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Decade of Impact: Soy grows in Egypt

Cargill and CARE helped introduce soybeans to smallholder farmers of the Nile Delta

September 12, 2018

CARE farmer infographicIn Egypt, it’s easy to recognize the Fayoum area. Located in the Nile Delta—the land of the Pharaohs where Egyptian civilization grew—a visit takes you south of Cairo, past the pyramids of Giza and into the desert.

The desert abruptly disappears, and the land turns a vibrant green—a sign of the irrigation canals carrying water from the Nile. In some of the fields, farmers are hand-cultivating soy crops with hoes on farms several acres or less in size.

But it wasn’t always a region known for soy. The land was home to primarily rice before 2011, but the crop requires four times more water than soybeans and water shortages were causing increasing tension in the region.

Cargill saw an opportunity to help farmers in the region diversify their crops so they could adapt to changing climates while also building their market in the region.

Soybeans became an option because the crop was better suited to the environmental conditions and farmers could tap into the market expertise of Cargill, given the company’s presence in the country. In partnership with CARE, Cargill helped farmers transition to soy by providing the technical help they needed to be successful, said Michelle Grogg, Cargill’s vice president for corporate responsibility and sustainable development.

“If you think about connections in the global food system, it all starts with the farmer,” she said. “We believe that when farmers are successful, Cargill is successful. If we can increase yields and incomes, we can increase the quality of what’s coming off the farm to provide better ingredients and food for consumers worldwide.”

Meeting regional needs

The program, which has reached more than 13,500 farmers in the country since the initiative began, is just one part of the CARE-Cargill Rural Development Initiative. Worldwide, the initiative has touched 2.2 million people, helping build more resilient communities in 10 countries through improved food and nutrition security, increased farmer productivity and greater access to markets.

The global CARE-Cargill partnership has been customized to meet regional needs that improve the communities where Cargill already does business. In Egypt, for example, the Beni Saleh farmers’ association used the crop diversification to decrease water use tensions. But in order for the program to be sustainable, farmers needed training and tools to successfully grow soy.

Abdallah Pasha, head of the farmers’ association, said the pilot was 50 acres, but quickly expanded to 250. The initial hurdle for soy was marketing, he said.

“Farmers needed to feel assured that they had a market, and Cargill provided that assurance,” he said.

During one phase of the program, more than 1,900 farmers in Egypt increased their profits by 18 percent. Another phase recorded a 50-percent increase in household incomes among participating farmers and an eight-fold increase in farmers following best agricultural practices.

Sustainable change

For farmers in the Beni Saleh association, the switch to soy encouraged more teamwork and long-term planning. Members shared their knowledge of soy with other farmers, going to their land along with Cargill employees. Farmers also visited Cargill’s facility in the region, helping the farmers to understand the broader value chain.

The farmers used profits from the pilot to purchase a manure tank, which cut the village’s sewage-processing expenses in half. The premium for the second year’s crop funded equipment for better planting techniques on the farm.

Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of CARE USA, said she considers this a preeminent partnership that is creating long-term sustainable change in the communities it touches.

“It embodies the integrated, holistic approach where we are pairing philanthropic objectives and business goals,” she said. “We would not be able to do scalable change if Cargill just wrote us a check without the expertise, the personnel and human capital, and access to the supply chain. It’s the best of all worlds because we’re using a multidimensional set of assets that enables the investment Cargill is making to go farther in terms of impact.”