Irrigation pivots keep alfalfa plants at the Kadco farm at Toshka green with Nile River water pumped from dozens of miles away.

News Article | TAKEPART: Farming the Sahara

Sun, 07/24/2016

""But away from El Obour’s agricultural riches, this mostly desert nation must grapple with a looming crisis. High birth rates and longer life spans have more than quadrupled the population since World War II to 90 million. With the figure rising by roughly 2 million a year—while scarce agricultural land rapidly succumbs to urban expansion—no volume of aromatic onions or sunbaked peaches from Aswan can mask the fact that Egypt has far surpassed its capacity to feed itself.

“We’re now bringing in 50 percent of our food from abroad,” said Ayman Abou Hadid, who has twice served as minister of agriculture and is a professor at Cairo’s Ain Shams University. “I don’t have to tell you what an awful situation this is.” Once the breadbasket of the Roman Empire, Egypt began to import large quantities of wheat in the 1980s. The dependence on foreign foodstuffs is increasingly seen as a crisis at a time of regional upheaval and limited foreign currency reserves.

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What is known is that a massive hike in groundwater pumping in the Western Desert could quickly drain the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, beneath the reclamation area, which is a fossil aquifer and therefore not replenishable. The 1.5 million feddans would then only produce until the aquifer ran out.

“The government water assessments are based on single-well tests in the area,” said Ayman Ramadan Mohamed Ayad, a former official at the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation who works for the European Union in Cairo. “But for a project of this magnitude, you need to be very careful in testing water capacity. Relying on one or two well tests, even if they seem promising, is not enough.”"

Read full article by Peter Schwartzstein published in TakePart here.

Photo credit: TakePart / Sima Diab