Nile Delta: Nekla, Sakha, Zankalon (Egypt)

Egypt has a large and growing population, currently, estimated at over 100 million and expected to rise to exceed 150 million by the year 2050 if present growth rates continue. The country is almost entirely desert with virtually no rainfall. The country’s renewable water resources are restricted to the flow of the Nile River, although there is limited exploitation of non-renewable underground water in the oases of the Western Desert. Egypt’s share of the Nile River flow is governed by a treaty signed with its southern neighbor, Sudan, in 1959 and set at 55.5 billion cubic meters per year. Since the national water supply is fixed at this amount, continued population growth inevitably means increasing national water scarcity, and Egypt is already under the international standard of 1,000 cubic meters per person per year. Furthermore, the water shortage crises of Egypt will be increased drastically due to the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. In addition, over 85% of the annual water supply is devoted to agricultural production, and Egyptian farmers practice one of the most intensified forms of irrigated agriculture in the world, achieving global records for yield per hectare in a number of major food crops. Despite impressive gains in the 1980’s and 1990’s, agricultural production has not kept pace with population growth, and Egypt has a net food import bill of over $6 billion. 

In Egypt, under limited water supply conditions, providing additional resources through desalination or other means will be an expensive option. Therefore, efforts towards the optimal management of available water resources should concentrate on the demand management side. As the agricultural sector is consuming the bulk of water supply, good management of irrigation water can be translated into significant savings in the available water resources. In addition, the agriculture sector will be the most affected by anticipated future water shortages and will be expected to relinquish water to other uses such as the domestic and the industrial sectors. Consequently, increasing the efficient use of water in the agricultural sector is an overarching goal driving policy changes and promotion of new technologies targeting improvements in on-farm water management and maximization of agricultural return per unit of water.

In the last two decades, replacing surface irrigation with precise irrigation systems became the main interest of the decision makers and policy planners in Egypt. Land fragmentation, capital and operating costs, profitability, and the need for qualified labor are the main challenges in converting from surface to pressurized irrigation systems. Rather than converting, surface irrigation systems can be upgraded to perform as efficiently as most other irrigation methods using hybrid techniques. To achieve higher efficiency and uniformity in the surface irrigation systems, all parts of the irrigated field should receive water for a near equal period of time, with a minimum of water losses to runoff or to deep percolation below the root zone. 

A range of practices, including land leveling, reuse of tailwater (i.e., reuse of water that runs off the downstream end of surface irrigated fields), raised beds, cutback irrigation, and surge-flow irrigation can be employed to improve the effectiveness of surface irrigation. These best management practices and strategies can all contribute to improving the efficiencies of surface irrigation, but these measures still do not enable the performance of the surface irrigation to match that of the pressurized irrigation methods. 

In Egypt, rice provides 27% of dietary energy supply and 20% of dietary protein intake; therefore, enhancing the productivity of rice will alleviate poverty, eradicate hunger, and contribute to the national food security and economic development. Consequently, rice has become one of the most important exports in the agricultural sector. The area cultivated with rice is growing gradually in the Nile Delta. It increased from about 280,000 ha by the mid-70’s to about 0.8 million ha in 2013. This rapid increase in rice cultivation has resulted from its increasing profitability compared to other crops. The drastic increase in water use for rice cultivation is augmenting the pressure on water supplies; it consumes about 29-50% of the total water budget of Egypt, and threatens to undermine the availability of water for reclaiming new lands. In light of this, innovative ideas such as hybrid irrigation, multi-nozzle sprinkler irrigation, and surface and subsurface drip irrigation technologies, as well as raised bed and system of rice intensification (SRI) practices will be adopted to modernize and further increase the efficiency of surface irrigation systems and rice productivity.

The overall goal of this study is to optimize water use in the paddy area of Egypt and to increase crop water productivity of rice, in order to achieve food security, alleviate poverty, eradicate hunger, decrease the negative environmental impacts of rice irrigation, and contribute to the national income development. The specific objectives of the study are to:

  1. Develop and evaluate an innovative irrigation method named “hybrid irrigation” and a novel irrigation system called “multi-outlet hybrid irrigation”. The investigations will be focused on field testing the optimum plot area per outlet for irrigating rice, assessing the interactive effect of the multi-outlet hybrid irrigation system with raised-bed technique on rice production, and comparing the performance of the innovative multi-outlet hybrid irrigation system to the standard lined ditches surface irrigation system for irrigating rice;
  2. Investigate the potential of cultivating upland rice (dry rice) under the Egyptian conditions, and to introduce it to Egyptian farmers as an alternative agro-ecosystem to the flooded rice one, in order to rationalize water use and sustain rice production in Egypt;  
  3. Demonstrate and promote innovative irrigation technologies and practices for cultivating and irrigating upland rice (dry rice) in Egypt such as multi-nozzle sprinkler irrigation, surface and subsurface drip irrigation systems, raised-bed, and system of rice intensification (SRI); 
  4. Carry out a feasibility study for expansion of the application of the multi-outlet hybrid irrigation, multi-nozzle sprinkler irrigation, surface and subsurface drip irrigation technologies, as well as raised bed and system of rice intensification (SRI) practices in Egypt for rice production for achieving food security and rural income sustainability; and      
  5. Build capacity of all stakeholders such as farmers, producers, water managers, irrigation engineers, policy planners, decision makers, and extension agents on the innovative irrigation technologies and practices for rice production in Egypt.

The field studies will be carried out in three sites located at the Western, Northern, and Eastern Nile Delta. The main problems and challenges facing the improvement of livelihood at the three selected sites are; (i) low performance and efficiencies of water supply networks, (ii) inequity of water distribution, (iii) water quality deterioration, (iv) poor irrigation and drainage management/practices, (v) soil compaction, (vi) shortage of inputs i.e. (fertilizers, new varieties … etc.), (vii) lack of financing/credit services, and (viii) absence of extra income-generating activities, (iv) seasonal water shortage, (v) poor drainage systems, (vi) reuse of low quality water (drainage water) in irrigation, and (vii) soil salinization. Surface irrigation is the dominant irrigation method for the cultivated crops. The land holders distributed into two classes, less than 2 ha at about 96% of the total number of holders and more than 2 ha representing 4% of the total number of holders. 


  • The Western Nile Delta Site: 


Etay site is located at Etay El-Baroud district, which is located at Behaira Governorate and very close to Damanhur city. The average rates of the main meteorological parameters ranged between 14⁰C to 29⁰C of temperature, 52% to 65% of relative humidity, and 98 mm to 114 mm of annual rainfall. Soil at the site can be classified as good and moderate. The main cultivated crops are berseem, wheat, broad bean, vegetables in winter, and maize, cotton, and rice in summer. 


  • The Northern Nile Delta Site: 


Sakha Site is located at Kafr El-Sheikh District, Kafr El-Sheikh governorate. The average rates of the main metrological parameters ranged between 19.2 ⁰C to 32.3⁰C of temperature, 56% to 72% of relative humidity and 60 mm to 80mm of rainfall. Soil at Sakha site is fertile and classified as heavy clay soil with high water table. The cropping pattern of the study area is faba bean, berseem, sugar beet, wheat, and vegetables in winter, but it is rice, maize, cotton, and some medicinal plants in summer.  


  • The Eastern Nile Delta Site: 


Kafr El-Hamam site is located at Zagazig District, Sharkia governorate. The average rates of the main meteorological parameters ranged between 21.2⁰C to 37.3⁰C of temperature, 66% to 76% of relative humidity and 60 mm to 80mm of rainfall. Soil at Kafr El-Hamam site can be classified as good soil, moderate and poor. The main cultivated crops in winter are berseem, wheat, broad bean, sugar beet, flax, and vegetables, where cotton, maize and rice are the main summer crops and represent about 60% of the total cultivated area, in addition to some ornamental and medicinal plants.