Breaking Barriers with Shahira Yahia

If you mention “organic produce” in front of a farmer or farm owner, there are three problems that come to their mind: (1) it’s most likely too expensive; (2) organic produce requires intensive resource use for real results; and (3) at the end of the day, the farmer will be left short of their production or revenue goals. This leaves them facing a conflict between affordability, performance, and quality requirements for export/sale, while also combating fatal pests and a fluctuating climate.  

Chitosan Egypt solves the above challenges by producing shrimp-derived, organic pesticides and fertilizers that have a lower cost and higher efficiency than chemical ones. Their products average a yield increase of 44%, when compared with chemicals and farmers see an average 7.3 times return on investment. 

However not everyone believes in cleaner agriculture. For investors, a lack of awareness and understanding about the industry and biotech products can be intimidating – they may be discouraged by these new technologies and thus lack trust in them. For conventional customers, it is often still belittled and many doubt the efficiency of organic products in meeting their needs in quickly and effectively countering pests.  

But Shahira Yahia, Chief Marketing Officer and Co-Founder of Chitosan, is counting on a mindset change. She considers it her and her peers’ responsibility to provide transparent, reliable data and make sure that investors better understand the potential of the sector and innovations like Chitosan. Players in the agricultural ecosystem who believe in the industry’s potential should place an emphasis on raising awareness and lowering thresholds for external actors. For instance, in order to combat customers’ negative perception of organic agriculture, Shahira plans to survey export- and organic-oriented growers big and small, and other important stakeholders, to document insight about dynamics and demand for cleaner agriculture. 

Working to change customers’ and investors’ perception of organic agriculture might intimate other businesses, but Shahira is used to the challenge.  
“Work hard, don’t let it intimidate you, be smart and know where resistance is coming from. It’s all about data and information,” shared Shahira.  

When she reflects on the role of women- and youth-led companies like Chitosan Egypt in a traditionally male-dominated sector, she does recount sometimes facing push-back when visiting retail and grower partners across the 15 governorates in which Chitosan Egypt is active. Given that only a few women are actively involved in Egypt’s agricultural sector, Shahira understands where this response is coming from. However, she aims to meet her counterparts halfway without conceding her right to sit at the table. In fact, she embraces the challenge and looks at it as additional motivation to show the world that women have a place in the agri-food industry.  

Shahira stands up for her and other women’s place in Egypt’s agricultural sector, “you need to find the right indicators that communicate the message that you want to send. I know it’s unique being a woman, but I am as entitled as anyone to be there and to be a part of the playing field.”