The agricultural sector is considered one of the basic pillars to achieve economic and social development in Egypt, and rice is a key stable foodstuff for millions of Egyptians, but with the government’s new water strategy, thousands of rice feddans will be reduced.
Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel Aty recently decided to reduce the rice agriculture area in Egypt from 1,700,000 feddans to 724,200 feddans (1 feddan = 1.038 acres) in order to rationalize water in Egypt.
The decision identified nine governorates to grow rice according to the relevant studies: Kafr El-Sheikh, Sharqia, Damietta, Dakahlia, Beheira, Alexandria, Ismailia, Port Said and Gharbia. The ministry stressed that those who do not comply with the decisions will be subject to penalties.
Egypt’s fare of water is 114 billion cubic meters from all different sources. There is a national strategy for water resources from 2017 to 2037, and one of its main pillars is to rationalize water use by reducing the water consuming crops, Ministry of Irrigation spokesperson Hossam el-Emam told the “Ra’ay Aam” (Public Opinion) TV show on January 27.
The majority of rice is grown under irrigated conditions in which the fields are flooded from planting to harvest. Because of this flooding, rice is said to use a lot of water, about two and a half times the amount of water needed to grow a crop of wheat or maize, according to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
On the other hand, some experts expect that reducing the rice cultivated areas will lead to a decrease in production, decrease the quantities offered in the markets and lead to higher prices and a trend towards imports to cover the needs of the local market to insure food security.
The start of determining rice cultivated areas
This leads us to search for the nature of the laws governing rice cultivation in Egypt. This is what Dr. Mohamed Nasr El Din Allam, professor of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering and former minister of irrigation, answers in a book published in 2001 with a group of researchers, titled “Water and Agricultural lands in Egypt past and present”.
Law No. 71 for year 1953 regulates rice cultivation, giving the Ministry of Irrigation the authority to identify rice growing areas and to sign a fine of LE 25-30 ($1.42-1.70) per feddan on the area that violates the decision, Allam said.
Then Law No. 31 for year 1961 was issued, which stipulates that the minister of irrigation shall determine the areas of rice cultivation and determine the percentage of rice cultivation in each area, and to raise the fines paid for violating that law to LE 35-50.
According to Allam, the total area planned for rice cultivation after the construction of the high dam was about 700,000 feddans, and there was no significant increase until 1988, as the planted areas were less than one million feddans. In Egypt, rice used to be planted in coastal areas to reduce sea water intrusion with the underground water stock in the Delta region.
Along with the liberalization of the prices of agricultural crops, rice became one of the most profitable crops for farmers. The cultivated area increased gradually to 1.3 million feddans in 1992 and 1.6 million feddans in 1997, Allam added.
The highest cropped area for rice was 1.8 million feddans in 2007/2008, and then the area wasn’t stable in the following years, reaching its lowest in 2015 at 1.2 million feddans, according to the Central Agency for Capital Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).
The highest rice production through the past 10 years was in in 2007/2008, as it reached 7.3 million tons, while the lowest was in 2010.
The highest rice production through the past 10 years was in 2007/2008, as it reached 7.3 million tons, while the lowest was in 2010, as it reached only 4.3 million tons, and Egypt’s rice self sufficient reaches 100.4%, according to CAPMAS.
According to CAPMAS, the five highest areas in producing rice in the year 2014/2015 are Dakahlia governorate, producing 1.7 million tons; Kafr el-Sheikh with 1.1 million tons; Sharqia with 0.9 million tons; Beheira with 0.6 million tons; and Gharbia with 0.4 million tons.
The cultivation of rice acres consumes around 6,000 cubic meters of water per year. The area of cultivated rice in Egypt is about 9 billion cubic meters of water per year of Egypt’s share of Nile water of 55 billion cubic meters. But rice is not the most water-consuming, as banana uses three times the amount of water consumed by the acres of rice, so more solutions should be seen instead of reducing the areas of rice, which is threatening thousands of farmers in the Delta, said Gamal Syam, professor at the Faculty of Agriculture.
More ways to reduce water consumed by rice
The Ministry of Agriculture has identified 53 varieties of some varieties of strategic water-saving crops that are adapted to the different environmental and climatic conditions, focusing on breeding during the coming period, which included seven varieties of rice.
These varieties give high productivity, resistance to disease, and adapt to various water and climatic conditions, as well as short life in the soil, to achieve high efficiency in the use of irrigation water and a major rational in consumption, which provides water quantities that can be used for cultivation and other crops.
The head of the farmers syndicate, Hussein Abu Sadam, criticized the way of rationalizing water by reducing the area of cultivated rice, saying, “Egypt is still growing enough quantities of domestic consumption and surplus for export, after wheat, cotton and reed crops have declined. Rice is also the most profitable crop for Delta farmers under the low profitability of vegetables.”
Sadam suggested using modern irrigation methods and cultivating non-irrigated rice strains, also announcing clear policy for the Ministry of Agriculture to determine the land where rice will be grown or not.
At the same time, Egypt is negotiating with the African front to guarantee its rights in Nile water amid establishing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Recently a tripartite summit occurred between Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and resigned Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at Sisi’s presidential residence in Addis Ababa during the African Union (AU)’s 30th summit.
The three countries affirmed an agreement on a single vision based on the Declaration of Principles signed in Khartoum and raising the no-harm principle of the three countries’ interests.
They agreed to hold a joint meeting between the ministers of irrigation and foreign affairs of the three countries and the National Tripartite Commission, then raise a final report in a month that includes a solution to all pending technical issues. They also agreed to exchange technical information and studies between the three countries.