Optimal Cropping Pattern under Climate Change in Egypt

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The Ministry of Agriculture faces many challenges to introduce better management of Water and Land Resources for its sector while the farmers are the final decision makers for which crop for production. Many people were concerned about the presence of a free market while the resources are limited and food security has become a national priority.

A network of experts within the Ministry of Agriculture developed a plan to look at the most important crops for production to develop a strategy of recommendations and to adapt to climate change.

Context and Experience

Climate change threats would inflict serious damage to human settlements, and would also affect access to water and food associated with deterioration in health conditions on the national level. Egypt's most vulnerable sectors to climate change are: 1) coastal zones, 2) water resources and 3) agriculture.

Historically, Egypt is known as one of the oldest agricultural civilizations. The River Nile allowed a sedentary agricultural society to develop thousands of years ago. The Egyptian economy has traditionally relied heavily on the agricultural sector for food, feed, fiber and other products. It provides livelihood for about 55% of the population and employs 28% of the total labor force, and contributes approximately 16% of the GDP and 20% of all foreign exchange earnings.

Limited land, limited water and rapidly growing population require continuing intensification of production on a limited natural resource base. Intensification requires continuingly higher yields, greater input efficiencies, reduced negative environmental effects, a greater knowledge base and superior management. Moreover, changes in the socioeconomic environment brought about by changes in urbanization and higher incomes and the need for more export earnings or substitution of imports. This has led to changes in production from static to dynamic systems.

In response to these demands and changes, Egypt has developed national agricultural policies and plans to improve and sustain production. Sustainable Agricultural Development Strategy towards year 2030 has been developed to articulate efficient use of natural resources in an environmentally sustainable manner (Agricultural Research & Development Council "ARDC", Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation "MALR" Oct.2009). This strategy deals with potential sources and constraints to agricultural growth and identifies key elements to improve agricultural-sector policies, institutions and investment. Egyptian agriculture is almost entirely dependent on irrigation. The country has no effective rainfall except in a narrow band along the northern coastal areas. Consequently, Egypt has only one main source of water supply, the Nile River. The availability of a reliable water supply from the High Dam in Aswan is governed by the existing water-sharing treaty with the countries of the Nile Basin under which 55.5 billion cubic meters per year are allocated to Egypt.

Water supply problems have concerned the people of Egypt for a long time and climate change is an important issue. Some experts claim that climate change has the potential to worsen an already gloomy situation. With higher temperatures and higher populations, less water supplies will be available to farms and cities during summer months when demand is high. One third of the world's population will experience severe water scarcity within the next 25 years. Share in 2025 Per capita availability of water resources will decline to below 850 m3 which exists now. Agriculture share of water will decline at an even faster rate because of increasing competition for available water for urban and industrial sectors.

The global extent of salt-affected lands is considerable and exists in more than 1/3 of the cultivated area. Moreover, the expansion of saline areas is expected to grow with climate change and water shortages. Furthermore, salinity significantly restricts agriculture production, particularly, summer crops maize and rice.

Purpose of the activity

The objective of the field studies is to create policy recommendations for the decision makers and to support the farmers to better adapt to climate change.

This programme focuses on enhancing local capacities to adapt the agriculture sector to climate change. In particular, the component has performed agriculture field tests on 4 strategic crops to determine the varieties that are stress tolerant, identify optimal cropping patterns to optimize the use of shrinking water resources and disseminate information in response to the climate change risks.

The policy recommendations made aim to improve food productivity and ensure that the natural resources are managed to meet the local demands and to reduce wheat / bread subsidies. By implementing strategic policies, poverty and subsidies can be reduced.

Original issue addressed by the activity

Describe in 2 paragraphs the initial situation or issue that was the basis for development and implementation of the lesson. Provide baseline data or summary of needs assessment where applicable, etc.

Strategy / approach chosen to address the issue

Egypt needs to produce more cereal yield with use less water volume, because increase the population makes the available water for the agriculture sector decrease. In the same time the higher population need to more food. These challenge need to adopt strategy to test the response of the major cereal crops to cultivate in the different climatic regions.

