It is no secret that Egypt is facing multiple challenges like overpopulation, mismanagement of natural resources and environmental pollution. With an increased demand for food, it became crucial to find other agricultural resources to increase production, provided that it is environmentally friendly and minimizes the emission of greenhouse gases and the use of harmful pesticides.
In 1977, Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish established the first organic farm on 70-hectares of land called “SEKEM”, and excavated the first well in the desert. The project introduced for the first time the production of organic food, herbs and spices in Egypt. Now, they expanded the land and their production to include cotton, cereal and herbal medicines, which are grown without using pesticides or synthetic insecticides.
In 2009, The Ministry of Agriculture issued a sustainable development strategy for 2030, and established an effective policy for phasing out chemical fertilizers as well as shifting from traditional to organic production.
Organic production is the preservation of natural resources while avoiding genetic engineering, pesticides and fertilizers. Moreover, each stage of the production needs to be controlled and certified. The SCP (Sustainability Council Policy) took serious steps to increase productivity and competitiveness of agricultural products, minimize water waste and improve the quality of the soil and the livelihood of rural inhabitants.
Although organic food production is more costly than conventional cultivation, its outcome leads to an increase in production and a reduction of the total cost per ton as it helps eliminate ecological damage and the growing negative impact on human health as well as improving soil structure, maintaining water quality and increasing soil fertility.
In the last 20 years, the Egyptian government promoted the expansion of agriculture into the new lands located in the desert.
Sara Hanning Nour, an agro-entrepreneur dedicated to the development of organic farming and creating access to clean food in Egypt, is a driven individual who started growing organic food since 2012, launching Sara & Lara’s Baskets.
Moving from her home country of Zurich, Switzerland to Egypt in her early adult years, Nour quickly began to learn Arabic. She then turned her attention to developing a family run farm and transforming it into Egypt’s first farm-to-table produce delivery service, establishing “Sara’s Organic Food” that
can be found on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road. The farm consists of 972 acres of land that grows a variety of organically cultivated vegetables, fruits and herbs of European quality.
Nour won the Cartier Women’s Initiative award in 2017 after being chosen as one of six international award-winners from almost 1,900 female entrants in 120 countries. The program is an international business plan competition that aims to empower women entrepreneurs and support their projects. The event is held in association with the international business school INSEAD and the management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company, who respectively provide winners with further education and a year of individual mentoring. The six winners also each receive USD 100,000 to invest in their businesses.
Tell us a little more about yourself and why you chose to establish your project in Egypt.
I am both Swiss and Egyptian and received my bachelor’s degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. When I first moved to Egypt, I was passionate about finding a place to grow some of the best fruits and vegetables in the world.
I felt the need to access clean food in Egypt, which was my main objective, and so I began taking courses in agriculture, and I started a master’s degree in Organic Agriculture at Cairo University. My husband, Karim, is Egyptian, and so I was given the opportunity to grow food on a piece of land owned by my husband’s family in 2011.
What are some of the criteria that help Cartier choose the winners?
The award is given to those whose business plans are mainly concerned with the environment, healthcare, technology, education and other projects that have a social and environmental impact. We are grateful to be recognized by our passion for having cleaner food.
The fact that your entire team is Egyptian encourages the local workforce. How did you choose them and did you provide them with any training to meet European standards?
We have about 52 farmers, engineers and technicians. Our team is like our family, and everyone in it truly believes in our cause and works hard every day towards our goal of supplying good, clean and nutritious food.
The most important thing about our team is that all of them are keen to safeguard nature for future generations. Our general director has over 40 years of experience in farming, and our engineers are trained in organic farming practices. Therefore, we seek to implement Swiss values of reliability, thoroughness and quality through our management.
What challenges did you face when you first started your business in Egypt? How are you different than your competitors?
With Sara and Lara’s Baskets, we had the first true farm-to-table service in Egypt, which consisted of fresh, nutritious and organic vegetables, fruits, honey and eggs from our own farm. We still offer a weekly supply of fresh products of the best quality.
Supplying healthy food that has been produced responsibly and hygienically, with minimal impact on the environment and maximum benefit to human health places us on a competitive level.
Although it is difficult to reproduce the full value chain that our business provides, we view competition as a good thing because it grows the market.