Egypt’s fer­tile Nile Delta threat­ened by cli­mate change

Re­gion could lose up to 15% of its key agri­cul­tural land due to salin­i­sa­tion by 2050

Gulf News - - Gulf / Region -

Lush green fields blan­ket north­ern Egypt’s Nile Delta, but the coun­try’s agri­cul­tural heart­land and its vi­tal fresh­wa­ter re­sources are 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 per cent of its water needs.

But climb­ing tem­per­a­tures and drought are dry­ing up the mighty Nile — a prob­lem com­pounded by ris­ing seas and soil salin­i­sa­tion, ex­perts and farm­ers say.

Com­bined, they could jeop­ar­dise 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,” says Talaat Al Sissi, 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, he adds.

By 2050, the re­gion could lose up to 15 per cent of its key agri­cul­tural land due to salin­i­sa­tion, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 study pub­lished by Egyp­tian econ­o­mists.

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

In Kafr Al Dawar in the delta’s north, Egypt’s ir­ri­gation min­istry and the United Na­tions are work­ing on ecofriendly tech­niques like so­lar­pow­ered watering that ex­perts say emit less green­house gases and could help im­prove crop yields.

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

So­lar saviour

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

The farmer is de­lighted. He can now power the pumps that water his field with­out re­ly­ing on Egypt’s faulty elec­tric­ity grid and ex­pen­sive fos­sil fu­els like diesel that are re­spon­si­ble for cli­mate change.

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

After his suc­cess, a neigh­bour­ing vil­lage is also switch­ing to so­lar-pow­ered ir­ri­gation.


A farmer closes the valve of a pump in Kafr Al Dawar vil­lage in ■ north­ern Egypt’s Nile Delta on Novem­ber 26.

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