Markets, power, and potatoes: an analysis of agricultural trade between Egypt and Europe

Despite its large agricultural sector, Egypt is one of the world’s most food-insecure countries. It relies heavily on imported grain, particularly wheat, whose global prices fluctuate wildly. Climate change poses a significant threat to agriculture, especially small-scale farming in Egypt and throughout the North African region. Increasing droughts and high temperatures between 1998 and 2011 have served to accelerate the rate of desertification and soil degradation, triggering a series of local and regional water crises. According to national poverty indicators, those employed in agriculture and living in rural areas have amongst the highest poverty rates. Hence, farmers face significant challenges in sustaining their livelihoods.

The ongoing economic crisis post 2016 and increasing poverty rates have made it harder for the country to improve nutrition, particularly among children. The prevailing neoliberal model for agricultural and food policies in Egypt has made the task more difficult, as policies are often inconsistent and disconnected, prioritising profits and short-term solutions over establishing a sustainable agriculture and food system. This neoliberal model characterises in particular Egypt’s agri-food trade policy. Its main features include:

  • an agriculture-for-export policy furnished by financial incentives through the Export Development Fund and close ties between agribusiness interests, large agri-food traders, and government agencies;
  • the promotion of large-scale farming by reclaiming desert land and facilitating agricultural investors’ access to large areas of land and to water resources;
  • a shift in policy focus from food self-sufficiency to food security, prioritising food imports over domestic production.

This policy orientation promotes an agricultural production pattern that is highly dependent on imported inputs, leading farmers to rely increasingly on large agricultural companies for essential inputs such as seeds, fertilisers and pest and disease control products. This reduces the value that farmers can derive from food markets and agricultural value chains as well as having negative impacts on the environment. In addition, this export focus has led to a chronic trade deficit with Europe and difficulties in covering Egypt’s food import bill as the value of fruit and vegetable exports has not been sufficient to cover the cost of grains and other key food imports.

This report analyses the various trade agreements into which Egypt has entered, with a focus on the agricultural sector and on the relationship with the European Union (EU). In conducting this analysis, the impact of these agricultural trading relationships on levels of food insecurity, poverty and sustainable development are assessed. An in-depth examination of the potato value chain – one of Egypt’s main export crops – is used to unpack some of these linkages and impacts in further detail.

Mohamed Ramadan

*Read the full report on the link

*This report was published on TNI’s website. Find the original text here