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Prospects for agricultural water management
The National Water Resources Plan 2017 estimates that the total cultivated areas would increase to 4 053 000 ha by the year 2017, and 4 830 000 ha by 2030. It also is anticipated that the cropped area would increase to about 8 064 000 ha at an intensification rate of 198 percent in 2017, and to about 9 660 000 ha at an intensification rate of 199 percent in 2030.
For this horizontal expansion, it was projected in 2007 that an additional 525 000 ha of new lands be reclaimed by 2017 and 1 302 000 ha by 2030 (ARE, 2009) in particular through mega projects, some of which are already partly functioning:
- The El Salem project east of the Delta (92 400 ha) and in North Sinai (168 000 ha) using water from the El Salem Canal diverting water from the Damietta branch, as well as agricultural water drainage derived from Bahr Hadous, Lower Serw drains.
- The Toshka or New Valley project (228 000 ha) near Lake Nasser using water from the Sheikh Zaid canal and groundwater pumping to expand oases into large private farms.
The long-term plan is to reclaim 630 000 ha in the above projects, as well as in the Nile Valley and in Matruh governorate, to create Bedouin villages, as well as industrial and commercial associations. As new lands, all new development areas have to use sprinkler or localized irrigation, surface irrigation is not permitted outside the Nile Valley. The El Salem and Toshka projects have been financed locally and with aid from Arab countries and international agencies. The water to irrigate all these new development is both primary freshwater (of which 90 percent groundwater), as well as indirect (secondary freshwater) and direct use of non-conventional sources of water (treated wastewater and agricultural drainage water), in particular from water savings through:
- Rehabilitation and improvement of on-farm irrigation techniques in existing equipped areas on 882 000 ha for the 2010-2017 period (MARL, 2011)
- Changes in cultivated crops:
- Reduction of the rice cropping area from more than 700 000 ha in 2007 to 378 000 ha by 2030 and introduction of varieties with short crop cycle
- Reduction of the sugarcane cropping area to less than 126 000 ha to be replaced by sugar beet.
- Cultivation of wheat and maize on terraces for an area of 1 260 000 ha and 714 000 ha respectively, using short crop cycle varieties for maize in particular
- Development of irrigated horticulture with modern irrigation techniques
- Expansion of clover (leguminous) crop area on more than 1.26 million ha
- Improvement in irrigation efficiency to reach 80 percent in over 3.3 million ha, in order to save an estimated 12 400 million m│ (ARE, 2009). This efficiency will be achieve with:
- Improvement of irrigation networks: lining, gates and weeds
- Laser land levelling
- Night irrigation to reduce tail end losses and evaporation losses
- Use of desalinated sea water as a strategic choice for municipalities and industries
- Improved crop rotation
- Reuse of drainage water
In addition, both agricultural policies, in particular cropping patterns modification, and water management policies, such as allocation rules and upscaling of WUAs, are expected to increase water efficiency, saving some water for the new developed areas. This would redirect the traditional water development in the country towards a more efficient water allocation policy. Development of irrigation outside the traditional Nile Valley and Delta will also populate some desert areas of Egypt and de-densify the highly densified traditional areas.