CAIRO – 21 February 2021: The agriculture sector is a key livelihood for 55 million Egyptians (Farmers with their relatives), most of them are living in poor conditions. Believing in reducing rural poverty and enhancing food security, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in partnership with the Egyptian government - which has recently launched “Decent Life” initiative in rural villages, helped reduce poverty by 15 % in some rural areas, particularly in Upper Egypt.
IFAD has financed rural development projects in Egypt, with a total value of $ 1.12 billion, targeted nearly 1.5 million Egyptian rural beneficiaries since 1979. To assess the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on farmers in Egypt and IFAD's projects, the largest recipient of IFAD financing assistance in the Middle East, Egypt Today has interviewed IFAD Country Program Manager for Egypt Mohamed Elghazaly.
To what extent the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affected IFAD’s ongoing projects and the COSOP in Egypt and how did the fund deal with it?
COVID-19 has impacted the whole world and of course, it had its negative impacts on IFAD’s operations in Egypt. However, the impact was minimal since we had a business continuity plan that was developed before the outbreak of cases in Egypt. To mitigate the impact of COVID-19 while also ensuring full adheres to government procedures, we followed a phased approach. Between March 2019 to June 2019, we stopped activities that require gatherings such as training, reduced the physical presence of project staff to 20-50%. Starting from July 2019 and following the GoE’s (Government of Egypt) new procedures, we resumed training activities while maintaining all social protection measures (mandatory face masks, maximum of 10 participants, and open-air training). To compensate for the delays in implementation, we extended two of our projects (one by six months and the other by 12 months) to allow project activities to be completed.
Did IFAD provide support to the Egyptian government to mitigate the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the agricultural sector?
IFAD has supported the GoE to minimize the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the agricultural sector at both project and national levels. At the project level and as part of IFAD’s rapid response, under PRIME project we have developed an e-marketing platform called “SHARI” which allows smallholder farmers to market and sell their products online to reduce risks of exposure and also secure markets for them in case of lockdown and movement restrictions. Under our SAIL project, we accelerated the distribution of in-kind grants (livestock) to poor smallholder farmers in Upper Egypt to minimize the negative impacts of COVID-19 and increase their food security.
At the national level, IFAD has conducted a study on the impact of COVID-19 on the agricultural sector in Egypt in collaboration with FAO, IFPRI, UNIDO, and WFP. The study identified short to medium-term interventions to mitigate the shocks on rural people’s lives, livelihoods, and the local economy and provided a number of policy recommendations for making informed decisions during the current crisis. Key findings were translated into policy recommendations for the food sector in Egypt and disseminated to all ministries, policymakers, industry representative bodies, private sector, and international organizations. The recommended interventions include different types of measures, i.e information and advice, economic instruments, regulations/legislations.
Also, IFAD, FAO, and WFP have collaborated with MALR to develop a communication awareness campaign “Our health is our capital and our crop is our hope” in agriculture areas in Egypt. The campaign targeted the rural population and aimed at ensuring the continuation of precautionary measures against the health hazards of COVID-19, the importance of healthy nutrition, and the food safety measures to be adopted during Agri-food production and food handling. The campaign included awareness spots that were broadcasted on several TV and Radio stations (CBC, AlHayat, Agricultural TV Channel and DMC), and special posts for different Social Media Platforms, reaching nearly 30 million viewers and listeners.
According to the IFAD website, “IFAD projects in Egypt seek to enable more sustainable use of natural resources; promote climate-smart strategies, and leverage opportunities provided by the expanding private sector involvement in agriculture.” To what extent such projects helped reduce rural poverty in Egypt?
IFAD portfolio in Egypt has addressed relevant issues of rural poverty over the period, in line with Government and IFAD priorities. Our portfolio presents a good focus on the governorates where rural poverty and unemployment are most acute.
As part of our methodology for assessing the performance of our projects, we conduct impact evaluation for all our projects. The latest results from our closed operations show that on average we managed to decrease rural poverty by around 15% in our targeted project areas. In addition, we had an evaluation in 2017 for Egypt portfolio, which was carried out by IFAD’s Independent Office of Evaluation. The evaluation highlighted that IFAD-supported projects positively impacted agricultural productivity, in particular through improved farming systems in the old lands, and improved water and land management practices in the new lands. Micro-lending enhanced productivity and enabled smallholder farmers to procure agricultural inputs and some productive assets, in particular livestock.
How much do IFAD projects contribute to the size of Egypt’s total cultivated area?
The partnership between IFAD and the Government of Egypt has started since IFAD’s establishment in 1977. Since 1980, IFAD has funded 14 projects in Egypt with an IFAD contribution of USD 520 million and leveraging an equal amount of financing from development partners reaching out to over 7 million rural people. IFAD investments in Egypt have created more than 100,000 jobs rehabilitated irrigation infrastructure for more than 50,000 feddans, and constructed more than 100 social infrastructure such as health unit/clinics, schools, youth centers, drinking water facilities, and women centers.
Our projects have contributed to the development of agricultural land in Egypt and also diversifying agriculture production through working both in new lands and old lands. Our project had a positive impact on the agriculture systems through integrated water resources management, including on-farm drainage improvement, drainage water reuse, and monitoring of soil and water salinity and environmental impacts. Drip irrigation in West Noubaria is also sustainable since it was well-received and self-financed by beneficiaries. Improved farming systems in Upper Egypt are being sustained, as evidenced by high adoption rates and the continued viability of farmer field schools.