Rice production withers as Egypt diverts vital water supply

In Kafr el-Sheikh, rice farmers once looked forward to harvest time, but work has dried up in the large Nile Delta town since water shortages prompted heavy restrictions on production.

Under pressure from upstream countries to use its share of the river's waters more sparingly, Egypt's government has decided to severely restrict the farming of this water-intensive crop.

But the move threatens the price and supply of a commodity that feeds many of the country's burgeoning poor, as well as being a lucrative Egyptian export and a key employer in the agricultural sector.

"Right now we should be in the middle of our work season, which we wait for all year. Normally after the rice harvest we work day and night to meet demand," said Mohammed, a local farmer.

"But since they banned us from growing rice in several regions to save water, we have no work."

"Many jobs depend on the production of rice - the farmers, the processing plants, the road transport, the exports ... It's a very important industry for Kafr el-Sheikh and an essential source of income for its inhabitants," said Ahmed Nasr, from the town's chamber of commerce.

Rationalising the use of its precious water supplies is a growing imperative for Cairo, with Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda demanding a more equitable share of the Nile waters on which Egypt so heavily depends.

Experts reckon that, mainly due to outdated water grids and flawed domestic water policies, one in four Egyptians is already without adequate access to drinking water.

Treaties signed more than 50 years ago entitled Egypt to 55.5 billion cubic metres (two trillion cubic feet) each year, and another 18.5 billion cubic metres to Sudan, on the whole accounting for 87 percent of the river's waters.

According to official data, around 20 percent of the Egyptian quota goes on rice production, which is now banned south of Cairo and restricted to certain regions of the delta, Egypt's traditional bread basket.

But climate change has already forced some farmers to abandon their land in the fertile delta, which provides around a third of the crops for Egypt's growing population and which rising sea levels are threatening to turn into a salty wasteland.

The rice industry has already been hammered by the government's restrictions. Egypt's paddy fields have shrunk to just half the area they covered two years ago. Production, which stood at 3.8 million tonnes in 2009, of which 300,000 was for export, is expected to fall sharply.

Many farmers have since started growing substitute crops, but they are often taking a hit to their profits by doing so.

Rice prices have yet to spike in Egypt, but they threaten to do so just as the country faces heavy inflation on such other dietary staples as meat, tomatoes and certain vegetables.

Egypt is the world's largest wheat importer. Given the decision by Russia - the biggest producer - to ban exports earlier this year, Cairo is buying millions of tonnes of the cereal on the global market at great expense.

Meanwhile, to limit the impact on the domestic market of its restrictions on rice production, the government decided in June to ban exports until further notice.

"I am going to lose my hard-won markets. Instead of earning foreign currency, I'm going to have to spend it on imports. We're going to find we have the same problem as with grain," said Nasr.

Others criticise Egypt's decision to focus its agricultural production on lucrative export crops, at the expense of basic food supplies for its 80 million people.

"Why reduce the area allocated to rice production when it is the staple diet of many Egyptians," asked Habib Ayeb, at the American University in Cairo, pointing out that Egypt is a major exporter of another water-intensive crop - strawberries.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

    £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

    £13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent