From food contaminated with human waste in Cairo due to water shortages to concerns that the country could be on the brink of famine, Egypt is facing its fair share of food problems. Now, there are reports that desertification is eating into agricultural land and putting local food production at risk. Although only 3% of Egypt’s land is cultivated, urban sprawl and construction is cutting into this precious resource which serves 85 million people.
“Desertification is the real danger everybody should pay attention to,” Abdel Rahman Attia, a professor of agriculture at Cairo University, told IRIN. “This problem is manifesting itself in a huge food gap [which] will widen even more in the future as we lose more agricultural land to desertification.”
Egypt currently imports more 60% of its food yet rising sea levels, construction and a growing population (expected to reach 123 million in 2029) mean that it may have to start importing more food to sustain its people. So far, rising sea levels have contributed to the loss of around 768,903 hectares of land and have also contaminating the land with seawater making it less productive.
Ismail Abdel Galil, the former chairman of Egypt’s Desert Research Centre, told IRIN that studies showed that just over a hectare of fertile land in the Nile Valley is lost every hour due to construction on agricultural land. Desertification caused by the shrinkage of fertile land is also contributing to water shortages – according to Egyptian officials the country’s 55.5 billion cubic metre share of Nile water is already insufficient to meet its needs.
Water scarcity looks set to worsen for Egypt as countries sharing the Nile’s water resources such as Ethiopia and Sudan seek to increase their own share and improve their water security. There was a recent diplomatic rift between Egypt and Ethiopia due to the latter’s plans to build dam which would affect the amount of water reaching Egypt (which seems to have reached a stalemate now).
Another factor thrown into the deadly mix of food production for Egypt is climate change. Whilst it is difficult to assess the full implications of a warming planet on Egypt’s food production, rising temperatures will no doubt contribute to further desertification and put its agricultural abilities under greater stress.
: Image via eviljohnius/flickr.
For more on Egypt and Food see: