The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) launched a report last week showing that global food insecurity has decreased but remains high, with 842 million people in 2011–13 suffering from chronic hunger.
Steduto Pasquale, FAO representative in Egypt, assesses food insecurity in Egypt and various ways of mitigating against it.
Food security deteriorated and hunger increased in Egypt between 2009 and 2011, according to a report issued in May by the World Food Program and CAPMAS. Do you have any idea if it has increased or decreased since then?
We do not have recent quantitative data, but we have signals. Some of those signals are positive; others are not. On the one hand, the food price index is still high, but the tourism sector is not doing very well and international food prices are still high, which impacts Egypt, as it is a net food importer. There are also positive elements, as wheat production has been increasing, and there are more efforts by government, the FAO and other institutions to support small farmers and increase land productivity. So, we have mixed signs, but no specific data to determine which of these elements has prevailed. The fact that Egypt is a big grain importer makes it vulnerable to global influences that can counter the effects of governmental efforts.
What can be done to mitigate the negative impact of the hike in global food prices at the local level?
The FAO is organising its second Ministerial Meeting on International Food Prices in Rome on the 7 October, in which the Egyptian Minister of Agriculture will participate. Issues of volatility will be addressed and political action will be discussed amongst the different countries represented. During the previous food crisis in 2008 and 2009, some food exporting countries imposed export embargos, which have a negative impact on food importers like Egypt. We are trying to coordinate such policies in terms of imports and exports between nations.
What can the Egyptian government do to reduce the effects of global factors?
When you are a net importer with a growing population and thus increasing demand, and you cannot attain self-sufficiency due to a scarcity of resources, the only way is to mitigate against the effects of global change. You need to act on a national scale, but also in relation to international levels. Internally, you have to determine how you can increase productivity without exerting pressure on your national resources, in order to assure sustainability. In Egypt, there is still room for action. There should be a long-term awareness plan for consumption. Demand can be regulated and losses throughout the various value chains can be minimised.
How serious is food loss in Egypt and how can it be reduced?
The FAO is working with the government and the private sector to identify the amount of food loss. It is not an easy field in which to conduct quantitative research, but analysis so far indicates that at least 30 per cent of food production in Egypt is wasted or lost overall. For some products like tomatoes, loss can be as high as 50 per cent. Such losses occur during storage, transportation and even after cooking. To reduce them, the dynamics of harvest, storage and transportation have to be better scheduled. Controlled atmospheric storage technology might help. Consumption habits also need to change. For example, we found that households which stock food incur greater losses than households who buy their needs on a daily basis. The member countries of the FAO have a target to reduce food losses by 50 per cent over the coming 10 years.
What are the FAO’s most imminent projects in Egypt to fight food insecurity?
One important regional initiative concerns ways of improving food security vis-a-vis scarcity of water. We are trying to establish an investment plan to treat and re-use wastewater. We are also trying to increase Egypt’s productivity and support the Food Security Policy Advisory Board. The Board is made up of a number of stakeholders, including government, civil society, private sector, international organisations and donors, who are expected to contribute to the enhancement of technical and institutional capacities for food security, policy formulation, analysis, and monitoring and evaluation at the national, regional and household level. We have been providing support for five years now and Egyptian policy makers have travelled to Brazil to examine how they managed to eradicate food insecurity resulting in zero hunger. We are giving the government technical advice and policy support regarding the design of a roadmap to fight food insecurity over the coming three years, among other programs.
Can the Brazil model be adopted in Egypt?
It is a model that needs to be studied and explored because it has been proven effective. Brazil has essentially tackled poverty and hunger in a way that has mobilised every level of the community, from religious institutions and NGOs to locals. It is still a model that needs to be adapted to the local situation in Egypt, but we believe it is a good example. It is not by chance that our director-general comes from Brazil.