A few days ago, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned that about 9.6% of the population in Egypt (about 10 million people) would be at risk of not being able to provide healthy food if their purchasing power was reduced by a third due to the repercussions of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Of course, this is a serious matter, and government agencies should take the warning seriously, but what is more dangerous is what the “FAO” report casually indicated that 85.3% of the Egyptian population is currently unable to provide healthy food, according to results dating back to 2019. This indicates that the majority of the Egyptian people (about 85 million people) suffer from malnutrition, which is the second-highest percentage in the world after Madagascar, according to FAO statistics, which calls into question why?
Food security is almost non-existent in Egypt
FAO defines food security as “the regular access of all members of society to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for a healthy life”. Unfortunately, this definition does not apply to tens of millions of Egyptians. In addition to the inability of 85.3% of Egyptians to provide healthy food, 45.4% of Egyptians cannot afford an energy-sufficient diet in the first place! This is due to many factors, some of which have been accumulated for decades, and others are due to the economic policies of the regime of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
First, food production in Egypt is very fragile thanks to stressors such as the scarcity of agricultural land which amounted to only 2.9% of the country’s total area in 2018, lower than the MENA region average of 4.6%. In addition, soil productivity is low in Egypt. According to a 2018 International Atomic Energy Agency report, soil productivity in most of the northeastern Nile Delta has fallen by more than 45 percent in 35 years, largely due to unsustainable farming practices.
Water scarcity, of course, affects food production in Egypt, as the Nile provides Egypt with an estimated 93% of its total renewable water resources, and Egypt’s share of the Nile’s water of 55.5 billion cubic meters annually has become insufficient to meet the needs of the growing population over time, as the needs of The current amount of water is 114 billion cubic meters annually while the total resources are only 60 billion cubic meters.
What is more, these challenges are expected to worsen in the coming decades, due to continued climate change, population growth, and the expected impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Egypt’s share of the already limited Nile waters. And because food production is insufficient, Egypt depends on importing many food commodities from abroad, such as wheat, corn and oils, which threatens its food security, as it places it vulnerable to market fluctuations and global events (such as the Corona pandemic, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine), which may disrupt the flows of Food commodities and leads to a rise in their prices (as is happening now), and this, of course, is reflected in the food security of citizens.
Second, the brutal economic policies of President Sisi’s regime have impoverished Egyptians and reduced their income in a way that made them either unable to provide enough food to satisfy their hunger or unable to provide healthy, balanced food for themselves and their children.
Since ascending to power in 2014, Sisi has made several economic decisions that have had harsh effects on Egyptians. On top of these decisions, is the flotation of the Egyptian pound, which lost about 100% of its value, which limited the purchasing power of the Egyptians and depleted their savings? And the regime was not satisfied with that, but it also reduced/eliminated subsidies on dozens of goods and services, including gasoline, gas, electricity and water, and burdened citizens with taxes and fees, to the extent that citizens said infrequently, “The only thing missing is a tax on the air.”
We now have in Egypt, according to numbers before the Corona pandemic, 30 million citizens below the poverty line, and another 30 million are vulnerable to falling into the abyss of poverty at the first economic crisis, according to the World Bank, and these of course cannot provide healthy food.
What is the solution?
There is no silver bullet to end the malnutrition crisis in Egypt overnight, but we must start dealing with the crisis quickly and with skill. At first, the government should stop its plans to reduce subsidies again, and reconsider its economic policies, especially in these critical times. As for the chronic historical problems, they must be dealt with as soon as possible, by increasing the agricultural area, increasing water resources by desalinating sea water, and expanding the cultivation of basic crops, especially wheat, so that we do not go through a crisis like the current one.