Finding information related to Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation (“The Ministry”) in the public domain is a tough task. Its website is available for view, albeit only the Arabic site works, and it is most reliably accessed through an Egyptian IP address. Western institutions enquiring into Egypt’s agricultural sector will no doubt view this as an automatic warning sign, and its limited presence in open sources paints a poor picture of its governance structure.

That said, Egypts private and public sector in general do not view disclosure as a key responsibility, and a lack of transparency is all too common a feature of business in Egypt. Such levels of opacity only make it more difficult to understand an important branch of the government, and one that has already gained a particularly weak governance record over the past seven years.

Laws and Regulations
Generally speaking, there is a lack of legislation regulating Egypt’s agriculture sector, which bodes poorly for confidence in the sector. According to Law No. 15 of 1963, foreign ownership of agricultural land in Egypt is prohibited and must be confiscated by Egyptian authorities in the event that foreigners inherit land. Ownership of desert lands is equally restrictive and extends only to Egyptian citizens and companies that are 51% owned by Egyptians, placing significant barriers in the way of acquiring land outright.

In addition, Partnerships are permitted to own 10,000 feddans of land and joint stock companies are permitted to own 50,000 feddans. The way that land is acquired by foreign parties in certain areas is confined to the agreement of long term ‘usufruct rights’ with government officials, showing that deals are bilateral and more ad hoc in nature. This entails that foreign actors merely rent and exploit the land, which is reserved for local actors granted access by the state.

Sector Dynamics
In terms of sector dynamics, Egypt’s agricultural sector was opened up over the course of the late 1980s and early 1990s – a dynamic that well-resourced investors wasted no time in tapping up. Influence acquired under the patronage of Hosny Mubarak still resonates today, and these actors are now focused on building cordial relations with the new government headed by Abdel Fattah El Sisi.

Of course, another feature of the sector’s liberalisation has been participation from wealthy foreign investors from the Arab World, with those in the Gulf particularly present in the food and vegetable component of agricultural affairs. This goes to show that a small pool of external investors have managed to navigate the sector, despite protectionist measures aimed at handing the advantage to indigenous businessmen.

External capital is viewed as a welcome injection into an economy which is still to experience genuine prosperity under Sisi. Foreign participation derives predominantly from players in Kuwait, Saudi, and the UAE, with major Western players still reluctant to commit. International confidence in the sector may be low, and the adequate legal parameters needed to entice investors into the market do not exist.

New Risks
Although deals put in place by businessmen and ministers from Mubarak’s reign still exist, they now face uncertainty in the post 2014 era. Indeed, many investors now find themselves traversing an environment constructed around new access points to the government, and the  assurances granted by Gamal Mubarak’s circle of technocrats do not necessarily hold as much sway as Sahar Nasr and Tarek Kabil, who now pull major strings within the government.

This new political era is also colouring operability in Egypt’s economy, with a clampdown on alleged Muslim brotherhood supporters the most manifest example of this. Even established business figures cannot be assured of breathing space vis-à-vis the regime, should the regime deem them sympathetic to Political Islam, heightening paranoia and anxiety to levels not seen even during Mubarak’s era.

That said, a system of entrenched patronage built around a small pool of elites persists, which the regime is reliant upon to generate growth and commercial activity. This extends to the agricultural sector, and governance trends suggest that the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation is still experiencing difficulty finding its feet vis-à-vis the key industry players.

Stability in the Agriculture Ministry pre-2011 was provided by Amin Abaza’s leadership; but this also gave rise to his alleged profiteering and abuse of office. Comparatively, the post 2011 era has been marked by an absence of strong governance at ministerial level – yet the same culture of impunity has endured. Actors out with the Ministry must therefore be integral components of Egypt’s agricultural machinery and a host of ‘hidden’ local businesses and military companies most likely figure among the sector’s key influencers.

Military Rears its Head
Shadow Governance Intel sources have stated that the military’s role should not be downplayed in terms of shaping current dynamics in the agricultural sector.

Their most notable influence over Egypt’s agribusiness since 2011 has been a willingness to squeeze smaller actors and push out minor businesses that are only just able to compete. International development organisations, which are supportive of small scale farmers and producers, must be aware that they contend with the armed forces’ privileged position and invisible entities, no doubt undermining much of the work being done to strengthen small to medium entities in Egypt.

The current overall setting is therefore a field that consists of three main interest groups: (1) established agribusiness figures from Mubarak’s era looking to preserve their interests, (2) wealthy investors from the Gulf, and (3) government-backed military companies.