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Michael Abdallah
ميشيل عبد الله
Michael Abdallah began working as a journalist for the Al-Wafd party’s regional paper and contributed to several weekly and daily papers, most notably 'Al-Badil' and 'Al-Shourouk'. He currently works for the daily 'Al-Watan'.

Bitter Harvest

Fayoum Egypt Wheat Field Water Shortage
A weathered wheat field in Fayoum
Bitter Harvest
Faced with a water shortage, wheat farmers have resorted to using wastewater to irrigate their crops.
23/5/2013 | Fayoum

An irrigation water crisis in Fayoum's villages, especially in the Etsa and Tamiya districts, has damaged this season’s wheat harvest, according to farmers. Officials deny the existence of a water crisis and accuse farmers of random attempts at reclamation.

Irrigation with wastewater

Antar Motamad Ayoub, a 49-year-old farmer, says peasants had to irrigate half of the five thousand acres of cultivated lands at Manyalhet and Gharaq villages with agricultural drainage water from the Gharbi Prince water treatment plants. Ayoub claims that he only planted 20 acres of his land with wheat and cotton and that he uses agricultural drainage water mixed with sewage to irrigate them, since major landlords monopolize principal water streams.

Ayoub suggests that Fayoum Governor Ahmed Ali Ahmed gave orders to solve the problem of monopolizing water streams and held a meeting with both trespassing and affected parties where he proposed that major landlords irrigate their lands alternatively with the ones affected by the crisis, but the landlords refused.  Those affected suggested building gates on water streams to control the flow of water, but that was also refused by the landlords.

Barren land

Ahmed Saber Masri, a 35-year-old farmer from Gharaq District, planted his 10-acre piece of land with wheat but seven acres were of poor yield due to water scarcity for more than 60 days. He tried to overcome the crisis by purchasing water pumps, which used 40 liters of fuel per acre.

Shaaban Bakri Ayoub is another farmer who faced the same problem where he was only able to cultivate 10 acres of his land. He says the head of the irrigation department has admitted that the water level at Lake Manzala has dropped by six centimeters, while major landlords have installed pumps to draw water to irrigate their lands, thus exacerbating the crisis.

High salinity

The crisis has also affected Tamiya District where farmer Lamloum Ragheb, from Fanous Village, complains that his 6,000 acres of land is endangered by water scarcity, so he and other farmers resort to irrigating their crops with agricultural drainage water from Azzam by machinery.

“Some crops were damaged because the Ardelgabel area seized all irrigation water from the region where we planted our lands with olive seedlings to bear the salinity problem, which has increased over the past five years, reducing our wheat yield by 15% annually," says Ragheb. He stressed that farmers complained to officials in vain and that some engineers took samples of the land to determine its salinity, which turned out extremely high, causing reduction in land productivity in winter by 50% and by a much greater percentage in summer with increased temperatures and a lack of irrigation water.

Farmers’ behavior

Officials deny the existence of a water shortage crisis and attribute the issue to farmers’ behavior. Head of Fayoum Irrigation Department Mahmoud Abdussattar said water problems were the result of farmers’ behavior since irrigation water covered an area of 410,000 acres according to the governorate’s water report. He however suggested that the area of cultivated land in the governorate exceeded 500,000 acres, including desert lands, were under random reclamation.

Fayoum Governorate’s principal irrigation resource, he says, is Lake Lahun through two canals: Bahr Yussef with its branches which supply east Fayoum and Bahr Wasef which irrigates west Fayoum.

Random reclamation 

In regards to monopolizing water resources by major landlords, Abdussattar said his department applied Act 12 of 1984, but it was limited to writing tickets sent to court without correcting the situation through the police.

He stressed that wheat crops did not consume large amounts of water, but it was other factors, such as urea and fertilizers, that determined land productivity, pointing out that the  Gharaq region was not included in the irrigation scheme and was under random cultivation without having water allocation. He claimed that 80,000 acres were outside the irrigation scheme.

Increased yield

Head of Fayoum’s Agriculture Department said this season, 196,000 acres – representing around 40% of the governorates overall agricultural lands – were planted with wheat, and that each acre produced 20-21 ardeb. He downplayed the impact of irrigation water shortage in some areas, suggesting that the area of wheat-planted lands increased by 18,000 acres compared to a year before.

He pointed out that Fayoum Governorate came second in producing wheat after Al Sharqia Governorate, and that the governorate’s primary products were wheat and sugar in the winter season and corn and cotton in the summer.

Image: Michael Abdallah/Correspondents.org