After Egyptian farmer Muhammad El-Desouki lost more than half of his tomato crop to a long heatwave, he no longer thinks about climate change as a future problem.
El-Desouki’s farm lies north of Cairo, in Menoufia, a governorate that has suffered several bouts of extreme heat in recent years. “We can no longer work the old-fashioned way and ignore climate change”, he said.
“I am willing to try new methods, but on condition that they are available to me at reasonable prices so that at the end of the season I can make a profit”, he added.
According to the warnings of the FAO, climate change affects agricultural productivity as a result of changing patterns of rainfall, drought, floods, and the spread of pests and diseases. Adaptation requires adopting different agricultural practices, and this is what Egyptians are trying to do in recent years, by conducting research and adopting new agricultural methods.
In the last decade, Egypt has witnessed noticeable changes in its climate. From high temperatures to frost waves, many of these impacts affect agricultural crops, according to a study titled “Climate Change and Egyptian Agricultural conundrum” conducted by Dr Ayman Farid Abu Hadid, Professor of Agriculture at Ain Shams University.
The author of the study warns that the high temperature as a result of climate change leads to the spread of fungal plant diseases and various insect infections such as the whitefly. Heat also affects crop yields directly, as they have led to the salinization of land and the sinking of areas of agricultural land in the northern delta and decreased rain in the northern coast. Hence, Egypt is witnessing a decrease in rainfed crops, the depletion of aquifers, the threat of desert crops (such as barley, alfalfa and potatoes), and an increase in water consumption.
The results of the study also revealed the magnitude of the expected damage higher temperatures will inflict to some agricultural products. The productivity of many crops will decrease by 9% to 14% if the temperature increases by 2ºCand over 50% in some, like tomato, if the temperature increases by 4ºC.
The Middle East region faces similar risks. The Fertile Crescent, which extends from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, may lose all fertility before the end of the century due to a reduction in water resources, according to a report issued by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development.
The volume of agricultural production in Egypt was 938.9 billion Egyptian pounds (around $60 bn) in the year 2019/20, according to a report by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development. This represents 14.7% of Egypt’s GDP. The cultivated area in the country is about 8.6 million feddans (around 3.6 million hectares), representing about 3% of the area of Egypt.
The Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture has conducted, through its various research centres, dozens of studies aimed at adapting to climate change. Dr Magdy Abdel Hamid, professor of plant science at the National Research Center, says that Egyptian researchers have worked to develop seeds capable of resisting heat and water stress. These include new varieties of crops such as wheat and beans among others by adding vitamins, salts, or mineral elements, in addition to conducting studies on the use of seawater in irrigation of some crops.
“The effects of climate change cannot be avoided, but we are trying to reduce them as much as possible”, Abdel Hamid added.
High cost is one of the obstacles
Dr. Hamid pointed out that field studies and experiments have given good results, and they are trying to spread among farmers and raise their awareness of the importance of adapting to climate change. “We need to scale up this research and the State needs to support it, coordinating with the concerned authorities to spread it widely in all parts of Egypt”, the researcher said. He refers to the high costs as one of the obstacles to do so.
On the other hand, there are experiences in Egypt to follow new agricultural methods such as organic farming, cultivation without soil, and farming in fish ponds.
“Hydroponics or soil-free farming is one of the most important ways to resist climate change because it relies on recycled water and puts all the plant’s nutritional needs in water through nutritional solutions and thus does not need traditional farming methods”, Dr Al-Azab Al-Rifai, an expert in soil-free farming techniques, said.
He added that we can save about 20 to 50% of the water that is wasted in traditional farming using these new methods and control of high and low temperatures through greenhouses.
Khaled Abu El-Enein, agricultural engineer and founder of an organic farm on the North Coast, said that developing the new methods is not enough. Farmers, he said, need training on the advanced technology to develop and succeed. “New agricultural experiments require many times the cost of traditional agriculture, and we need the state’s help in the marketing process so that we can continue”, he added.