Sat, Dec 08, 2018 - Page 4 News List

CLIMATE CHANGE: Farmers in Egypt’s Nile Delta face water shortage

AFP, KAFR AL-DAWAR, Egypt

Lush green fields blanket northern Egypt’s Nile Delta, but the country’s agricultural heartland and its vital freshwater resources are said to be under threat from a warming climate.

The fertile arc-shaped basin is home to nearly half the country’s population and the river that feeds it provides Egypt with 90 percent of its water needs.

However, climbing temperatures and drought are affecting the Nile — with the issue compounded by soil salinization, experts and farmers say.

Combined, they could jeopardize crops in the Arab world’s most populous country, where the food needs of its 98 million residents are only expected to increase.

“The Nile is shrinking. The water doesn’t reach us anymore,” said Talaat al-Sisi, a farmer who has grown wheat, corn and other crops for 30 years in the southern delta governorate of Menoufia.

“We’ve been forced to tap into the groundwater and we’ve stopped growing rice,” a cereal known for its greedy water consumption, al-Sisi said.

By 2050, the region could lose up to 15 percent of its key agricultural land due to salinization, a 2016 study published by Egyptian economists showed.

The yield of tomato crops could drop by 50 percent, with staple cereals like wheat and rice falling 18 and 11 percent respectively, the study said.

In Kafr al-Dawar in the delta’s north, the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation and the UN are working on eco-friendly techniques like solar-powered watering that experts have said emit less greenhouse gases and could help improve crop yields.

On site, two farmers wearing traditional jellabiya gowns showed off shiny new solar panels framed by row after row of corn, barley and wheat.

Sayed Soliman, eyes bright and cane in hand, runs a group of about 100 farmers who work a plot of more than 100 hectares.

The seasoned farmer was delighted. He could now power the pumps that water his field without relying on Egypt’s faulty electricity grid and fossil fuels.

Diesel-powered generators are now only used “when necessary,” such as after sunset, Soliman said.

“One of the priorities is innovation ... so that Egypt can make the most of its water,” said Hussein Gadain, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Egypt. “The delta plays an important role in the country’s food security.”

Ibrahim Mahmoud, head of the ministry’s development projects, said that plans were in place to modernize watering systems across the country by 2050.

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