The Agricultural Counsellor at the US embassy in Cairo Ali Abdi, said that his country we continue to work with the Government of Egypt (GoE) to resolve outstanding issues including market access for seed potatoes, adding “bilateral trade in agriculture is an important component of our relationship.”
Daily News Egypt sat down for an interview with Abdi, the transcript of which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
How many agricultural programmes do you implement? Can you provide details?
The United States and Egypt have had a long-standing collaboration in the agricultural sector. These programmes have been ongoing for decades. Activities include trade and investment, technical exchange programmes, collaborative research, and capacity building.
For four decades, the US government through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has worked to help Egypt increase its agricultural productivity and raise farmers’ incomes. The USAID has provided over $1.4bn to the agriculture sector in Egypt since 1978.
What about fund amounts allocated to agricultural programmes over years?
Overall US support in the agricultural sector amounts to millions of dollars.
The USAID has provided over $1.4bn to the agriculture sector in Egypt since 1978.
Would you please tell us more about upcoming agricultural programmes you will launch shortly?
Several programmes are currently ongoing. These include technical exchange programmes, collaborative research, ands industry-led activities.
The USAID is incorporating innovative technologies in small-scale cold storage infrastructure, irrigation, working with farmers on production, post-harvest processes, and marketing, in order to be more responsive to the needs of local and foreign buyers. The USAID is providing training to farmers to achieve international quality standards certification, thus helping them gain the confidence of exporters. With direct access to the international markets, farmers make nearly twice what they would on the local market.
Do you have programmes in terms of capacity development of Egyptian farmers?
Capacity-building activities for farmers, public and private sector institutions are an important component of US support programmes.
Through working with agriculture technical schools, universities, and research institutions, the USAID is strengthening the quality of education and linking students with commercial farms and factories for internships. The USAID’s agriculture activities have created tens of thousands of jobs and internships for agriculture technical school students at commercial farms and factories.
In cooperation with the Horticulture Export Improvement Association (HEIA), the USAID established a regional training centre in Luxor to increase and improve the productivity of farmers, labourers, packhouse managers, and buyers. This facility has increased market interest in the region, as both the quality and quantity of vegetable production in Upper Egypt is becoming more reliable.
The USAID works directly with farmers in Aswan to help them meet international standards and improve growing practices to increase yields in selected horticulture crops. Furthermore, the USAID works to build the capacity of farmer associations to improve the quality and image of their produce by diversifying their post-harvest and marketing practices.
How to overcome crisis between Egypt, US in importing potato seeds because of lack of US’s commitment in obtaining production similar to European Union?
This issue should not be characterised as a crisis. Bilateral trade in agriculture is an important component of our relationship and in that context, we continue to work with the GoE to resolve outstanding issues including market access for seed potatoes.
Any efforts regarding Nile preservation?
Much of the collaboration between US and Egyptian agronomists and scientists has focused on improving yields given limited water resources and improving drought tolerance in crops traditionally produced in Egypt. Additionally, the USAID works with farmers to install drip irrigation, solar water pumps, and other innovative technologies to effectively utilise limited water resources. This work is vital to protecting limited water resources afforded by the Nile River.
What about future agricultural expectations in Egypt following short period?
The agricultural sector is an important component of the national economy and this will continue to be the case in the future. Productivity gains through science and technology, in addition to trade and investment, which are essential in order to keep pace with growing demand.
What about agricultural research projects between Egypt, US, regarding field, horticultural crops, improving grain productivity?
The US government, as well as US universities and the private sector have long partnered with Egypt on improving agricultural productivity. Examples include the USDA scientists supporting the Egyptian National Gene Bank; USAID’s work with smallholder horticulture farmers in Upper Egypt; and representatives of US universities collaborating with their Egyptian counterparts to produce improved varieties of rice, sugar, and cotton.
Why US wheat imports to Egypt declined, what about methods of expansion?
This is due to natural market conditions. Wheat from the US is less price competitive than that from other origins, due to longer shipping distance and other market conditions.
How can Egypt overcome climate change, which recently affected many crops, including wheat, maize?
There are various programmes offered by the GoE that aim to address climate change. Interventions include mitigation techniques, such as shorter duration of crop varieties, tolerance to environmental stress, etc. Continued investment in science and technology is essential in mitigating challenges associated with climate change.
What about your vision of agricultural sector in Egypt following its accession to ‘Ubov’ agreement?
The convention provides a platform for its members to encourage plant breeding by granting breeders new plant varieties intellectual property rights. This is an important tool in enhancing the use of science and technology in agriculture.