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EG23_AG_Canal Sugar_Dr. Kamel Abdallah

EGYPT - Agriculture

Kamel Abdallah

Managing Director & CEO, Canal Sugar

Bio

Dr. Kamel Abdallah assumed the role of Company Managing Director and CEO on June 1st, 2022. In this role, Dr. Kamel leads Canal Sugar Manufacturing, Agricultural, Commercial, Human Resources, Supply Chain, Information Technology, Global Business Services, Communications, and Distribution for the company. With his extensive global executive leadership experience, Dr. Kamel drives Canal Sugar’s strategy into contributing to Egypt’s National Food Security, by achieving sugar self-sufficiency and growing other essential crops. He is committed to empowering smallholder farmers in Minya and Upper Egypt as well as positioning Canal Sugar as a sustainable, more convenient, and one of the most efficient businesses in the Middle East using the latest technologies and digital innovation to make the most out of the energy and resources. Before joining Canal Sugar, Dr. Kamel was the Managing Director of Vita F&B Capital, an Agri-Food Strategy and Private Equity Advisory Management firm. For over 20 years, he has led large regional Agri-Food companies in the Middle East. He is considered a GCC (Middle East) regional subject matter expert on the transformation of regional Agriculture and Food Security programs and has chaired the 2020 World Food Security Forum for the MENA region, among others. Since 2003, He has served in Board Director/CEO positions in Agri/Food based companies, including Executive Vice Chairman/CEO of Aujan Industries/Rani Investment (now Aujan-Coca Cola), the largest private beverage player in the Middle East (Rani, Vimto, Barbican), as well the CEO of Exceed Industries, an Abu Dhabi based Industrial/Agricultural family office group with farms and feed mills among others. He also served as Managing Director of AATCO Food Industries in Oman, the largest GCC manufacturer of wet condiments food in the region. Most recently, he has led a major regional dairy group, Baladna QPSC, from Greenfield to a successful IPO placement in 2020 and executed successful private placements for companies in the Business Groups he led.

"Egypt imports approximately 1 million tons of sugar, accounting for 30% of total consumption."
TBY talks to Kamel Abdallah, Managing Director & CEO of Canal Sugar, about self-sufficiency in sugar production in Egypt.
How did you become the managing director of Canal Sugar?

For the past 20 years, I have served as a CEO in the Middle East, primarily focusing on the food, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors. During this time, I had the opportunity to lead a royal family office in Abu Dhabi, overseeing a significant food and agriculture group. Additionally, I held the position of CEO in a company based in Qatar. In Abu Dhabi and Dubai, I had the privilege of being selected to participate in the National Food Security Conference of the UAE. Given my expertise in managing large-scale industrial projects related to national food security, I was approached to take on a leadership role in this project.

What motivates you to work on this project?

Our project focuses on achieving self-sufficiency in sugar production in Egypt, a significant commodity country. Currently, Egypt imports approximately 1 million tons of sugar, accounting for 30% of total consumption. By intervening, we have successfully bridged this gap, reducing the need for foreign currency and eliminating the necessity for imports. Moreover, we ensure a consistent and appropriate supply of sugar for the country. One challenge we face is the limited agricultural area in Egypt, similar to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, and to overcome this, we have embarked on reclaiming desert land. The areas we are working in lack water, soil, and electricity. Most agricultural activities are concentrated in the Nile Delta, which is already saturated and insufficient to meet the country’s need for self-sufficiency in major crops. Our approach involves implementing precision farming techniques and utilizing smart technologies for land reclamation. This contribution is crucial to the success of the project. Without these advancements, the cost of desert reclamation would be extremely high, and importation would remain the more viable option. Advancements in technology over the past 15 years have allowed us to use water resources more efficiently, enhance soil quality at a faster rate, and increase crop yields. In turn, this makes investments in water and electricity infrastructure and soil improvement economically sustainable. It is a significant milestone to achieve agricultural sustainability from an economic standpoint. The uniqueness of our project lies in our collaboration with approximately 6,000 farmers, with plans to expand to 10,000 small farmers in the Minia and Upper Egypt regions. We aim to increase their yield and educate them on better planting practices. We provide them with basic yet innovative technology tools such as handheld devices for monitoring water and fertilizer usage, disease prevention, and advisory services. Our program with farmers extends beyond a single year and single crop, which is different from the typical factory-farmer relationships. We work with them over multiple years and multiple crops, ensuring their continuous growth and success. Additionally, our farm, which is the largest in the Middle East and the size of Bahrain or Singapore, produces not only sugar but also other important commodities such as alfalfa and wheat.

