Egypt: chances to become a regional hub to develop Climate Smart crop varieties are boosted

On 1 December 2019, Egypt will join UPOV, the international plant variety protection organization. This will be an important step to give confidence to breeders to move from trade to investment. As RijkZwaan shows there are great opportunities to engage with farmers, input distributors and national agricultural research systems to develop productive crop varieties resilient to the harsh and changing climate of the Middle East and North Africa. With the right enabling environment Egypt can really be a regional seed hub for variety testing and breeding.

After years of consideration, dialogue and exchange with private sector and international partners, the Government of Egypt has taken the step to accede to the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. As such, Egypt will become the seventy-sixth member of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). UPOV aims to provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection. This is important for breeders from the private and public sector to continue investing in research and development of new plant varieties.

Such varieties will  help Egypt and the broader global community to meet the challenge of the 2nd Sustainable Development Goal (SDG2): sustainably providing sufficient and healthy diets to a growing population in the context of climate change and scarce natural resources.

Field visit

The opportunities for crop variety development for Egypt became clear on a field visit of our Agriculture Team in Cairo hosted by the team of RijkZwaan in Egypt. Over the last decade, RijkZwaan has moved from working through an agent-distributor model to setting up a local subsidiary. They have now taken the bold step to establish its own field trial station, which will be formally launched in June 2020. This field station is already serving as an important reference center for testing and selecting vegetable varieties suitable to specific growing conditions in the Middle East and North Africa. This includes mid-tech green houses in sandy soils, as well as open field production by small holders in the old lands of river valleys.      

The RijkZwaan Egypt Team then took us to Shams, a company distributing their seeds and adding value by producing seedlings shipped to farmers throughout Egypt. We also visited Grafting House a joint investment by several of RijkZwaan’s distributors that produces grafted seedlings. This involves crops like cucumber and watermelon on a commercial scale, and tomato and pepper as trials. This is a relatively new innovation for the Egyptian market, that has just been starting to pick up over the last decade. These Egyptian entrepreneurs play an important role in providing farmers access to productive planting material resistant to diseases and the harsh Egyptian (and changing) climate. In doing so, they also create jobs for women and youth.

The impact of these improved propagation materials was seen at two smallholder family farms that have specialized in the production of capsicum. In order to meet the food safety requirements of export markets they have started adopting integrated pest management technologies and practices, thus reducing pesticide use. RijkZwaan and their partners, through the provision of seeds and advice, have supported their entrepreneurial drive to produce safe and nutritious vegetables for local, regional and even international markets year round.

A great example of market-led climate smart agriculture!

Step from trade to investment

The step RijkZwaan has taken to move from trade to investment has been costly and is courageous. They have been able to take this step because of the long-standing relationship they have developed with Egypt and its people over decades. This step has been made possible because of the confidence this family business has in the competence of its Egyptian staff and management, and the networks and relations they have built. This move from trade to investment, provides benefits for Egypt and the Netherlands (as well as Egypt’s other international trading partners). This is a great example of the type of cooperation, trade and investment agenda that the Agricultural Team of the Netherlands Embassy in Cairo wants to support. 

Companies like RijkZwaan have however not yet taken the step to move their breeding and seed production activities to Egypt. This is done from countries such as Peru, Turkey, Spain, Tanzania and the Netherlands. As an Agricultural Team, we share the ambition of the Government of Egypt to attract more foreign investment in the area of agri-food innovation and technology development, including crop breeding and seed production. There are great opportunities to do more in this area, not only in business to business cooperation, but also including broader national agricultural research systems, following the ‘Dutch Diamond’ approach. This ambition however can only be realized with an enabling environment that gives companies such as RijkZwaan confidence to invest and localize more of their research and development activities.

Egypt’s accession to UPOV is a wonderful step in that direction!