(Cairo) Egypt is implementing an animal production project that aspires to bridge the massive gap between meat production and consumption within the country, also bringing high meat prices in the market down.

The project, one of many aiming at sealing the food gap in the country, has started with the importation of tens of thousands of cattle to increase meat production. “The project seeks to increase national meat production with the aim of reducing imports,” said Sayed al-Qersh, the official spokesman of the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture, which oversees the implementation of the project.

Egypt imports thousands of tons of meat from other countries, costing the country billions of dollars every year. The populous country produces only 40% of the meat that Egyptians consume, so has to import the remaining 60% from foreign markets. Meat is a very important component of the Egyptian diet and its prices are always a parameter of food prices in the local market. A kilogram of meat sells now in the market for an average of 150 Egyptian pounds (roughly $8.8). But this is more than a great number of consumers can afford.

To prevent a public backlash against meat prices, the authorities have started competing with the private sector in importing and selling meat to the public. To sell the meat for lower prices, government agencies do not add any profit margin to these prices, which is why they are capable of rivaling the private sector. Nevertheless, this cannot be a continual project while national meat production is low, giving the new animal breeding project great importance.

The project has started in the Nile Delta province of Beheira. It includes massive animal breeding farms, major fodder production plants, plants for the production of milk and slaughterhouses. The project has started with 200,000 head of cattle, most of them imported from other countries. Egypt hopes to raise this number to 1 million head of cattle, which will be enough, agricultural officials have said, to bridge a sizable part of the gap between meat production and consumption.

“The project will take us many steps forward,” Qersh said. “Bridging this gap will save us billions of pounds spent every year on the import of meat from other countries.” The project is one of many launched by the administration of incumbent Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to bridge the food gap in his country and also bring food prices down. Sisi’s administration established massive fish farms in the Nile Delta and near the Suez Canal to achieve this objective. The new farms produce thousands of tons of fish every year and are expected to positively affect fish availability and prices in the market.

It also established tens of thousands of greenhouses in the desert with the aim of increasing fruit and vegetable production. Egyptian consumers complain about high food prices, with most of these consumers saying they come short of buying some items because of the exorbitant prices. Food prices surged to dramatic levels in the past three years, against the background of the package of economic reforms initiated by Sisi’s administration since November 2016. The reforms have so far included the liberalization of the exchange rate of the Egyptian pound against all foreign currencies. This move has made the pound lose more than 50% of its value, which has had a heavy toll on the prices of commodities in the local market, including those of food.

These high prices underscore the need for projects, such as the new animal production project, experts said. They added that Egyptian consumers will start to feel the effects of such a project when animal production increases. “An increase in the production will lead to a decrease in the prices of meat,” said Sayed Khalifa, the head of the Independent Farmers’ Union. “Increasing the production will automatically increase meat availability in the market.”