From Thomas Price, Senior Officer, Agricultural Innovation and Society, and Iman El-Kaffass, Capacity Development Expert, at the Secretariat of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research
In November last year we had the pleasure of participating in a regional workshop held in Alexandria, Egypt entitled, “The Left-behind: Empowering Mediterranean Rural Communities to Face Change“. This was one of a series of workshops hosted by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) and the Foundation for South-North Mediterranean Dialogue, which brings together Mediterranean rural communities and the multiple actors in the agriculture sector to address the challenges common to the entire region.
After the workshop GFAR published a story recounting the experiences of Zeinab Seoudi and Mohamed El-Kholy, both farmers, who participated in the Alexandria regional workshop. It is clear from talking to farmers like Zeinab and Mohamed that there is a critical need to strengthen and enhance national agricultural innovation systems. To face this challenge GFAR has been developing an innovative concept for radically increasing the funding available for new forms of agricultural innovation systems: the Investment Facility for Agricultural Innovation and Enterprise. The Investment Facility is a new initiative, aiming to strengthen and enhance national agricultural innovation systems in developing countries by assembling the necessary financial resources, international technical support and service delivery. The Facility will respond directly to country demand and local needs. We’ve been consulting with donors, with partners, and with national systems in building and strengthening the concept.
Due to the very positive experience arising from the Dialogue held in Alexandria in November, we’ve been continuing discussions with the Government of Egypt. In April, we returned to Egypt at the request of the Ministry of Local Development, to see how national agricultural innovation platform approaches could best underpin the major investments being made by the Government in creating enterprise opportunities for rural youth and women across Egypt. The resources are aimed at improving the livelihoods and general conditions for the most marginalized in rural areas.
The enthusiasm for engaging in such a project is without question. We canvassed the needs and expectations of different groups in the Luxor region of Upper Egypt, studied and analyzed existing international and local collective actions, and assessed the circumstances of women in the agricultural sector in the villages. Zeina from Toumaswafia village told us “This is the life opportunity that I have been dreaming of.” When we spoke with Aleya from Mersal village she indicated that “As young women we are capable of learning to manage any enterprise, we want to go to new fields such as vegetable oil production.”
This region is a top local and national priority given the lower incomes and social indicators of the rural communities. The mission succeeded in formulating an agreement among the multiple stakeholders on the importance and content of a joint project on rural women’s enterprise development.
Now, with the Egyptian national and local authorities, local NGOs and private sector fostering small business, we are moving forward with developing a pilot project for women in 5 villages of the Luxor Governorate. This number will rise to 15 villages in the following year and will reach 30 villages the year after. The project will scale out at national level and to other countries in the region based on demand. Women will learn how to better run and manage their farm enterprises with support to muster the resources needed to successfully run businesses in dairy production, beekeeping and honey production, vegetable oil and pickled vegetables.
We regard this as a very exciting opportunity for launching the Facility in Egypt, which already has the highest level support from both National and Local Government and from other Organizations working on the ground. Most importantly, the rural women in the villages are mobilized, motivated and enthusiastic about acquiring new skills and raising incomes for themselves and their families. In the words of Hanem from Awlad Hanafi village “I am looking forward to increasing my income and that of my family through having my own small business.” As we move forward we look forward to sharing more details on this innovative and promising initiative.