  1. Test the response of major cereal crops to the deficit irrigation shortage.
  2. Test the response of varieties to heat tolerant; by cultivate it at the different climate regions at different planting dates.
  3. Enter the field experiments data to the crop model to predict the crop yield under climate change conditions.

Regarding the Agriculture Component, all experiments were conducted by ARC staff from 4 institutes were trained on analyzing the impact of climate on crop production through the JP. The dynamic process of testing field crops is now embedded inside the ARC mandate and is expected to continue after the JP ends through own resources to stand on the optimum cropping pattern under different climatic scenarios. All the components support staff capacity building to ensure long term continuity of activities.

Implementation of the strategy / chosen approach

Field testing was performed as follows: Rice, a summer crop, was tested in the North Delta while Maize, also a summer crop, along with Wheat and Fava Beans, winter crops, were tested in the three different climatic regions: Nile Delta, Middle and Upper Egypt. The testing looked at such factor as Water requirements & Heat Tolerance, Salinity and the recommended Locations and Varieties for production under Climate Change Scenarios

An average of 11 varieties per crop in three different climatic regions for Climate Change stress-tolerance and various levels of water deficit treatments. A total of 528 results have been produced. Based on these results, the proper formulation of adaptation policy can be made.

Results and Impacts

Water Requirements and Heat Tolerance

The best varieties that are tolerant to higher temperatures are the summer crop varieties: rice and maize. The winter varieties were naturally exposed to less heat waves and higher temperature.


On the other hand, rice was cultivated in three pilot locations: two locations in the North Delta and one location in the middle of the Delta. The middle Delta location gave the highest production while the production of the Northern Delta locations was lower due to salinity in the coastal location in comparison with the Middle Delta location. Despite the higher production in the middle delta, it is recommended that rice be produced in the North Delta to combat salt water intrusion.


Maize: Single cross maize hybrids were more tolerant to the heat waves in comparison with three ways hybrid maize. The single cross maize hybrids also high water use efficiency in comparison with three ways hybrids, which means that single cross hybrid can be one of the adaptation options for maize. Maize could be cultivated in all Egypt , but, better to cultivate it early in the upper Egypt to improve water use efficiency and gain higher productivity.

  1. Rice, Giza 178 was superior to the other cultivars especially under water shortage condition and in salt-affected soils
  2. Fava bean cultivars are: Sakha 1 in the Delta, Giza 716 in Middle Egypt, and Giza 843 in Upper Egypt.
  3. Wheat: Misr 1 and Gemmeiza 9 cultivars were more tolerant to water deficit at Delta, Middle and Upper Egypt and produced the highest grain yields under both 80 and 60% water amounts. Wheat could be cultivate at the different climatic region because it is a winter crops, the weather of the middle and upper Egypt is suitable for the winter crops.

Deficit Irrigation

  1. Deficit irrigation impacted the productivity of summer crops more than the winter crops because the summer crops suffer from higher temperatures than the winter crops. Table (1) show the water use efficiency for the maize under different climatic region, from these data, the water use efficiency of the maize at the Delta is almost double the water use efficiency of the maize in the Upper Egypt.
  2. Higher crop productivity is at the recommended irrigation levels (without water deficit) and deficit irrigation greatly impacted the productivity in Upper Egypt.
  3. Regarding to the water requirements of fava bean crop could be reduced by about 20 to 40% without any significant reduction in seed yield especially in the Delta region.
  4. Rice, the highest water consuming crop, is the most sensitive to water deficit, especially under saline soils; soil salinity need more water to reduce the crop reduction due to salt.
Table 1: Water use efficiency (kg m-3) as influenced by water deficit treatments at different planting dates at the three locations.

Sowing date

  1. Sowing dates during late April and early May are the best for rice productivity.
  2. Planting maize around mid-May produced the highest grain yield, especially under the hot weather of Upper Egypt.
  3. Wheat could be planted in North Egypt until the end of November without significant differences in grain yield, while at Middle and Upper Egypt along with Nubaria region, the first half of November is the best period for wheat planting.
  4. The best faba bean sowing dates are during the last two weeks of October in North Egypt and during the first half of November in Middle and Upper Egypt.

