INTERVIEW: PRIMA network addresses food, water, energy problems in Mediterranean region

Ashraf Amin , Monday 23 May 2022

Mohamed El-Shinawi, advisor to the Minister of Higher Education and co-chair of the PRIMA foundation, spoke to Ahram Online about the North-South cooperation between Mediterranean countries to tackle the challenging issues of food shortage, water management and clean energy.

 Co-Chair of the PRIMA Foundation

 

Through the PRIMA funding, researchers in the region are collaborating with the private sector to target projects that address the crucial needs for development and sustainability.

Ahram Online: What is PRIMA’s role in Mediterranean countries?

Mohamed El-Shinawi: PRIMA is an initiative that started in 2012 between 19 countries of the Mediterranean region and Germany with the aim of creating research partnership between the members in water management, farming systems, agri-food value chains and the water, energy and food nexus. Our total budget is around 500 million euros, 50 percent from the EU commission and a similar amount from the participating states. We try our best to invest this money equally within the timeframe of seven years in cooperative research projects.

AO: How do the members plan the research agenda?

MS: We have an annual meeting for all members to discuss the suggested research projects and urgent topics with respect to regional and international crises. Once the annual work plan is announced, we launch info-days for all the member states to discuss the suggested projects and build the consortium together. So, as an example, due to the Ukrainian-Russian war and its negative impact on developing countries, we decided to boost all studies related to food security and wheat productivity for the annual workplan of 2023.

I would also like to stress on the role of the private sector, which represents nearly 40 percent of the working entities in the projects. Their contributions and input are very important.

AO: How is Egypt benefiting from its membership in the network?

MS: Egypt is investing 30 million euros in PRIMA projects. We are participating in all themes with a special focus on issues related to farming, food and water. Egypt is involved in 56 projects that are run by 75 universities, research centres and small and medium enterprises. In addition, we have two funding agencies that boost the collaborative research with PRIMA, the Science and Technology funding agency and the academy of scientific research and technology. Over the past years, we have been able to adapt certain local regulations to facilitate the collaboration of entrepreneurs and the private sector and to harmonise our rules with the member states.

AO: Egypt has been co-chairing PRIMA for the past few years, what were the outcomes during that period?

MS: It went very well, the participation of Egypt was very successful, we worked on changing several laws and internal regulations. We also built several networks for the scientific community. I was honoured to be elected as co-chair from 2018 till 2021, then re-elected for two years till 2023. We also did several info days and networking for the researchers in the region. It was quite important to build this network and create a vivid environment for cooperation within the EU and southern Mediterranean countries.

AO: To what extent has the pandemic affected researchers’ work momentum?

MS: Although COVID-19 and limited the direct networking and gatherings of the scientists, we managed to work remotely and coordinate with the researchers so that the projects could run smoothly and on schedule.

AO: What are the benefits for both the developing states and the EU countries in such a partnership? 

MS: For developing countries, 30 percent of the funding went directly to the southern Mediterranean countries to enhance the technological tools and the labs. I do believe that we all share the same crises regarding food, water and energy. Not a single country can solve all these problems; thus, the collaboration through PRIMA creates a vivid network between scientists and the private sector in the region. For every project funded, at least three institutes should work collectively. If two of them come from the southern Mediterranean region, the third should be a European country, and vice versa. In addition, the outcomes of the studies and the intellectual property rights are shared between the institutes.

AO: What are PRIMA’s plans for COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh?

MS: We are collaborating with the Union for the Mediterranean (UFM) and several initiatives to be actively present at the COP27, showing all our research projects and efforts to fight climate change, especially in the fields of agriculture, food security and water management.

AO: What are the plans for the future? 

MS: We are now negotiating with the European Commission to extend the PRIMA initiative for another 10 years, especially since the project should be concluding by 2027. There is a common agreement between the participating countries about extending the PRIMA network, especially since the projects that we work on go in line with the three priorities that the UFM and the EU have for the Mediterranean countries, which is to invest in climate change research, renewable energy and health.

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