Cairo – How will Egypt cultivate more than 4 million feddans during the coming period and from where does it get the necessary water? Questions posed by the Egyptian government’s statements about its intention to reclaim and cultivate millions of new acres, in light of the official recognition that the country has entered the stage of water poverty, as well as the potential threats of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Egypt’s share of the Nile waters.
On December 26, Major General Staff Walid Hussein Abu Al-Majd, Director General of the National Service Projects Authority in the Armed Forces, announced the reclamation and cultivation of about 500,000 new acres in the Toshka region in the south of the country, out of the 2 million acres being worked on within the program plan President Abdel Fattah El Sisi announced in 2014 to cultivate lands in the New Delta, Sinai and Upper Egypt.
This came during the announcement of the re-work in the Toshka agricultural project in the far south of the country, which began work in 1997 during the era of the late President Hosni Mubarak, and the authorities presented it at the time as the locomotive of agricultural and economic development in Egypt, but many experts rejected the project at the time for technical and financial reasons. Especially with regard to the irrigation crisis and water evaporation in that region.
The Egyptian government always confirms the weakness of the country’s water resources in light of the growing population and the need for huge agricultural projects. The last of these confirmations were in mid-December, when the Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Aty said that Egypt depends on 97% of the Nile water, Its water needs are about 114 billion cubic meters annually, offset by water resources that do not exceed 60 billion cubic meters annually, explaining that there is a deficit of up to 54 billion cubic meters annually, which is filled by reusing water and importing agricultural crops equivalent to about 34 billion cubic meters annually. .
Al-Sisi issued a presidential order not to grow ornamental plants again to save water, and during the opening of the Toshka project, Al-Sisi directed his speech to Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, saying, “This is an order, Dr. Mostafa, there is no cultivation of ornamental plants again, as long as the water point we use is suitable for fruitful plants.”
Where does the water come from?
Agriculture drains about 86% of Egypt’s water revenue from the Nile River, at 55.5 billion cubic meters annually, while the per capita share does not exceed 560 cubic meters annually, which is a small percentage, as the global water poverty limit is 1,000 cubic meters according to United nations.
On December 26, the Egyptian Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Al-Qusair, said that the New Delta project launched by Sisi aims to develop about 2.2 million feddans, including one million feddans for agriculture at a cost of more than 300 billion pounds, in addition to reclamation projects throughout Egypt, which target Cultivation of more than 3 million acres, another new one, in addition to the 1.5 million acres project.
The paradox between the weakness of water resources and the announcement of the cultivation of millions of new acres, prompted some to question how to provide the water needed for agriculture, especially with the potential risks of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and some also expressed their fear that Addis Ababa would exploit these large agricultural projects in Egypt, to emphasize its position From the lack of impact of the Renaissance Dam on the water security of Egypt.
During a symposium at the Faculty of Agriculture at Ain Shams University at the end of December 2016, Egyptian scientists in the fields of agriculture, irrigation, climate, environment and food safety said that their extensive studies during the past few years had concluded that the groundwater currently available in the deserts of Egypt is insufficient to cultivate more than 260 thousand feddans. .
During the same symposium, former Minister of Agriculture Adel El-Beltagy said that there is documented information with the Egyptian government confirming the inability to cultivate more than 26% of the 1.5 million acres announced at the time, explaining that this information was contained in an official memorandum prepared by the Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation. Mohamed Abdel-Aty, and raise it to the prime minister.
For his part, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi pointed out that There are those who ask about the source of that water used in the new agricultural projects in the New Delta and Sinai, pointing out that it is agricultural wastewater that has been treated according to international standards.
During the inauguration of the Toshka project, Sisi stressed that Egypt did not exceed its share in the Nile through these projects, nor did it say that about 100 million Egyptians need much greater water resources to meet the rising needs, and that Cairo is working to rationalize the use of water in addition to treating wastewater.
crises and solutions
In this context, says agricultural economist Mohamed Gamal said, “There is a potential water crisis as a product of the Renaissance Dam, and the impact of this on agriculture is very likely, and for this there is a need for more studies and clarification from the government on how to address the crisis of the shortage of Nile water used in agriculture.”
Gamal explained that the groundwater in Egypt (about 6.7 billion cubic meters) cannot be completely relied upon in agriculture, due to its limitations and decreasing over time, which requires more practical plans, especially in light of large agricultural projects amounting to millions of acres, which need large quantities Large quantities of water regularly, according to press statements.
He stressed that the most appropriate solution now is to rely on the reuse of agricultural drainage water that the state has announced to resort to, despite its high cost, noting that there are Directions from the government to change flood irrigation systems to modern irrigation to save wasted water.
In November 2021, the Central Bank of Egypt launched an initiative worth 55.5 billion Egyptian pounds (one dollar equals 15.71 Egyptian pounds) to help farmers switch to modern irrigation systems. This initiative is provided in the form of soft loans to farmers to finance the purchase of new equipment and the installation of more efficient irrigation systems. They do not bear any interest and are paid in installments over 10 years.
The agricultural expert added that agricultural land reclamation projects in their current form, such as Toshka, have positive aspects, represented in providing a measure of food security by achieving self-sufficiency in wheat, which is one of the highest imported crops, as well as palm cultivation, which will generate a large return from dates, dates and related industries.
President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi inspects agricultural land reclamation projects and wheat and palm farms in Toshka area, south of the valley, on an area of 650 thousand feddans. pic.twitter.com/MZQnI6h9FJ
— Egypt Projects (@EgyProjects) December 26, 2021
The necessity of agricultural expansion
Despite the water poverty that Egypt suffers from, the government considers agricultural expansion an urgent necessity and a requirement of national security, as Egypt imports about 50% of its food, especially strategic commodities such as wheat, which also depletes foreign exchange reserves.
Egypt is the largest importer of wheat in the world, as it imported about 12.9 million tons in 2020 at a value of $3.2 billion, compared to 12.5 million tons at a value of $3 billion in 2019. According to the data of the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.
AndThe cost of transporting the wheat imported by Egypt has increased to between 11 and 15,000 dollars per shipment, according to press statements by Egyptian Finance Minister Mohamed Maait, who said, “We are importing inflation, the price of wheat is doubling, inflation from abroad.”
Maait said that importing foodstuffs for citizens from abroad in hard currency affects the state and works to weaken the value of the pound, which negatively affects the livelihood of citizens.
Therefore, Gamal Aboul Fotouh, Secretary of the Irrigation and Agriculture Committee in the Senate (Second Chamber of Parliament), believes that agricultural projects contribute to achieving food security, which is greatly pressured by the population increase. Create job opportunities.