Thursday, July 3, 2014

More people, less water mean rising food imports for Egypt

Maggie Fick and Shadi Bushra at the Thomson Reuters Foundation:  ...For the past 15 years, antiquated irrigation systems and a government conservation drive have kept many farmers from nutrient-rich Nile waters, forcing them to tap sewage-filled canals despite their proximity to the world's longest river.

...But even as Egypt wrestles with dwindling water from its only major source, the Nile, it pushes farmers to grow more to supply the country's costly subsidised food programme. The two goals, farmers and experts say, are at odds with one another.

And efforts to make the most of precious farmland have been hampered by decades of urban sprawl, which has accelerated since 2011 when the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak led to a security vacuum.

The government, anxious to stimulate economic recovery after years of political turmoil, wants to cut its $4.5 billion food import bill. Most of that bill goes to subsidies that guarantee universal access to bread at less than one U.S. cent (0.05 Egyptian pounds) per loaf.

That makes Egypt the world's top wheat importer, purchasing around 10 million tonnes a year. "The problem of import dependence is going to get worse," said Nicholas Lodge, managing partner at Clarity, a Gulf-based agricultural investment firm. "You have population growth outstripping the ability of the agricultural sector to improve production, which is held back by land and water shortages."

Egypt already grows a large amount, including 7 million tonnes of wheat a year according to traders, largely because Cairo offers farmers above-market prices to spur production....

A wheat field in the Nile Valley, shot by Wilhelms, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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