What have been the most significant challenges throughout this journey?

One of our major challenges is that we do not fit into a traditional category; we are neither farmers nor a factory, which can confuse people. Our work involves collaborating with farmers for land reclamation, but we are not an NGO. This requires us to gain the trust of farmers who may think we are taking advantage of them. We strive to convince them that our advantage lies not only in providing funding but also in increasing their productivity, benefiting both parties. Transforming the mindset around agriculture is a significant challenge we face. Another challenge arises from the conflicting interests of different government agencies. The Ministry of Agriculture aims to increase agricultural yield, while the Ministry of Irrigation focuses on water preservation rather than utilization. Such conflicting priorities hinder cooperation between government agencies, especially in Upper Egypt. Balancing these interests and fostering collaboration poses a challenge. Involving universities in our research endeavors is another obstacle we encounter. We believe it is crucial to push for relevant research and engage local universities to advance in their careers; however, convincing university management and boards of the advantages of collaborating with us can be challenging. Language barriers and different perspectives often hinder effective communication. Nonetheless, we remain optimistic that we can overcome these challenges and find common ground. The current challenges in global supply chains and geopolitical tensions have also led people to realize the importance of investing in food production. We emphasize the significance of healthy food as a preventive measure for various health issues

What sets you apart from others?

As an agricultural industrial project, we are focused on creating synergies and implementing different systems and technologies to ensure efficient and environmentally friendly operations. Our goal is to contribute to the local community, particularly in the neglected agricultural sector of the Middle East. We have developed an ecological system of innovation centered around food, making Canal Sugar a unique endeavor. Unlike other sugar companies in Egypt, we go beyond simply buying sugar beet crops from farmers. We are the first to engage with farmers to improve their yields and actively discuss yield improvement strategies. Collaboration with universities is another aspect that sets us apart. Our size and the involvement of international investors, especially from the UAE, have given us the opportunity to have a seat at the table and be considered as game changers in the industry. By 2026, we aim to start sugar production, with pilot testing already conducted last year. We have relocated our head offices to Minia, which is unconventional for a billion-dollar investment group. Still, this move allows us to better understand the challenges faced by farmers and maintain close connections with our employees and the local government. Our commitment to the economic development of the region has been recognized, leading to significant improvements in local restaurants and generating goodwill with the local government. Additionally, our presence in Minia enables us to support the community and contribute to the preservation of historical sites through the development of guest areas and facilities. One of the challenges we address is food security. We believe in promoting a better understanding and appreciation of agriculture among the younger generation. Through field trips and initiatives, we strive to educate children about the origins of food and the potential career opportunities in the agricultural sector. Our goal is to establish ourselves as the preferred partner for national food security programs, whether it be the government, private sector, or local communities. To achieve this, we need to gain credibility within the community, particularly with the farmers, so they will listen to our message about improving efficiencies and reducing water use. We have been successful in building partnerships with public, private, and university sectors, but our biggest challenge is convincing people that by working together, we can enlarge the pie and benefit everyone. The second challenge we want to address is educating people about the importance of food security and its relationship with health and the environment. We believe that locally produced and consumed food is healthier and more beneficial than food that has spent time being transported and stored. By focusing on these issues, we hope to become recognized as a company that is committed to promoting sustainable and healthy practices in the food industry.

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