Battling Climate Change with Climate-Smart Crops in Egypt

November 1, 2023


Egypt's Nile Delta has historically been the backbone of the nation's economy, contributing over 50% to agriculture, industry, and fisheries, and making up around 20% of the GDP. However, its vulnerability to climate change is glaring, with rising sea levels, heatwaves, strong winds, soil salinity, and crop diseases wreaking havoc. Sewage and drainage water further diminish crop yields, impacting smallholders significantly. Crop and livestock losses in the Delta alone now stand at an alarming 30-40%, exacerbated by recent disruptions in wheat imports due to Ukraine's conflict. The adoption of climate-smart crops is no longer a choice but a necessity for Climate-Smart Agriculture.

Climate-Smart Crops (CSCs) are pivotal in bolstering food security, nutrition, and resource sustainability. In collaboration with the Desert Research Centre and Small Grants Program, UNDP Egypt's Accelerator Lab has initiated a pilot project introducing CSCs, including Quinoa, Millets, and Panicum. These crops offer high nutrition, remarkable yield productivity, and resilience to water scarcity and drought. They address multiple challenges, from climate adaptation to poverty alleviation among smallholders. This initiative has resulted in successful technical trials, opening doors for further discussions, even during COP27, where an informative exploration journey unfolded.

"Foresight Thinking" played a vital role in understanding the needs of beneficiaries, particularly farmers. The exploration team partnered with the Agricultural Research Centre (ARC) to conduct future thinking interviews, surveys and workshops in Cairo and the Delta, engaging different agricultural stakeholders, including Smallholder Farmers (SHFs). These exercises envisioned possible future scenarios, identifying signals of change in agriculture, and exploring the future opportunity of having climate-smart crops at scale. Participants anticipated shifts in consumption, local dishes, and value chains, with climate-smart crops replacing conventional crops year-round, promoting environmental sustainability, economic prosperity, and social inclusion.

COP27 provided an opportunity to propel climate-smart agriculture forward. UNDP Accelerator Labs and the Small Grants Program (SGP) hosted a panel discussion on climate-smart crops, engaging market players and civil society. This panel was followed by a climate smart food exhibition and tasting, offering desserts baked by Tsepass MG (a dessert market leader), using “Quinoa & Millets” as for experimenting climate smart crops. The exhibition was highly welcomed by consumers, proving great potential for these crops from consumers’ side. Thediscussions emerged valuable insights, emphasizing the importance of technology adoption, and the importance of keeping farmers and civil society at the heart of transforming food systems. In addition, to complete the cycle, which is an emergent challenge for this pilot stage, it is important, to match and balance the supply and demand “from-farm-to-fork” including securing the CSCs seeds at farm level and the grains/produce for the industrial processing, with consideration to ultimate consumers’ feedback and demands.

Scaling up and achieving synergy in climate-smart agriculture requires empowering smallholder farmers, especially women. Addressing challenges in the value chain necessitates focusing on consumers, producers, intermediaries, and processors. Collaborative efforts among rural communities, households, industries, and governments are pivotal for achieving green, sustainable, and climate-resilient agriculture, fostering social and economic prosperity.

Key Recommendations for Stakeholders:

Policy Level

▪ Adopt a bottom-up approach to policymaking, involving various stakeholders.

▪ Encourage investments in climate-smart crops, including affordable seed access.

▪ Implement educational campaigns, workshops, and research.

▪ Promote research on climate-smart crop impacts.

▪ Establish experimental farms for new crop varieties.

▪ Tailor loans for climate-smart crop producers.

▪ Expand climate-smart crop cultivation in coastal areas.

Market Level

▪ Develop out-grower schemes (contract farming) with private and public sectors.

▪ Understand consumer behavior and preferences.

▪ Ensure climate-smart products align with consumer needs.

▪ Support incubators and startups focusing on climate-smart crops.

▪ Promote healthy eating patterns.

▪ Tailor financial solutions for climate-smart crop producers.

Civil Society Level

▪ Act as intermediaries to share farmers' challenges with policymakers and donors.

▪ Provide training on climate-smart crops and related techniques.

▪ Adopt responsible consumption practices.

▪ Support climate-smart products in local markets.

Farmer's Level

▪ Embrace climate-smart and sustainable agriculture.

▪ Enhance postharvest practices.

▪ Collaborate with research centers and NGOs.

▪ Share knowledge and experiences.

▪ Promote farmers' associations for training and networking.

In conclusion, the Accelerator Lab΄s journey with agrifood stakeholders toward 2050 underscores the power of future thinking and the need for comprehensive collaboration to achieve a sustainable, climate-smart agricultural future.

COP27 marked a significant milestone in our efforts to shape this future, and our journey continues with a shared vision of resilience, sustainability, and prosperity for all.