Egypt is planning to dramatically decrease the amount of land allocated to rice production next year, amid ongoing concerns over water scarcity, the Irrigation Ministry announced on Sunday.
The amount of land used for rice will decrease by 34.6 percent, according to the Ministry, and will be limited to six governorates. This amounts to just over 704,000 feddans for 2017, in comparison to over a million feddans in 2016.
The cultivation of rice requires more water than many other crops, an average of 9,500 to 11,000 cubic meters of water per hectare.
There will be penalties introduced for the planting of rice on any non-authorized land or in governorates outside Beheira, Kafr al-Sheikh, Daqahlia, Damietta, Port Said and Sharqiya, the Ministry said.
Rice prices have increased dramatically in recent months, as supplies have dwindled and the value of the pound has dropped. In March, traders reported prices had increased by as much as 20 percent, blaming the Supply Ministry for not planning ahead.
Egypt has historically produced a surplus of rice, but exports were banned in August following predictions of shortages. The export ban was lifted again in October amid a surplus of the grain. But despite this surplus, Supply Ministry budget cuts resulted in a failure to replenish stocks. In response, many traders withheld their crop, upping prices and resulting in market shortages.
There have been water shortages in Egypt over the past few years, particularly in the summer months in Upper Egypt, the Nile Delta and parts of Giza. From an ample 2,526 cubic meters a year per person in 1947, Egypt’s annual water supply per person dropped to 663 cubic meters in 2013, placing the country below the United Nations’ water poverty threshold. The UN predicts Egypt will reach a state of absolute water crisis by 2025, with the amount of annual water supply per person predicted to decrease to 500 cubic meters.
Professor of Agricultural Economy at Cairo University, Gamal Mohamed Sayam, told Mada Masr the Ministry’s stipulations are necessary. “Actually, from an economic perspective, considering the scarcity of water, it’s the right decision. It’s already late,” he said, adding, “Exporting rice is like exporting water, which is ridiculous in Egypt’s case. The country is going to face the effects of the Ethiopian dam.”
Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Aty warned during a parliamentary committee meeting in May that Egypt’s annual water supply of 55.5 billion cubic meters a year is not sufficient to cover public demand for drinking water as well as demands from industry, agriculture and electricity plants.
Despite the shortages, critics cite governmental mismanagement of Egypt’s water supplies, particularly in rural areas and following a number of large state-led development projects in the desert. There have also been reports that rice traders are hoarding their crop to force prices up.