FAO DG chides Egypt over crop choice as water stocks drop further

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: Graziano da silva, Agriculture, Egypt

The head of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has called for an “urgent and massive response” to the problem of critically low water reserves in the Middle East and North Africa.

Accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds across the region in the past 40 years. Its availability there now amounts to just one tenth of the world average, underscoring the need for a significant overhaul of farming systems, said Jose Graziano da Silva.

A recent study by the food agency showed that higher temperatures may shorten growing seasons in the region by 18 days. This, it said, would reduce agricultural yields a further 27% to 55% less by the end of this century. 

The rising sea level in the Nile Delta, meanwhile, is exposing Egypt to the danger of losing substantial parts of the most productive agriculture land due to salinisation.

Moreover, "competition between water-usage sectors will only intensify in the future between agriculture, energy, industrial production and household needs​," Graziano da Silva said after attending a high-level meeting to cover the FAO's collaboration with Egypt on the “1.5 million feddan initiative​”. This is the government's plan to reclaim eventually up to 2m hectares of desert, mostly for agriculture.

The FAO's work in the region has already led to developments that include decentralised groundwater governance schemes in Yemen and Morocco, the introduction of solar pumping in Egypt and water harvesting in Jordan. Other projects range from drought preparedness in Lebanon and Tunisia, through to helping form the UAE’s first national agricultural policy.

This latter initiative involved integrating a broad range of agricultural strategies with a sharp focus on water conservation and climate change. It has also piloted experiments to install water meters on farms.

The organisation believes that Egypt faces a tough farming future as the country "needs to look seriously into the choice of crops and the patterns of consumption​," Graziano da Silva warned, pointing to potential water waste in cultivating wheat in the country.

To support Egypt, he said the FAO would propose staging an agricultural forum later this year, which will aiming at boosting public and private investment. This would focus on wheat, sugar, meat and horticulture, the director-general added.

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