This country item is part of the First Mediterranean CSA Mapping report generated in April 2016.
Egypt has a population of around 90 million, growing at a fast pace: 1.6% annual growth according to IFAD – Rural Poverty Portal. Food imports represent 21% of all merchandise imports (IFAD- Rural Poverty Portal). The Nile River is of crucial importance: it represents almost all the water resources for the country: 55.5 Billion Cubic Meter (BCM)/year, for a total need of 79.5 BCM/year. Apart from the Nile, the reserve of water from rainfall and underground water is just 1.3 BCM/Year. Thus, water is the central issue for agriculture in the country, as there is around a 23 BCM deficit every year to cover the country’s needs.
- Agricultural information
Cultivated area (arable land + permanent crops): 3.8% (FAO);
Share of Agriculture in Nile River water: >85% (MWRI);
Rural Population: 57% of total population (FAO);
% of people working in Agriculture: 28% (World Bank);
% of poor living in rural areas: 70% (IFAD-Rural Poverty Portal);
% of Agriculture in GDP: 14.5% (IFAD-Rural Poverty Portal);
% of total exports: 20% (IFAD-Rural Poverty Portal).
The average farm size is 1.7 hectares (4.2 acres = 4 feddans), but 50% of small farmers cultivate less than 1.0 hectare (2.5 acres = 2.4 feddans). About 10% of farm households have more than four hectares (9.9 acres = 9.5 feddans).
History and Characteristics of CSA
Egypt has no history of CSAs in its present-day form. It is not legally defined and thus there is no legal framework to regulate it. However, it is not illegal for producers to sell their products direct to consumers who are willing to share risks with the farmers and buy their produce.
Egypt has laws to regulate its 7000 agricultural cooperatives. One of the services among others that these cooperatives offer their members, is to help farmers market and sell their crops. Although the cooperative set-up is not the same as a CSA, it is one of the possible arrangements that can incubate a CSA. A company can also be a legal structure that can administer a CSA (to be studied further).
However, there is a growing trend in Egypt for eating healthy, organic foods. This is mainly amongst the more financially able, because of the high prices of organic foods. In general, people are willing to meet producers and get information about their products directly from them. Farmers’ markets are growing rapidly mainly in Cairo. The unfortunate aspect about these farmers’ markets is the absence of small-scale farmers. They find it difficult to access these markets. Nawaya has been working to include small-scale farmers in these markets, but high participation costs and logistics difficulties were some of the challenges facing the farmers. Traditional farmers’ markets (souq) take place in low income and rural areas but are usually dominated by traders rather than producers. Also, organic producers would have to sell at the same price as conventional ones as consumers on the traditional market wouldn’t pay a higher price for their produce. There are few organic certifying bodies in Egypt. For small-scale farmers, the fees for registering with these bodies in addition to minimum field size requirements can be a challenge.
Even if the NGO Nawaya has not been working in any specific framework, their activities with farmers with regard to Nyéléni Declaration on Agroecology and Food Sovereignty are:
- Participatory and open source group learning with small-scale farmers on agro-ecological practices, although this has only been happening for 2 agricultural seasons
- Farmer-to-farmer learning through in-field exchanges, as well as the production of farmer training videos with Access Agriculture
- Recognizing the central role of women: the organization has a women-run kitchen space for the processing and packaging of traditional and innovative goods – we will have challenges understanding the legal landscape in Egypt as many traditional products cannot be sold under Ministry of health licensing schemes
- Supporting some farmers to organize locally – but unfortunately there is no appropriate legal structure for farmers – and the cooperatives in Egypt have a very pejorative reputation due to corruption
- Consumer groups are non-existent in Egypt, and there needs to be a way to harness the desire to support farmers’ produce, to ensure sales for the farmers, and figure out how to scale up a CSA programme in Egypt.
Since Nawaya has started worked and aims to continue working with small-scale farmers to implement sustainable farming methods and to help them gain access to markets, there is an opportunity for introducing the CSA model to the Egyptian market with the hope that it will benefit the producers and consumers. The First Mediterranean meeting of CSA in Marseilles was an excellent opportunity for Nawaya to understand other models and experiences and become part of the network hoping that it will be a support while taking the first steps in studying the creation of a local model for CSAs.
Challenges to starting CSA
In order to start a local CSA, several challenges need to be addressed:
- Water Quality and Quantity: Most farmers in the area depend on water irrigated from canals bringing water from the Nile. The canals and water distribution are managed by the government. These canals are polluted by waste that is thrown in by residents, fertilizers, pesticides, sewage and chemical waste from factories. The waste thrown into the waterways also causes blockages that also lead to water shortages. The support that is needed in this area is to apply small-scale filtration systems that can be used by the farmers. The blockage of waterways will not be resolved in any other way. Alternatively, digging water wells is a possible solution (although an expensive one for a single small-scale farmer), but it is more suitable for a group of farmers sharing the costs of digging and maintaining the well.
- Seeds: There is a tradition of seed-saving among farmers. However, this does not apply to all the crops they grow. For the seeds they save, practices have to be greatly improved to keep the potential of the seeds over generations. Also, there are no seed saving networks, so it would be beneficial to start one to allow farmers to exchange seeds and best practices. We can benefit from the experience of Greece where there is a strong seed saving network in this matter.
- No CSA experience: To start a CSA, capacity building of the participating farmers and administrators will be needed to apply the best methods of production and distribution. Also, it will be very beneficial for some exchange visits to take place. A possible exchange visit could be with TORBA in Algeria where one CSA is operational and they are looking to expand the model.
 Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI).
 IFAD, Assessment of Rural Poverty: Near East and North Africa.