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As ambassadors for modern irrigation, innovative farmers raise awareness about the importance of food and water security in Egypt

No1 Farmer Abdou Showing Courgette Plants Under Modern Irrigation

National competition prize-winning farmer, Kamel Mohamed Abdou showing courgette plants grown under modern irrigation. Photo courtesy of EU Water STARS.

Supported by the EU Water Stars project, the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation is making significant progresses in its efforts to modernise irrigation, save dwindling resources, and improve water productivity

April 16, 2021

This story was written by Shahira Amin and Ebel Smidt (the EU Water STARS project). It has been slightly modified from a first version published in Revolve. All rights rest with the EU Delegation in Cairo, Egypt.

Hailing from Nubareya, a town northwest of Cairo, Kamel Mohamed Abdou is one of ten winners in Egypt’s third National Competition for Water Conservation, which had over 200 contestants. After years of using flood or surface irrigation, a method successfully used for decades after the construction of the High Aswan Dam, Abdou recently adopted drip irrigation to cultivate a variety of fruit and vegetables on his 95 feddan (22 hectare) farm.

"With drip irrigation, my farm productivity has increased by more than 30%, and I have also managed to reduce water and fertiliser use by almost 50%. This method delivers water and nutrients directly to the plants' roots in the right amounts so that each plant gets exactly what it needs to grow,” he explains. "It also deters the growth of unwanted weeds and pests.” 

Nr 3 Class A 4 Modern Sprinkler Irrigation Vegetables Into Sunset (1)
Modern sprinkler irrigation for vegetables. Photo courtesy of EU Water STARS.

Encouraging modern water management methods that save resources and increase incomes

Organised by the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, the annual competition aims to raise awareness among farmers about the importance of rationalising water consumption through the adoption of modern, water saving and higher income generating irrigation methods. It is part of a wider awareness-raising campaign organised by the Ministry with support from the EU Water Sector Technical and Reform Support (EU Water STARS) project, which NIRAS is implementing. EU water STARS is working with the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation in ongoing fundamental water reforms and efforts to alleviate water scarcity though better management and increasing water productivity.  

Abdou had the opportunity to share his techniques with about 50 fellow farmers during a knowledge sharing session on his farm last November. The event was one of many organised by the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation in collaboration with the EU project.  

Also present at the session, Eman Sayed, Head of the Planning Sector at the Ministry, said that the government was launching modern irrigation systems in line with the Ministry's ‘National Water Resources Plan 2017-2037’. 

"We are replacing old flood irrigation practices with the modern drip and sprinkler methods to meet farmers' needs and enable them to work without depleting water resources," she said. “It is part of the Ministry's plan to increase water use efficiency."

The agriculture sector consumes about 75% of Egypt’s water resources.  Hence, modernisation of irrigation can have an important scaling effect.

Nr 8 HE Minister Abdel Aty Adressing Farmers On The Advantages Of Modern Irrigation
HE Minister Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Aty addressing a meeting with farmers. Photo courtesy of EU Water STARS.

In recent years, a shortage in water supplies has forced many farmers to abandon their land amid a looming water crisis. And things could get worse as Ethiopia starts filling a reservoir behind the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) upstream. Egypt currently has around 570 cubic meters of water per person per year, according to national statistics. That is well below the 1,000 cubic meter benchmark set by hydrologists to indicate that a country is facing water scarcity.

These ambitious plans require appropriate mechanisms to monitor and evaluate its implementation. For that purpose, the Planning Sector of MWRI has established a new Water Accounting Unit which focuses on the monitoring of the way water is used in the different productive sectors. Especially in agricultural water use modern satellite techniques provide a strong added value to more classical field measurements due to its power to produce better assessments of spatial and temporal changes and patterns. EU Water STARS project supports the MWRI with providing training on water accounting techniques and cooperation on practical cases. The first case on the Fayoum Governorate provided new knowledge on possibilities to increase water efficiency in the agricultural sector, safeguarding the environmental status of Nature Conversation Areas in the Governorate and improving field monitoring systems. A second case on the National Water Account will be finalized in 2021.

18

million Egyptians have benefited from EU-Egyptian cooperation in the water sector since 2007

Raising awareness among the population of water as a life-saving resource

Although the agriculture sector consumes the bulk of Egypt’s water resources (around 76%), it is not just farmers who are becoming more aware of the country’s water scarcity challenge. The Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, supported by the EU Water STARS team is helping to educate the public about water conservation. An online question-and-answer competition has been held with the goal of keeping water-saving ideas in the forefront of citizens' minds. Another competition encouraged university students from media faculties to submit their water conservation projects. Meanwhile, primary school students were also given the opportunity to compete in a so-called Young Water Ambassadors Competition with colourful drawings reflecting their thoughts about the use of water in everyday life.

These activities are only a small part of Egypt’s overall water sector reform strategy. The upscaling of irrigation modernisation is crucial. With support from EU Water STARS, three regional demonstration projects, a national coordination project and a national innovation project have been launched. The project is also facilitation cooperation between farmers, banks, the government, and international funding agencies to improve access to finance for irrigation upgrades. The EU, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Green Climate Fund are also supporting Egyptian initiatives to boost Egypt's green finance and develop value-added chains for the private sector worth a total of €220 million.

Since 2007, the EU and Egypt cooperation in the water sector has amounted to €500 million in 20 different programmes, leveraging funds of nearly €2.5 billion in the sector and benefitting 18 million Egyptians, nearly one third of the population in the governorates where the interventions occurred.

For more information about the EU Water STARS project, visit https://euwaterstars.org/

A still expanding population, climate change, and lack of a shared agreement on the filling and operation of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam are the main factors contributing to the rise in Egypt's water shortage challenges.

Eliza Domagalska

Eliza Domagalska

Senior Project Manager

+48 22 3957106