Climatic Zones

The rice is cultivating only in the North Delta governorates, due to the regulation of the Ministry of Water, to save the water and reduce the salt intrusion in the North Delta land. Regarding to the maize the Delta and Middle Egypt were higher than in and Upper Egypt. The rice don't cultivate in the middle or upper Egypt because it is consuming high water quantity especially in the middle and upper Egypt due to higher air temperature with lower relative humidity at the same time. Regarding the winter crops, the Middle and Upper Egypt gave higher production than the Delta, especially with fava bean.

The results of field experiment at different climatic zones in Egypt revealed that some local varieties have good productivity and low water requirements in the Middle and Upper Egypt more than Delta, especially the varieties of the winter crops.


Cultivate more area of winter crops is a one of the most recommendation we learned from this project; tested winter crops (Wheat and faba bean) are the two major and staple food crops in Egypt. Over 30% of the caloric intake comes from wheat flour products and fava bean is a major source of cheap protein in most of the Egyptians diets. The annual wheat production during 2005 to 2009 averaged 6.5 million ton, while the annual fava bean production in the same period averaged 276.360 ton. However, the total production of both wheat and fava bean is still far from the country requirements by about 55 and 40% of both crops, respectively, which covered through importation. The food security of Egypt can enhance by producing the two winter crops because they consider the poor people food. During the project activity the research team have a clear vision of responses of different cultivars to the deficit irrigation and productivity of different cultivars at the different region, these recommendations are prepared now as a strategic plan for the decision maker to support of adoptions of these recommendations.

This translates to a recommendation that we should cultivate more land in the winter to enhance the food security by using less water. The evapotranspiration of the summer months in the upper Egypt like Toshka area exceed 15 mm/day, while the evapotranspiration of the Delta during the same time of the year is about the half, it is mean the same crop when cultivate in the Delta will consume half water quantity in comparison with the Upper Egypt zone, on the other hand, the productivity of the summer crops especially in the Upper Egypt is significantly lower than the productivity of the same crops at the Delta or middle Egypt (Table 1). The early planting date is a good adaptation option for cultivating the summer crops in the Upper Egypt to avoid heat stress for the summer crops at the Upper Egypt and consuming less water at the same time. The water use efficiency for the maize cultivated in the Upper Egypt at the early sowing date is double the water use efficiency of maize which cultivated in the late sowing date at the same climatic region. It is also recommended that we cultivate the North Coast once a year (in the winter) with one of the major field crops to improve food security, using rain water plus supplemental irrigation water.

With adoption of deficit irrigation (80%) water level the agriculture sector can save about 20% of water what is mean we can cultivate 20% more of reclaimed land. The total reclaimed area is about 8.3 million feddans, with increase it by 20% it is mean we can cultivate about 10 million (8.3 + 1.7 feddans) irrigated by saved water as supplemental irrigation in the coastal zone) with adoption of the water deficit regime. Moreover, with cultivate the new reclaimed area one time, it is mean, the saved water from the summer season can be use to cultivate about 3 million feddans more. It is mean we can cultivate about 4 - 5 million feddans in the winter season by wheat, fava bean and clover. It is mean improve the food security issue for the Egyptian especially with the grain, cultivate 2.5 million feddans more of wheat mean self sufficiency of wheat. This work need to improve the on farm management (Improve Mesqa by pipe, leveling by laser and ….) to control the water quantity in the farm level, improve water use efficiency and save water for the new reclaimed land, this work is not applicable without improve the water management in the old land and adopt modern irrigation system in the new reclaimed lands. The detailed of this strategy are already exist in the Strategy of the Ministry of Agriculture 2030.

The ministry of Agriculture should collaborate with the ministry of water to discuss the availability of water to cover this plan.


  1. Rainfall of the coastal zone in the winter season ranged from 100-200 mm.
  2. Available land especially from Alexandria till the border of Egypt with Libya with 10 - 50 km depth.
  3. The temperature is low in the North coastal zone with higher relative temperature than the other climatic zones in comparison with the Upper Egypt zone.

