills and organisational capacities of poor rural men and women so they can benefit from rural on- and off-farm economic opportunities.
Also, through enhancing sustainable use of natural resources, especially land and water and improving the access of poor rural farmers to better services, including technology, finance and markets.
The IFAD used to warn the world of three challenges: climate change, food insecurity, and malnutrition; currently, after the COVID-19 pandemic, what are the new challenges? And what are your recommendations to overcome these challenges?
Donal Brown: As a result of COVID-19, many countries have become more indebted because economies have been negatively affected. Governments had to spend a lot of additional money on vaccines and other things, so several IFAD’s core countries became very indebted. So there are even fewer resources available now to fund agriculture.
So it’s a big challenge to ensure that there’s sufficient resource at a time when the need for food security has been even more demonstrated because of COVID-19. We are at the same time finding that many of the poor countries cannot afford the funding. So the need for IFAD is even bigger now.
Concerning the recommendations, firstly, this is not the time to not invest in agriculture, because more often after COVID-19 people need more access to food.
Secondly is to reinvest in what we call the supply chain. Systems of marketing the food and exporting have broken down because of COVID-19. So it is not just the case of producing the food but investing in the marketing and exporting of the food, and joining up, so it is a whole system investment not just in the food production. Because many of the pre-COVID-19 systems are not working properly, so it’s a holistic response.
Yaya Olaniran: These challenges are not only risks but intensified depending on where you are. In some countries are insurgents, conflict, you have COVID-19 and climate change.
How can Egypt further reduce poverty levels, as the macroeconomic conditions improve?
Donal Brown: We’ve seen as an impact of COVID-19 worldwide that hunger has increased, food insecurity has increased, and poverty has increased. So Egypt’s not alone in that, and particularly rural poverty has increased.
I think the rural economy has been most effective by COVID-19. Like, many other countries, Egypt’s government will have its plan for trying to address rural poverty. And that’s where IFAD can support them. But it is generally about investing in agriculture and rural areas. And it’s about trying to find opportunities, particularly for rural employment.
Again, it is not just about producing food, It’s about what are the opportunities in rural areas for youth, and also, particularly for women, and so quite a lot of what we’ve been doing in supporting government has been also in looking at business opportunities, training, access to finance, helping with setting up small businesses for women, and youth, in rural areas.
Countries need to provide opportunities in rural areas to attract people back to rural areas and stop people in rural areas from going to already overcrowded cities. And I think that’s what the government here is trying to do through the new lands policy to provide opportunities to open up new employment, new farming, and attract people back into rural areas.
Do you think that building new cities like the new administrative capital will decrease poverty rates?
Donal Brown: the New Administrative Capital is very important for many reasons. Overcrowded cities, where traffic and movement is a problem, harm the economy and investments.
So I think the new capital will certainly help with making government, making business, making management more efficient.
But I think, in terms of poverty rates, what the government is trying to do, and we’re trying to support is investing particularly in the rural areas. Egypt is investing in its industry, but also Egypt needs to invest in producing food and agriculture, which is still an important part.
Egypt exports quite a lot of agriculture and is a very efficient producer in many ways. So we can support them on that side that will help with the rural poverty.
What is the IFAD’s five-year strategy in Egypt?
Donal Brown: We had a new five-year strategy in 2019 that will last till 2024, so we are now in the middle of our strategy. Our new strategy, which we develop with the government, has two strategic objectives. One is to improve the livelihoods of rural men and women by enhancing productivity but also the profitability of agriculture. So, increasing the amount of food but also the money that people get for their food. The second strategic objective is to work with the government to develop new policies supporting Egypt’s rural development.
So we work at a policy level with the government to take the lessons and strengthen the policies about rural infrastructure, Rural Economic growth, and working with rural people to improve their jobs and livelihoods.
We had a new five-year strategy in 2019 that will last till 2024, so we are now in the middle of our strategy. Our new strategy, which we develop with the government, has two strategic objectives. One is to improve the livelihoods of rural men and women by enhancing productivity but also the profitability of agriculture. So, increasing the amount of food but also the money that people get for their food. The second strategic objective is to work with the government to develop new policies supporting Egypt’s rural development.
IFAD currently has a portfolio of three ongoing projects in Egypt.
Egypt is investing in its industry, but also Egypt needs to invest in producing food and agriculture, which is still an important part.