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Egypt: Irrigation Innovations in the Nile Delta

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Feature Story Template

  • In order to address the country’s growing water demands, Egypt has adopted innovate approaches to make better use of the Nile’s existing flows.
  • In collaboration with the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI), the World Bank, the German aid agency, KfW, and the government of the Netherlands developed the Integrated Irrigation Infrastructure Management Project (IIIMP).
  • The strength of the new approach is that its engineering and institutional innovations complement and reinforce each other. Involving farmer groupings in the management of the new pumping and water control systems means that water gets to the right field at the right time, thus boosting crop yields and farmers’ incomes.

May 8, 2009 - Water is key to life. Although fresh water supplies remain constant, the demand for water increases every day.   For the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, one of the world’s most water-scarce regions, this challenge is far greater. The need to develop innovative practices and technologies to maximize the use of what is naturally available is an ongoing challenge for MNA water experts, policymakers, and the general public.

The Challenge

 

Egypt depends almost exclusively on the Nile River for its water supply. Of this, 85 percent is used for irrigation. As with the rest of the world, the country’s water demands are ever growing. For Egypt, the solution lies in making better use of the Nile’s existing flows. To do so, the most viable solution is to make the current irrigation system more efficient––while being responsive to farmers’ needs.

 

Although previous irrigation improvement projects had modernized parts of Egypt’s system, costs often were too high and the economic rate of return (ERR) too low. A different approach was needed. In collaboration with the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI), the World Bank, the German aid agency, KfW, and the government of the Netherlands developed the Integrated Irrigation Infrastructure Management Project (IIIMP). Its goals were to test and mainstream technical innovations that both reduced costs and responded to farmers’ priorities. Many of these proposals had never before been used in Egypt. The concern was that the farmers would be reluctant to accept the proposed changes because, ultimately, these would reduce the design standards for water supply to the farms.

 

The Outcome

 

MWRI therefore decided to test the new concepts within a 6,000-acre pilot area: the W-10 area in the Kafr El Sheik Governorate. This area was chosen specifically because it was (1) the only area free of previous MWRI interventions and (2) an area in which farmers’ complaints about late delivery of water were significant.

 

The W-10 pilot consists of 12 specific innovations. Some of these innovations are to facilitate payments between farmers and utilities, implement and test new and/or cheaper equipment, and introduce on-farm water management. The strength of the new approach is that its engineering and institutional innovations complement and reinforce each other. Involving farmer groupings in the management of the new pumping and water control systems means that water gets to the right field at the right time, thus boosting crop yields and farmers’ incomes. Another innovation, a prepaid card system for electricity, eliminated delays in payments by water user association (WUA) members.

The Results

At the time that Water in the Arab World: Management Perspectives and Innovations was being written, not all of the proposed enhancements of IIIMP had yet taken place. Even so, three preliminary observations of improvements were clear:

  1. Replacing open or lined canals with piped canals improved water levels and distribution, as well as reduced water loss.
  2. Total operating costs were lower.
  3. Farms became more efficient.

In the end, water supply in the W-10 area was better than in nonimproved areas. Most significantly, farmers were very supportive of the proposed changes.

By 2009, the IIIMP approach tested in the W-10 area had been expanded from its original 6,000 acres to more than 500,000 acres across the Nile Delta.

 

“The success of the IIIMP pilot in Egypt shows what can be done when an irrigation system is re-engineered to treat water as a scarce, precious commodity and to involve farmers in management. As the Arab world's water supply is trapped between climate change on one side and a growing population on the other, holistic and innovative programs such as this are the future of the region's water sector.” 

––Alex Kremer, Senior Sector Economist, Economic Support Unit, MNSSD

 

To learn more about the design, results, and benefits of Egypt’s irrigation improvement project in the W-10 pilot area, see the chapter (pdf).