With Egypt's quickly growing population, the agricultural sector needs to better conserve resources to ensure that every Egyptian has access to adequate food and water. Egypt depends on suitable climate and natural resources (land and water) for agricultural production and for food supply. Currently, about 85% of water in Egypt is used on agriculture. With expected population increase, water share per capita will decrease, and climate change will further stress water supply issues. This would mean less food to feed the growing population. Egypt experiences limited water resources under today’s conditions, and this problem will increase under future climate conditions. The current position of the agriculture sector is, the agriculture sector in Egypt has about 8.3 million feddans, about 5.5 million feddans consider the old land in the Delta and Nile Valley (Clay soil) and about 5.5 million feddans consider new reclaimed land (Sandy soil). The food security in Egypt is threatened due increasing the population because of the limited water resources. The increasing the productivity of the land unit became the priority of the current policy to cover the population needs from food. During the last 20 years till now, Egypt imports about 60% of the country needs of the cereals and about 90% of needs of oil. Increasing the cultivated area and improve the productivity of the old land was the Egyptian challenge during the last decades. The farm management of the different crops needs more effort from the MALR. The new and old farm management need to take into consider the importance of the climatic factors and climate change issue. The current project consider the first step in the right way to improve farm management based on current and future climatic factors, but it is not the last step in this direction. Then the food security of Egypt need to smart solution depends on save the water and increase the productivity. Investment of the agriculture sector in the Coastal zone become one of the smart options we should thinking about especially with the winter crops (less water needs, the season of rainfall in the coastal zone). Cultivate more land in the Coastal zone especially during winter season can enhance food security without need to use so much water (Rainfall about 150-250 mm/years. The field experiment show that the water use efficiency in the Delta is higher than the water use efficiency for the Upper Egypt by double, we must continue cultivate the Upper Egypt because it has fertile soil, but it is need to cultivate more early to improve water use efficiency (Table 1). On the other hand, the research team test different verities and found there are variety more resist to the deficit irrigation and heat tolerant.

Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture plans to extend the cultivated area to be 11 million feddans during the next 20 years. The extended areas located at the desert of Delta, New Valley (Oasis & Oweinat) and Sinai. Short term reclamation plan will adopt reclaim for the small farmers and new graduated to improve the social issue. In the long term the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture will collaborate with the Egyptian and foreign investors to reclaim more new land until the total cultivated land become 11 million feddans. The smart farm management practices and breeding new cultivars (high yielding with drought resistant) will go parallel with the reclamation plan. The first of all, there are need for accurate investigation for the water budget of Egypt depends on the current water requirement for the crop pattern.

The water availability per capita is below the recommended water poverty line of 1,000 cubic meters per capita per annum. The graph below illustrates current and future (2025) water per capita to reach 500 cubic meters.

Next Steps

The next step is the formulation of policies for decision makers to adapt via an international agricultural expert and information dissemination to the farmers. Some of the policies that are being considered are:

  1. Improve farm water management through a national project dealing with the on farm water management via the national program for improve surface water management to reduce water losses before reaching the farms.
  2. Cultivate the high water use efficiency varieties.
  3. Increase the winter crop areas especially in the new reclaimed land especially in the North Coast
  4. A corresponding increase in water availability and efficiency could result from proper management of water through more effective on-farm water management practices (for example, drip irrigation)
  5. Change in cropping patterns towards less-water consuming crops (for example, limit growing rice in Middle and Upper Egypt and the South Delta)
  6. Introduce improved irrigation systems as well as reuse of drainage water and treated sewage water as a way to increase water resources.

In addition, further studies will be needed for a wider selection of strategic crops.

Potential replication / application

The lesson can be regional lesson and can help other countries who irrigate them crops to adopt the new ideas of use less water without decrease of the productivity by the same ratio. During the field testing, we found decrease water by 20% reduce the productivity by 10% reduction for some varieties and was not significant with other varieties. It's mean we can save 20% of irrigation water especially with winter crop to cultivate a new lands in the same season. There is need for more research to improve the surface irrigation system and test more verities to enhance water productivity.

Information products

Please list (and attach where possible) any publication, web reference, other information product linked to the lesson.


Where possible, please provide photographs or other images illustrating the story above or the success of the programme.

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