Egypt's food and agricultural systems are increasingly facing serious environmental and socioeconomic challenges, which raise major concerns for sustainable development. Building more sustainable agricultural systems, which account for climate change developments and which can feed a growing population, has thus, gained increasing relevance to policy and policy practice in Egypt. To guide and facilitate an agricultural transformation process, structural reforms in higher education in Egypt are required to produce a workforce that has the capacity to build and strengthen the resilience of food- and agricultural systems.
In this respect, the EU co-funded Erasmus+ Project (DeVilag), titled "Steering Migration through Sustainable Development: Euro-Egyptian Program for Agriculture and Rural Development", aims to support the Egyptian rural community with qualified graduates, who can improve agricultural productivity and enable furthered sustainable food production. DeVilag is a collaborative project between European and Egyptian universities. The European universities are RWTH Aachen (RWTH) in Germany, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Sweden, and the University of Nicosia (UNIC) in Cyprus. The Egyptian partner universities include Cairo University, Fayoum University, Heliopolis University and the American University in Cairo. More so, the project involves other relevant stakeholders and end-users in Egypt (Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Agricultural Research Center, Lotus for Organic Products, and ISIS for Food Industries LTD).
Within this project, the SLU team, represented by Dr. Assem Abu Hatab (Project Coordinator) and Ebba Engström (Project Officer) from the Institution of Economics, holds the responsibility of developing and implementing a capacity-building program to equip the teaching staff of DeVilag's Egyptian partner universities with knowledge and pedagogical skills. This should enable them to effectively address different dimensions of sustainable agricultural- and rural development, specifically as part of newly developed and modified courses that are part of the DeVilag project. The capacity-building programme is constituted by training workshops held by SLU, RWTH and UNIC- which were originally supposed to be completely hosted in-person at the given European institutions. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting mobility restrictions, the first set of workshops held by each institution have had to be split into an online- and an on-site component.
Between the 12th and 19th of August 2020, SLU hosted the online component of its first training workshop, which consisted of four webinar sessions. These webinar sessions were designed and held by contributors external to the DeVilag group, who are based at SLU, Wageningen University and Research, and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Dr Linley Chiwona Karltun, Associate Professor at SLU, kicked off the sessions with her webinar on nutrition and food security, providing gender perspectives on the topic. The second session was held by Dr Julia Höhler from Wageningen University, who provided insight into the analysis and mapping of agri-food value chains, and was followed by Vivek Voora, Associate at the IISD, who gave his presentation on the role of global trade in the expansion of agricultural commodities. The set of sessions were finished off by SLUs own Dr Enoch Owusu Sekyere, post-doctor at the Department of Economics, who discussed the topic of the economics of water and water use within agriculture. In total, 22 candidates who are to attend the on-site session in Sweden, as well as some additional participants, took part in the training programme.
The online workshop provided insight into pivotal subject areas on sustainable agriculture, especially incorporating economic aspects. On a practical front, it also allowed the SLU DeVilag team to gain practice in the rapid readjustment of on-site to online execution of events. The team is now waiting to see how the COVID-19 pandemic develops but are hoping to host the programmes trainees at SLU in early 2021. It is exciting to see how the DeVilag programme continues to develop and the team aims to follow the projects short-term and long-term impacts closely.