Investing in water and food security

Ahmed Kotb , Friday 21 Jul 2023

A Bavarian delegation visited Egypt last week to discuss water and food security.

Investing in water and food security
Egypt needs to modernise agricultural irrigation systems


Bavarian companies can help Egypt in water management by engineering services, systems, and automated technologies, Ulrike Wolf, ministerial director at the Bavarian State Ministry for Economic Affairs, said during the Egyptian-Bavarian Forum on Water and Food Security organised by the German-Arab Chamber for Industry and Commerce (AHK) in collaboration with the Bavarian Ministry for Economic Affairs in Cairo last week.

“We want to reinforce and expand our partnership with Egypt on important issues related to water and food security,” Wolf said, adding that she and other members of the Bavarian delegation at the forum had been impressed by Egypt’s experience in water management and its current water projects like the New Delta Project.  

“We have come to stay and to establish an ongoing dialogue between Bavaria and Egypt, because we think that economic relations are the basis for stability and prosperity,” Wolf said.

 The Bavarian delegation had had excellent business-to-business and business-to-government talks during last week’s visit, she added.

Economic Attaché at the German Embassy in Cairo Alexis Below said that water and food security were two pressing issues for Egypt, and solutions to them would require a combination of new policies, sufficient financing, and modern technology.

Egypt’s water resources are under pressure, due to rising temperatures caused by climate change and a growing population, Below said. It needs to rehabilitate and modernise agricultural irrigation systems along with the management of wastewater and improve the infrastructure of such systems.

Below said that Egypt had successfully made water a priority on the national stage, dedicating a day at the UN COP27 Climate Change Conference held in Sharm El-Sheikh in November 2022 to water issues.

 Water is part of Egypt’s Nexus on Water and Energy Programme (NWFE), he said, and the German government is supporting this to the tune of over 250 million euros. The NWFE was launched in July 2022 to accelerate the national climate agenda and support Egypt’s green transition, as well as reflect the linkages between climate action and development efforts.

“Germany is also supporting Egypt in the water and wastewater management field through many projects, with a portfolio of about 527 million euros in concessional loans and grants,” Below said.

These projects have helped to improve the water supply for 10.8 million people through the reconstruction and extension of infrastructure and have also helped 3.9 million people to connect to the sewage network, he noted.

“A reliable and sustainable water supply is essential for improving food security, as sustainable agricultural development is part of the Egypt Vision 2030 and many projects have been undertaken in that regard,” Below said.

He added that Egypt’s efforts related to water and food security have been confronted with global challenges, mainly due to the Russian war in Ukraine which has led to a grain crisis and rising food prices. Egypt is just one of many countries affected by this crisis, he said.

Acting through the World Food Programme (WFP), Germany is the largest bilateral contributor to the current food programme in Egypt with 110 million euros, Below said, with this funding being designed to help alleviate the food and economic crisis.

German, and especially Bavarian, companies can play a crucial role in providing the necessary technology, knowledge, and experience to face the challenges surrounding water and food security, he said, helping Egyptian professionals to explore opportunities for new investments and business endeavours in the water and food sectors.

Alaa Kamal, vice president of the German-Arab Chamber of Industry and Commerce, said that Egypt is undertaking a massive project to control and maximise the reuse of wastewater via primary, secondary, and tertiary treatment plants and the lining of irrigation water channels to minimise losses and unauthorised usage.

It is also building new desalination plants on the Red and Mediterranean seas.

The initiatives are supporting plans to develop the New Delta Project that is irrigating more than two million acres of land to boost agricultural production in Egypt for domestic use and export purposes, Kamal added.

The government has amended the investment law and implemented its golden licences system to attract investors from abroad, Kamal said, adding that “these efforts, combined with a growing domestic market and the proximity to countries with growing business potential, makes Egypt the perfect destination for many business partners who wish to establish a foothold in North Africa and the Middle East [MENA] region.”

Mohamed Hamdi, an associate professor of water resources at Cairo University, said that Egypt’s water resources had stood at about 55 billion cubic metres a year since the 1960s, and that with a growing population of over 100 million, water needs are increasing without necessarily seeing an increase in water resources.

Egypt has an annual share of nearly 500 cubic metres of water per capita, which is half the global water poverty line.

“For this reason, over 25 years ago Egypt started looking for alternatives, beginning with the use of drainage water for irrigation and the treatment of wastewater for irrigation,” Hamdi said.

“It is essential to make use of every drop of water,” he added.

Michael Belau, head of the Water Supply Department at the Bavarian State Office for the Environment, said that it is important to set a frame for good water resource management. “We have to manage different water resources to maximise their sustainable use,” he said.

Reusing domestic wastewater was very important, he said, and there was a need to divide the water used in each sector and to reduce unnecessary consumption.

“Applying modern technologies to better monitor water consumption is the key to saving water,” Belau said.

Mohamed Shaaban, director of Egypt’s Drainage Research Institute, said that the main challenges facing water use in Egypt relate to scarcity, population growth, and climate change.

Egypt has 1.6 to 1.9 per cent population growth per year, he said. “This is a serious challenge that requires serious solutions and greater efficiency in water consumption to minimise losses, especially in irrigation,” Shaaban said.

“The agricultural sector consumes around 80 per cent of Egypt’s water supply,” he added.

According to Shaaban, work is needed to improve the use of water in the agricultural sector, resulting in more availability for other sectors. But economic and environmental aspects also need to be taken into account.

“The decrease in the per capita water share in Egypt is threatening food security in the country,” he stressed.

Saad Nassar, a senior advisor to the minister of agriculture and land reclamation, said that the agricultural sector in Egypt consumes about 80 per cent of the country’s water resources. It is a key player in the national economy, representing about 15 per cent of total GDP, about 17 per cent of total commodity exports, and about 25 per cent of the total labour force.

“The Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war have affected the supply chains for food and the prices of food,” Nassar said, adding that Egypt has responded by adding more than three million feddans of cultivated land, projects for recycling waste water, the modernisation of irrigation systems, and the gradual shift from flood irrigation to drop irrigation in order to minimise losses of water.

“The continuous exchange of knowledge and experiences can help to bring best practices for enhancing water and food security to Egypt,” Nassar concluded.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 20 July, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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