Agribusiness unusual in the land of the Pharos: Knowledge Exchange on Climate and Water-Smart Agriculture at Wadi Expo in Luxor

Luxor is a vibrant city on the Nile, surrounded by archeological sites. But it is not just rich in culture, but also agriculture with a farming tradition going back thousands of years. Egypt’s agrifood sector is mature. But like our own it struggles with sustainability challenges: much can be done to make farming in Egypt future-proof. There are many opportunities for Egyptians to work together on that challenge, not least with the Dutch. This was the main conclusion of a Knowledge Exchange visit on Climate and Water Smart Agriculture by eight Dutch and several Egyptian companies coinciding with the Wadi Expo in Luxor. 

The annual Wadi Expo, held this year from 9-11 May, is an exciting, relevant fair, where agribusinesses directly engage with farmers. For the Netherlands it was the first time to be there. Not only the presence of large commercial farmers in nearby land reclamation projects, such as the Toshka project, could be opportune for Dutch companies. The work done by the Ministry of Agriculture and international and local organizations with small scale farmers could be of interest as well. 

Wadi Expo 1 - farmers
Upper Egyptian farmers approaching

The mission spent two days at the fair on match making and meeting Egyptian companies presenting themselves. Seed companies and suppliers of crop protection and fertilization technologies dominated the halls. Orange NL logos brightened up the exposition with a Dutch pavilion and lounge dedicated for NL-Egyptian matchmaking. Time was also spent to present the Dutch companies present to Egyptian stakeholders at an interactive seminar. Besides participation at the Expo, the visit was also made up of three days of field visits.

Wadi Expo Group Picture
Dutch delegation at NL Pavilion Wadi Expo

On one day the group visited a large government owned farm and service provider in Qena straddling newly reclaimed and old lands making use of Nile water from canals as well as renewable ground water sources. The wheat harvest was ongoing, while the farm also followed the government’s strategy of moving from cane sugar to more water efficient sugar beets. To the Dutch eye, this could provide opportunities for a sustainable crop rotation with potatoes, onions and pulses.

Wadi Expo bericht - Harvesting
Wheat harvest in Qena

The second farm visited, Odessa farm, was a 150-acre farm in the old lands, owned by the son of a long line of privileged landowners. On this farm next to the Nile, a modern orchard of grapes and mangoes was found with produce destined for export through the Horticulture Export Improvement’s Organization’s cold storage pack house. As European consumers are increasingly demanding sustainably and fairly produced food, this entrepreneur could benefit from cultivation practices, technologies and nature-based solutions lowering pesticide and fertilizer use and improving water use efficiency.

Wadi Expo bericht trees
Grapes at Odessa Farm. Courtesy Martijn de Klerk, Future Water

A second field day was spent visiting small holders supported by the Ministry of Agriculture in a project of the World Food Programme (WFP) funded by the government of the Netherlands. In this project the resilience of rural farming families to climatic and economic shocks is being enhanced. On consolidated fields, farmers work together to benefit from economies of scale.  Mechanization and improved water management contribute to efficient farm management. Using improved wheat varieties as well as more water efficient crops such as sorghum, they see their productivity and income rise. The consolidated fields are served by improved supply of irrigation water through pressured subsurface pipes, while some farmers growing sugar cane and bananas on consolidated land reduce water usage by drip irrigation and sprinklers. To power this all, farmers’ water user associations manage arrays of solar panels, which are planned to be connected to the grid.   
Women and youth are not left behind. Under management by community-based associations, women are mobilized to process tomatoes for sun drying, thus adding value for export markets when prices for fresh tomatoes are low. Young men meanwhile tend to beehives, not only producing sweet goodness, but also providing pollination services for the farmers in the community.

Wadi Expo bericht - Dried Tomatoes
Sun drying tomatoes. Courtesy Ahmed Arini

This field visit combining Dutch companies, Egyptian SMEs from the Sustainable Agriculture Service Provision Enterprise Network (SASPEN), the Ministry of Agriculture and WFP provided a great chance for learning together. Opportunities for more engagement between the project and private service providers were identified. Both with regards to access to markets as well as in the provision of services to farmers working together on consolidated lands. It became clear that this success could create opportunities of scale providing access to technologies and practices previously beyond small farmers’ reach. Private sector partners saw space to introduce new crops for contract farming such as potatoes or sesame, as well as digital advice on water efficiency and extension services. However, it was clear that integrated packages of solutions connecting sustainable cropping and market opportunities is still very much needed relevant to different local contexts. A great opportunity for the SASPEN companies in partnership with the Dutch. 
After leaving Upper Egypt, some of the Dutch and Egyptian companies headed to the Nile Delta to see what lessons learned during the Knowledge Exchange could be applied there. Led by a lead farmer keen to add value to his family’s land and rural community, the team visited Sharqiyah. This provided the inspiration to further formulate a plan for Egyptian-Dutch cooperation with the private sector in the lead. An impact cluster on open field cultivation based around crop rotations of potatoes and onions could provide a next step towards climate and water smart agriculture, under an integrated agenda for cooperation, trade and investment. 

This knowledge exchange mission was organized by the agricultural team of the embassy, NABC and consultants Peter Prins and Ahmed Arini, with financial support from the government of the Netherlands through the Netherlands Agricultural Network and RVO. For more on this exciting agenda follow NL-Masr Agri-Food Network or contact the agricultural team of the Netherlands embassy on