The global food system has faced many shocks over recent years, from the Covid-19 pandemic to extreme weather events and conflicts that have led to higher food prices. These are likely to remain high for the foreseeable future, exposing millions of people to food insecurity.
At the same time, unsustainable farming approaches have led to ecosystem vulnerability and competition for land and water resources, putting agricultural growth and food security at risk.
Organic farming can be one of the solutions, as it not only helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change, but can also help increase exports of agricultural products by meeting current international standards.
Experts at the Cairo Climate Talks, organised last week in cooperation between the German Embassy in Cairo, the Egyptian Ministry of Environment, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), discussed adaptation to climate change through sustainable agriculture in Egypt.
They stressed that the COP27 meeting on climate change, which will be organised in Egypt in November, will be a good opportunity to focus on sustainable agricultural practices.
Agriculture contributes about 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, and sustainable agricultural practices will help to decrease emissions, said Shaimaa Hatab, an associate professor of agriculture at Heliopolis University.
However, she added, initiatives to teach small farmers ways to become more sustainable in their methods are urgently needed.
Changing from conventional to organic agricultural methods is not an easy process, she explained, adding that changing the traditional mindsets and behaviours of farmers could be a challenge because their practices have been taking place for generations.
“We need to work on changing the mindsets of farmers by creating awareness about the challenges and opportunities. We also need to change the mindsets of consumers to see them become more sustainable,” Hatab said. “Awareness and education are very important.
“Organic farming is normally more expensive,” commented Helmi Abul-Eish, CEO of Sekem Egypt, an organic producer, adding that serving the ecosystem and improving livelihoods were main drivers of organic farm owners.
There should be more support for organic farmers and for the ecosystem services they are providing to help in mitigating the effects of climate change, he added.
Abul-Eish said that organic farming has been increasing rapidly in Egypt over the last few years to constitute about 10 per cent of agricultural land. But more is needed through creating awareness among small farmers to ensure better future practices, he added.
“Organic and sustainable farming can enjoy the benefits of improved access to more markets,” noted Myriam Fernando, head of project agriculture innovation at GIZ Egypt.
However, she added that increased consumer knowledge about the importance and benefits of organic crops was needed, as more demand would mean more farmers would be willing to cultivate organic products.
The private sector was key in mobilising resources and expertise, working to channel private investment towards climate-change adaptation efforts, Fernando said, adding that it could also help scale up adaptation practices and create more jobs in the process.
Hussein Abu Bakr, founder and CEO of Mozare3, an agricultural technology startup that aims to digitise the agricultural sector in Egypt and the Middle East, said that climate change was an opportunity for small farmers, as a lot of crops had been introduced to Egypt leading the country to become a food hub for international markets.
“Small farmers are at the heart of the climate change dilemma, as they are part of both the problem and the solution,” he added, explaining that small farmers consume about 79 per cent of Nile water, but can help cultivate high-value crops and grow more wheat to help solve the food crisis and even export to new markets.
Experts participating in the Talks agreed that unsustainable farming methods led to ecosystem weakness and competition for land and water resources in Egypt. Climate change is expected to reduce the productivity of some crops like wheat and maize, because of water scarcity, sea level rises, and salt water intrusion.
Food security is at the heart of Egypt’s 2030 Vision as a national security issue, and the government is working on expanding agricultural land, reducing imports, and increasing climate change adaptation efforts.
The agricultural sector accounts for 28 per cent of all employment in the country and contributes around 11 per cent of Egypt’s GDP. By 2024, Egypt aims to increase agricultural production by 30 per cent.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.