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[CAIRO] The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is leading a US$3 million project to boost food and nutrition security for women and youth in Egypt, through increased food production, nutrition education, and governmental capacity building.

The four-year project, announced last month (18 June), is funded by the Italian government and will be implemented in collaboration with Egypt's Ministry of Agriculture.

Moujahed Achouri, the Egyptian FAO representative, told SciDev.Net: "The programme is part of the FAO's [regional] contribution to reducing and mitigating [...] concomitant financial and political shocks, which are heavily affecting food and nutrition security at household level".

The project aims to improve the nutritional status of households, particularly of women and youth, in Egypt's poorest villages, by creating secure access to diversified foods from both animal and vegetable sources, and ensuring target groups have the knowledge and skills necessary to follow nutritionally adequate diets.

The FAO in Egypt told SciDev.Net that before the revolution of 2011, "women and youth faced constraints in accessing the labour market — it is expected that this situation will worsen with the prevailing economic slow-down".

According to the UN Development Programme's Human Development Report 2010, the percentage of unemployed women and youth was significantly higher than the national average, (24–24.5 per cent versus ten per cent). Egyptian health surveys show that malnutrition is the root cause of more than one third of illnesses affecting children under five.

A new fund will promote training, not only on environmentally-friendly and bio-secure ways of producing food and rearing animals, but also on the skills and knowledge necessary to running small enterprises, says the FAO in Egypt.

Training will be delivered through women's groups and will engage community members in in-depth analyses of their villages' nutritional statuses and in the preparation and implementation of nutrition education and communication plans.

Akila Saleh, a coordinator at the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture, told SciDev.Net that "There is a steering committee for the project made ​​up of [officials from] the ministries of education, health and agriculture".

An institutional mechanism will be established to coordinate implementation, monitor impact and ensure that good practices are integrated into national strategies.

"Target villages will be selected on the basis of their poverty ranking [...]," according to the FAO in Egypt. "Preference will be given to those located in governorates with high rates of poverty, low food security, and malnutrition".