Growing Democracy In Egypt Requires Feeding The People

Our guest blogger is Jake Caldwell, Director of Policy for Agriculture, Trade, and Energy at American Progress.

Ensuring Egyptians have access to a reliable and affordable food supply during its political turmoil is an urgent priority for both Egypt and the United States. Regrettably, conservatives in the House of Representatives appear headed in a different direction and are slashing funding for international humanitarian assistance. This includes funding for emergency food aid, investments in women and small landholder farms, and efforts to combat climate change in some of the most vulnerable countries in the world.

Any effort to stabilize food prices in Egypt must be led by Egyptians to identify and meet local needs. But the United States has a role to play to support the Egyptian people, collectively the world’s largest importer of wheat. In the short term the United States should:

— Temporarily reinstate a program to provide low-cost financing that enables the Egyptian private and public sector to purchase commodities to fill strategic reserves and maintain full and transparent wheat stocks beyond Egypt’s current six-month minimum.

— Support low-cost loans to Egyptian farmers to increase agricultural output.

— Work directly and through the U.N. World Food Program to identify and provide targeted emergency food aid to Egypt’s school-feeding programs and most vulnerable populations.

— Arrange for the upgrade and expansion of grain-storage capacity at major ports, including Alexandria, to facilitate relatively rapid investment in Egyptian food-distribution infrastructure.

— Mitigate shipping risk and provide further technical assistance to improve the efficiency and transparency of Egyptian financing, customs, and tariffs procedures to make sure that arriving overseas grain is offloaded efficiently and can get to where it needs to be in the shortest time possible.

— Ensure the Suez Canal operates at full capacity to ensure global grain shipments reach their final destinations expeditiously.

In the midterm to long term, the United States must increase its investment in Egypt’s agricultural development. Agriculture directly employs one-third of Egypt’s labor force and cost-effective and strategic agricultural investment in Egypt can produce lasting dividends while minimizing the impact of uncertainty on food markets.

This increased U.S. and private-sector investment and technical assistance should be used to strengthen yields in key domestic food commodities such as wheat, edible oil, sugar, and dairy to bridge Egypt’s food gap. A focus on women farmers and small landholders and the production of high-value export crops such as fruits, vegetables, and livestock can boost incomes and employment and take advantage of Egypt’s proximity to potential markets.

Food prices are at record levels partly due to population growth and increased demand from a recovering global economy, tight supplies, high oil prices, and weak agricultural production attributable to climate change-induced weather disasters and crop loss in key producing nations.

Climate change is causing extreme weather events such as massive flooding in Australia, Pakistan, and Brazil; unprecedented heat waves and drought in Russia, Ukraine, and now China; heavy rains in Iowa and Illinois; and dry conditions in key U.S. wheat-growing regions such as Kansas and Colorado. These are all affecting food production and have injected a level of doubt into forecasts for upcoming harvests, current stockpiles, and the prospects for the spring planting season.

Egypt faces daunting challenges as it prepares for broad presidential and parliamentary elections within a year. Ongoing volatility in global food prices will strain resources during this critical transitional period. Food price volatility and uncertainty are further triggered by shortsighted government and private-sector actions. Increased private speculation in commodity markets and outdated ethanol policies contribute to instability in the international food system.

Climate change’s impact on world agriculture is projected to be severe. Egypt is at profound risk to the negative effects of climate change, including rising temperatures, prolonged drought, increased evaporation, and water consumption. Egypt is also vulnerable to rising sea levels leading to more intense flooding, the loss of key agricultural land in the Nile Delta, and the mass migration of 8 million people from rural to urban areas.

It is in the U.S. national security interest to provide financing to allow Egypt and the most vulnerable developing countries to prepare for and adapt to the effects of climate change in agriculture and development as resources become scarcer and the global population climbs to 9 billion by 2050. Open and transparent adaptation programs that meet the goals and needs established by local communities must become a U.S. priority.

Read the full version of this blog post, “Making Egypt More Food Secure.”

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