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  • Unconventional Ag

Pioneering the Pyramids: Egypt is Taking the Lead as the Next Great Soybean Frontier

By Betsy Osman, Content Manager, Illinois Soybean Association

Reprinted with permission from Illinois Field & Bean, June 2021.

Egypt is made up of crisscrossing layers that range from the ancient to the modern. “The Land of the Pharaohs” claims the oldest civilization on earth, but today most of Egypt’s major cities fuse together futuristic skyscrapers, highways, international hotels, restaurants, contemporary art museums, local designer clothing shops, ancient monuments, historical mosques, Coptic churches, and traditional souks; all intersecting to create the gripping scene that is modern day Egypt.

Over the past decade, Egypt has grown to become the hub of Africa, home to numerous airports, shipping ports, modern marinas, and interconnected cities enabled by a network of newly developed highway systems. Telecommunications and internet services in Egypt are supported by leading-edge technologies, providing the needed infrastructure for the country’s constant up-reach.

This culture has become a global influencer, sweeping through art, fashion, gastronomy,

and culture; a place where ancient thinkers, philosophers, and storytellers have prepared the way for new era efficiencies and contemporary connectivity.

The adage “less is more” does not apply to this fast-paced frontier. In Egypt, more is more.

And while it may be a surprise to learn that Egypt has stepped forward as a country ripe for growth, as a foreign market for U.S. soybeans. Our go-to market strategy suggests all the ingredients are there for this to be our next hot trade space, including strong economic activity, a growing population, and an almost unsatisfiable demand for protein.

“It’s true, Egypt has emerged as one of the strongest markets for U.S. soybeans,” says Eric Woodie, for the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA). “This growth can be attributed to increased crush capacity in Egypt, which has been driven by the growth of protein demand in the diets of consumers. The U.S. has been at the forefront of this rise in demand and has met their increased needs over the past five years.”

As the most populous country in the Middle East, Egypt has a young, expanding population and an increasing diet of meat, milk, and eggs. This climbing demand for protein can be attributed to households joining the Egyptian middle-class. “We know Egyptian crush capacity continues to expand," says Woodie. "The USDA is estimating it will reach 8.4 million metric tons daily in 2021-2022, which is the result of new facilities coming online," says Woodie. "In order to meet this demand, Egypt needs to import the soybeans.”

In 2019, U.S. exports of food and agricultural products to Egypt reached $1.59 billion, up 100 percent compared to a low of $795 million in 2017. U.S. soybeans led export growth in value in 2019, reaching $995 million. Through July 2020, U.S. soybean exports to Egypt were up 65 percent at $834 million and are contributing positively to $1.2 billion in food and agricultural product exports, which are now up 22 percent. With expanded crush capacity, Egypt is shifting to greater imports of soybeans for local processing into value-added products such as soybean meal and oil.

Illinois soybeans typically arrive in Egypt by way of the U.S. Gulf Coast, moving through barges from the heart of Illinois to the Gulf via the Illinois Waterway, then through the Atlantic to the Mediterranean to Alexandria Port of Egypt or Damietta Port of Egypt.

But why the interest in U.S. specific soybeans? According to Woodie, it comes down to our agility, speed, and quality.

“The U.S. has demonstrated our ability to react to a market hungry for more soybeans," says Woodie. "Egypt has seen how efficient and productive it can be to utilize U.S. soy and has ultimately been won over by our ability to provide quality product and exceptional logistics, year-in and year-out.”

Mousa Wakileh is a regional consultant for the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) and has spent many years aligning foreign needs with U.S. solutions.

“The U.S. soy industry and USSEC have been working in Egypt and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region for many more than years," says Wakileh. "In that time, we’ve witnessed immense change and growth in the poultry, dairy, and aquaculture

industries. The MENA region soy crushing industry started increasing capacity 15 years ago and has expanded aggressively over the past five years. This helped MENA become one of fastest growing soy markets in the world.”

USSEC is also working to increase soy oil consumption by providing technical assistance

to soy oil refiners, which paves the path to continued production of high-quality soybean oil.

Providing technical assistance to feed millers also helps increase soy oil inclusion rates

in locally produced feed.

So how does Illinois stay at the front of this new market opportunity? According to Wakileh, it comes down to communication.

“I believe continued cooperation between USSEC and local industries to provide more support to the aquaculture and poultry industries in Egypt will help to improve performance, decrease the costs of production, and encourage producers to expand their productions so as to increase consumption per capita," says Wakileh.

Woodie adds that Illinois growers are well-positioned to take advantage of this burgeoning market.

Adds Woodie, “Illinois growers are well-positioned to take advantage of this burgeoning

market. The work we are doing now in developing relationships, expanding our educational efforts to farmers and those involved in the supply chain to ensure that we continue to provide the Egyptian market with exactly what they need is the best way forward. It is vital that we continue to support this marketplace by hosting buying teams, providing technical assistance, and connecting buyers and sellers.”


Betsy Osman serves as content manager for Illinois Soybean Association (ISA). She earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a journalism emphasis and holds a certificate in strategic planning for nonprofit organizations. Osman joined ISA after serving as university writer and assistant director of marketing for Millikin University, and as director of marketing for a large Central-Illinois real estate company. She is a former columnist for the Herald & Review, freelance journalist, blogger, and online contributor for Forbes Communication Council.

Osman is a storyteller, literature-lover, defender of the Oxford Comma, and an eternal optimist. She, her husband, and their kids live in Decatur, Illinois.


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