Export figures from the Food Export Council
Egypt's food industry exports rose by 3% in the initial two months of 2023, reaching $665 million, according to the Food Export Council's (FEC) monthly report. Arab countries, accounting for 55% of total food exports, witnessed a 5% drop to $368 million. Saudi Arabia led the Arab nations with a 13% rise in imports totaling $69 million, followed by Libya at $44 million, marking a 35% growth. The EU imported Egyptian food products worth $123 million, an 18% share of the total, registering a 38% increase. Amongst the key exported commodities, sugar and glucose dominated at $51 million (up 61%), trailed closely by frozen strawberries at $42 million (up 47%). In 2022, Egypt set a record with agricultural exports touching 6.5 million tons, valued at approximately $3.3 billion.
Strawberry production in historical context
Egypt is one of the major producers of strawberries, following China, USA, Türkye and Mexico. In 2020 Egypt produced 471,000 tons of strawberries, five percent of the world production. 5,245 hectares of land is dedicated to strawberry production in the country. Strawberry is mainly planted in Qalyubia, Beheira, Ismailia, and Sharqiya governorates, in addition to the El-Nubaria region. The main strawberry varieties grown in Egypt are Festival, Fortuna, Florida, and Sweet Sensation.
Evolution and growth over the years
Over the years, the strawberry production in Egypt has been growing steadily, increasing the yield of the produce. The cultivation of strawberries in Egypt started during the reign of Mohamed Ali, and the yield per acre ranged from 1 to 2 tons until 1981. The UF/IFAS strawberry varieties were first introduced to Egypt in the late 1990s with ‘Sweet Charlie’ and have been transformational for the industry. Production per acre in Egypt increased from 5–8 metric tons before ‘Sweet Charlie’ to 10–15 metric tons after its introduction. According to the Egyptian government, total fresh strawberry exports from Egypt have increased from 338 metric tons in 2000 to 35,718 metric tons in 2020. The strawberry season in Egypt starts in November and ends in April.
Egypt's dominance in frozen strawberry market
Egypt is the world's largest exporter of frozen strawberries. Frozen strawberries represent 28% of the global strawberry exports. Although Egypt is not the largest producer of strawberries, it has a significant share of the global market and has been increasing its production of strawberries suitable for freezing. The annual volume of frozen strawberries exported by Egypt is approximately 140,000 tons. This represents a significant share of the global export quantities, accounting for about 20% of the total global export quantities. The value of these exports is estimated to be around $165 million. Egypt has seen significant growth in its frozen strawberry exports, with a 40% increase in value and a 39% increase in quantities from 2015 to 2019. The country has been recognized as the world's top exporter of frozen strawberries.
EU imports and global competition
Egypt has doubled its frozen strawberry exports to the EU in the past five years, accounting for two-thirds of the EU's total imports from non-EU countries in 2022, as reported by EastFruit. In contrast, Moroccan exports declined, and Turkish and Chinese exports fell by 20% and 91% respectively. Serbia and Ukraine were the only other countries to increase exports, though their volumes were much lower than Egypt's.
Productivity challenges and future prospects
Egypt's strawberry productivity has declined by 15% due to quality issues with Florida varieties and unfavorable weather conditions, according to producer Elsayed Elgohary. Despite this drop, an increase in acreage will keep the total national volume stable at 250,000 tons. The devaluation of the Egyptian pound is expected to offset increasing production costs, allowing Egypt to maintain its position as the world's leading exporter of strawberries.
Egyptian nurseries top in export of strawberry plants
Around 4 million strawberry seedlings are exported annually. Their export season begins in February of each year after the end of fresh strawberry export season in December. Egypt's first licensed nursery to export strawberry plants by American company Ekland, has seen volumes increase from 1.5 million mother plants to 2 million this year, and 5 million fresh and frozen plants. The growth is attributed to the quality and health of its University of Florida strawberry varieties. The nursery exports to several countries in Africa and Asia, with the largest volumes going to Libya, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and others. The plants are certified as completely free of diseases, contributing to the nursery's commercial advantage.
Challenges in Egypt's strawberry industry
Challenges confronting Egypt's strawberry production include the effects of climate change, leading to early season endings that favor competitors like Spain and Morocco. Altered weather patterns, characterized by warmer autumns and colder winters, have affected productivity. Additionally, there's been a noted decline in productivity, by an estimated 15%, attributed to the deterioration in quality of the Florida varieties plants. Spain and Morocco present strong competition in the strawberry market. Furthermore, there's inconsistency in the quality of strawberries from Egypt; while some match Europe's stringent standards, others are of inferior quality and either get exported to Arab nations or are available in the local market. Nonetheless, producing approximately 250,000 tons annually, Egypt maintains its position as the world's top strawberry exporter.