- The difficulty of providing water for irrigation increased, and various agricultural transactions declined because of Covid 19.
- During the pandemic, new irrigation systems were developed to replace the flood irrigation system in more than 237,000 acres so far
By Rawnaa Almasry
Arab governments imposed a partial closure as one of the precautionary measures to confront the Covid-19 pandemic during its first wave and its aftermath, which led to a lack of production in many sectors and placed the agricultural sector between adherence to precautionary rules and an attempt to continue agricultural production.
With the successive waves of the pandemic, immigrant temporary workers stopped, wild weather fluctuations escalated due to the effects of climate change, the difficulty of providing water for irrigation increased, and various agricultural transactions declined, but agriculture remained one of the most important ways to confront the pandemic: It is the source of obtaining the food necessary for the continuation of life.
It seems that climate change, a lack of water and manpower formed the sides of the triangle of challenges facing the agricultural sector during the pandemic, and in Egypt, one of the largest agricultural countries in the Arab region, it required solutions in the short and long term.
Indirectly, the pandemic has accelerated the implementation of some major projects that help raise the efficiency of water management in Egypt, such as the agricultural canals lining project. During this project, canals were lined and rehabilitated, with a total length of 1,248 kilometers in a short period, and work is still being done to complete another 4,000 kilometers.
Yasser El Shayeb, Director of the Center for Water Excellence at the American University in Cairo, explains that the purpose of the canal rehabilitation and lining project is to reduce losses in irrigation water coming from the Nile, and to improve the efficiency of canals to deliver water along their length: to ensure efficient water distribution.
Another solution that contributes to rationalizing water consumption and reducing the workforce in the irrigation process is the project to switch to modern irrigation systems, such as drip irrigation methods, spraying, protected planting, and hydroponic horticulture.
During the pandemic, new irrigation systems were developed to replace the flood irrigation system in more than 237,000 acres so far, according to reports of the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, and the number is increasing. The total cropped area in Egypt, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, is more than 16 million feddans (16.6 million acres).
Irrigation Water Consumed Annually in the Major Agricultural Regions of Egypt, 2016.
In 2016, the most irrigation water was consumed in Beheira governorate, while the least was consumed in Cairo. This map shows the top 5 governorates that consume the most irrigation water in Egypt, and the 5 governorates that consume the least irrigation water.
As for climate change challenges and their impact on agriculture during the first pandemic period, Mohamed Fahim, head of the Central Laboratory for Agricultural Climate Information, explained: “The plants can be compared to a patient who has recovered from unbridled climate fluctuations, which requires close care. Therefore, (flooding irrigation) as a method of irrigation is not appropriate with climate challenges, whereas the developed methods succeed in speeding up agricultural intervention to rescue plants that may suddenly suffer from fluctuations in the weather, according to the guidelines and recommendations of the continuous monitoring carried out by the Central Laboratory for Agricultural Climate Change Information.”
In an attempt to overcome the challenges caused by the pandemic, farmers have adopted some innovative solutions to meet the short duration of daily work and the increasing demand for crops.
We find that one of the farms producing dates and some other crops in Minya Governorate, south of the valley, has provided accommodation for permanent workers and some temporary workers from neighboring villages inside the farm to abide by the precautionary closure, and prevent expatriate workers from other governorates or distant cities.
Total Production of Field Crops in Egypt, 2017/2018
The highest crop production took place in Al Sharqia governorate, while the lowest crop production took place in the Red Sea governorate.
Ibrahim Mohamed Ali, general manager of the farm, explains how working times were distributed to existing workers with the rearranging of dates of agricultural operations to suit the times available for workers. Mobile centers were also provided for medical examination, and places were designated to isolate and treat positive cases.
Drip irrigation systems also contributed to the sustainable control of agricultural pests for palms, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, according to Hossam El-Azab, responsible for fertilization and agricultural operations at the farm.
By following the method of food rationing integrated in the irrigation water, it was possible to control a dangerous pest of the palm weevil, which led to raising the efficiency and immunity of plants without the need to use pesticides.
This article was produced by SciDev.Net’s MENA regional office, in partnership with InfoNile with funding from IHE-Delft Water and Development Partnership Programme.
The story was first published on Scidev.net.