Egypt and Tunisia collaborate on rural enterprise scheme

Producing animal fodder from wheat is a key technique being shared through the programme Copyright: Flickr/Azz

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[CAIRO] The science ministries of Egypt and Tunisia are collaborating on a project to use the results of scientific research to develop small enterprises in rural areas.

The project, which was launched this month (8 July), aims to help tackle unemployment in both countries, which many feel was a contributing factor to last year’s Arab spring. The initiative is part of a wider agreement on scientific and technological cooperation that was signed by both countries in October 2010.

"Youth unemployment was chosen as the key issue to be tackled by the countries," Mohamed Gamal Abo-Elazayem, head of agricultural economy at Egypt’s National Research Centre, and lead researcher for the project, told SciDev.Net. "Both countries faced revolutions [during the Arab spring]. And unemployment has been identified as a key catalyst for the uprisings in both countries."

According to the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2010, Egypt’s youth unemployment rate of 24.5 per cent is significantly higher than its national average for all ages of ten per cent.

Abo-Elazayem explained that the collaborative project will involve young researchers from Egypt visiting and analysing small rural enterprises in Tunisia that depend on scientific innovation and inventions, and vice versa. Innovations include new techniques for producing animal fodder from different types of agricultural waste, new animal breeds that are more appropriate to specific rural environments, and manufacturing techniques for producing traditional rugs and carpets.

Participants will assess the capacity of local environments for supporting new enterprises, and either provide ideas for developing existing enterprises based on experiences in their own countries, or suggest ideas for new enterprises.

The project, which will be funded by both ministries, will also train youth from the two countries in how to develop enterprise budgets and prepare innovation model prototypes for use in marketing.

The programme’s first research trip saw a group of Tunisian researchers, who visited Egypt at the beginning of the month, looking for ideas that they could transfer to their own country. According to Abo-Elazayem, they showed special interest in methods for producing animal fodder from agricultural waste such as wheat, which is one of Tunisia’s most important crops.

Hassan El-Annabi, director-general of Tunisia’s Centre for Economic and Social Studies and Research, told SciDev.Net that he had been impressed with the results that emerged from the first visit. "We are waiting for the Egyptian side to assist in transferring Egyptian experience in animal production and forage manufacturing to Tunisia, as we requested training from their side in these issues," he said.

He added that "such cooperation is very helpful in boosting rural development and employment in our developing countries, as we benefit from each other’s experience in specific fields".