Interview: Dr. Yomna El Sheridy’s Leadership in Agribusiness, Navigating Challenges, Digital Transformation, and Sustainability

Feb 11, 2024
Alexandra Kinias

Dr. Yomna El Sheridy is the Founder and CEO of Special Food Industries International (SFII), a leading manufacturer and exporter of table olives, pickled vegetables and sun-dried tomatoes.  SFII focuses its efforts to place Egyptian olive exports in the world market and continues to acquire knowhow to meet international export standards.

Dr. Sheridy has also been appointed Non-Executive Chair of Omar Effendi Company, a government owned enterprise. She has hailed the decision of using the private sector expertise in managing public sector companies to improve their performance.

She has over 20 years of experience in food processing and exporting. With her expertise, she contributed to the growth of major global brands in the Middle East, including Procter & Gamble, Mead Johnson, Bristol Myers, and Gerber Baby Food. Sheridy is deeply involved in the empowerment of businesswomen and founded the “Business Women of Egypt 21 Association” where she is also its president. This association includes hundreds of businesswomen and owners of small to mid-size enterprises (SME) in several fields of service and industry. She launched the Women for Success Annual International Conference, and founded the Arab Business Women’s Council in the Arab League in March of 1999.

Women of Egypt asked Dr. Sheridi about the Partner Africa Project which aims to raise the level of awareness in the Egyptian agri-food sector to make greater use of digital technologies and to learn the potential areas of application. 

WoE: How do you envision this project which focuses on Agribusiness. How is this project going to impact Agribusiness in general and your business in particular? 

Dr. Sheridy: Definitely it’s a step forward, but it has to be realistic. When we are talking about small farmers, who are the majority of farmers in the field, their maximum interface is a mobile application, but if we go to something too sophisticated, they will stop and not be able to use it. We have to make it as simple as possible, a friendly application, everybody has a phone in his hands, but not everybody has a laptop. 

WoE: What are your expectations from the training provided by the project? 

Dr. Sheridy: My experience with farmers is that they are divided in two categories: Big farmers who have the technology and investments, and landlords who are waiting to sell their lands, but meanwhile they hire farmers to produce some crops. There are also small farmers who rent land to grow their crops. The majority use the basic farming techniques. They will not go through deeper investment easily and the turnover is very high in farmers working in the fields.

We train them on how to harvest and the standards to follow, but next time they will repeat the same mistakes. Why? Because the people we trained are no longer working there. So, we have to be realistic about our expectations. 

WoE: How about your business, your company. Do you think by implementing these digital applications or digital solutions, will that impact you in a better way? Are you more in control of your farmers? Controlling the operation?

Dr. Sheridy: l am in control of the operation, but l am not in control of the farmers. I can’t make them do things right, unfortunately. The farming community is the most difficult to change. They have their minds set in a certain way. They have their habits. And even though they can lose money, it is not easy for them to change. 

As a medium sized company, l can’t make big investment in this area. I have contracts with 50 farmers, and it’s a big challenge. I don’t want to say, disappointing. Let’s keep it as a big challenge. You know if they are going to feed from this land, they should spend more time and do things the correct modern ways, but they don’t. 

Things are not going that easy in our industry. It needs more than just one project. It needs a change in the whole eco system of agriculture; to prove quality of pesticides, fertilizers, they need direction, what type of water to use. They should not leave it totally to the small farmers to behave according to their own resources. 

We have so many crops and so many windows of opportunities in agriculture to lead, but the whole ecosystem doesn’t support/help to reach our targets. The agricultural sector is dependent on individual efforts. But we need proper roads, easier and efficient ways to transport the products. Compared to other countries in the region, we still need much more efforts to be done. 

WoE: How is climate change affecting your work?

Dr. Sheridy: It is affecting us a lot. With this severe heat, some crops die on the vines. The future of agriculture is global. The food supply chain is changing, and it is depending now one multiple sources of supply. We have a lot of customers in Greece and Spain. If there is a shortage of crop in one country, it is supplemental by any country. 

This year, I started using green houses. We still lost some crops because some were not build according to standards, but l learned a lot from using green houses.  I will need to improve their quality to be able to use them next year more efficiently.

Dr. Yomna El Sheridy holds a Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Alexandria, as well as a Master’s degree in Pharmaceutical Socio-Economics from the University of Iowa in the United States of America.

In addition to her academic background and years of experience, she had received many honorary titles and prestigious award, including the Award of Acknowledgement for success as International Business Women from the German Chamber of Commerce; the Long-standing Achievement From American Chamber of Commerce; Women who can move Mountains Award from United Success International; and the Women of Achievement by Cairo Governorate.  She has also received the Outstanding Achievement award by the Egyptian Association for Mother and Child Survival, and has been labeled as one of Africa’s most influential women in business and government.

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One comment

  1. Thank you All …
    We’ve been following your endeavours and we are so interested by your results and news
    Lorenzo Montesini

    Australian Friends of the Grand Egyptian Museum.
    Australian Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
    Australian Friends of the Graeco Roman Museum, Alexandria.
    Member of International Committee of Museums, ICOM.


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