By Mohamed Abdelmonsef
The water level of the Nile River was recorded at 170 metres above sea level instead of the normal depth of 175 meters at this time of year. The lower water level foreshadows a scarcity of water for the summer harvest.
Dr. Khaled Waseef, the official spokesperson for the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, stated that the land devoted to rice production is continually expanding and is expected to reach 2 million acres. He added that the government has planned for 11 million acres devoted to rice production in the governorates of Kafr el-Sheikh, Beheira, Damietta, Dakahlia, Al-Sharqia, Port Said, and Alexandria.
Such expansion included areas in the Qalyubia and Monufia governorates as well as other western areas unauthorized for agriculture. The decrease in water levels means that water may not reach the ends of some canals.
In response, the ministry had formed a operating group working twenty-four hours a day to solve the water shortages in affected areas. Waseef noted that the Ministry spent EGP 275 million to repair and maintain canals, purify water, drill wells, and maintain underground water sources between 2011 and 2012. 122 million cubic meters of water flow into Lake Nasser every day, he added, while 250 million cubic meters flow out, a water deficit of 128 million cubic meters.
However, there is still a full month before the start of the water year, which begins in August. Dr. Abdel Fatah Matawei, Vice President of the National Water Research Center, said that water reserves in Lake Nasser were reduced to 95 billion cubic meters as the water level sank to 170 meters above sea level. He said that the natural volume the lake is 160 billion cubic meters when the water level is at 182 meters above sea level. He added that the problem requires that citizens be aware of the need to reduce the amount of land for crops that consume large amounts of water.
Dr. Abdel Azim Tantawi, President of the National Rice Campaign, disagreed. He commented that rice farmers generally rely on wastewater, especially in the Bahr El-Baqar region in Al-Sharqia and Al-Hamool and Baltim in Beheira. He added that rice production prevents erosion and increases the fertility of the soil. He also noted that only 1.35 million acres were being used for rice with an expected increase of 250,000, adding that farmers will produce 5 million tons of unmilled rice, which will become 3.25 tons of milled white rice.
The rice produced in Egypt will satisfy domestic demand and will mitigate the need to import Philippine rice, which Egyptians do not prefer and usually use as chicken feed. Dr. Tantawi explained that one acre of rice consumes 6,500 cubic meters of water and that it produces between EGP 7,000 and EGP 8,000 in revenue for its owner, noting that it costs the farmer only EGP 1,500. He said that for these reasons, farmers are eager to plan rice, especially because the government has not set a clear mechanism for planting and selling corn and cotton.
Dr. Abbas El-Shinawy, President of the services division in the Ministry of Agriculture, admitted that too much rice production was causing a water supply crisis at the ends of the irrigation canals in the Sharqia, Dakahlia, and Beheira governorates. He said that Egyptian farmers were expanding rice production in violation of the law and exploiting the inability of the government to enforce restrictions in the post-revolution period.