Food Security and Education
International organisations, such as the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), have advised on the important role of education in enhancing food security (see e.g. World Bank et al. 2009). The emphasis was put on the role of education in (i) enhancing individuals’ awareness of the problem of food security; (ii) enhancing the quality of diets; and (iii) combating the problem through better family planning. The problem of high levels of population growth is more evident in rural than in urban areas and it is argued that increased awareness through education would help lessen the problem. Education would also enhance individuals’ awareness of the nutritional requirements of young children and adults which would eventually result in nutritionally balanced diets and reduce demand of cereal products. The latter has the largest share of consumption in Egypt at 62.3 % of total food consumption (FAO and EBRD 2015), which directly influences the levels of food imports.
Nutritional education and awareness is also a critical matter given the health problems prevalent in Egypt, particularly amongst children. Chronic malnutrition amongst children is alarming as it increases the proportion of stunted children under the age of five to 30 % on average reaching as much as 39 % in the poor neighbourhoods of Upper Egypt Egyptian adults suffer from relatively high levels of obesity, especially women above the age of 15. Currently 48 % of women in this age group are affected, for which the main reason is considered to be the consumption of non-nutritious, calorie-rich foods which are cheaper and hence affordable by, at least, 25.2 % of the population with low income (Breisinger et al. 2015; UNFPA 2010). These are two of the main health challenges facing the Egyptian government as a result of malnutrition, which is directly related to the issue of food security. Education is expected to directly contribute to these problems though its impact will remain limited given the increasing levels of income poverty.
However, the emphasis put by international organisations is limited to basic education. Less, if any, attention was given to VET and its potential role in solving or reducing the food security problem. A probable interpretation of this is the World Bank’s direction towards supporting basic education over tertiary education since the 1990s. This was a diversion from an increased emphasis on VET from the 1950s until the 1980s when investments in VET by the World Bank represented 25 % of its total investments in education (Middleton and Ziderman 1997). A shift in this trend occurred at the beginning of the 1990s when VET was criticised for its ineffectiveness in attaining its intended objectives, such as increasing employment and reducing poverty. From a neoliberal perspective, it was argued that VET would be best left to the forces of market supply and demand whereas the World Bank would better redirect its educational development support to basic education (Canagarajah et al. 2002; Yamada and Matsuda 2007). This direction became popular, especially with the Economic Reform and Structural Adjustment Programs (ESRP), which started in 1990/1991 in Egypt. By 1996, the World Bank’s investments in VET represented only 3 % of total expenditure on educational development (Bennell and Segerstrom 1998).
However, educational development efforts in Egypt were insufficient to accommodate the relatively high rates of expansion in enrolment rates and over time the system suffered from scarcity of resources and the deterioration of the quality of its graduates. The system of VET also suffered similar deficiencies but on a wider scale given the already lowered levels of investments it receives, which resulted in a noticeable decline in technical knowledge and skills available in the economy in ways that hampered Egypt’s international economic competitiveness. For instance, in 2010 ineffectiveness of skilled labour was perceived to be the third most problematic factor for doing business in Egypt (Hanouz and Khatib 2010; Schwab 2010). In 2014/15, this factor moved to the seventh most constraining factor to doing business in Egypt (Schwab 2014).
This shift was not due to improvements in education and training policies but rather due to the emergence of more problematic factors related to the 2011 uprisings, such as political stability and foreign currency regulations. The problem of ineffective VET is hence seriously influencing the international competitiveness of the Egyptian economy, including the agricultural sector, which renewed international donors’ interest in investing to develop the sector in the past decade. It is argued in this chapter that developments in agricultural VET could enhance the sector’s productivity and competitiveness in ways that would directly contribute to reducing the severity of the food security problem. More generally, VET development across different sectors is expected to enhance Egypt’s international competitiveness and contribute to the development of the Egyptian economy, both of which would positively impact Egypt’s ability to respond to international fluctuations in the global food market.