23 May 2019. The lifeblood of Egypt is running dry.
For millennia, the Nile Delta between Cairo and the Mediterranean Sea has been marked by intensive agricultural use. Today, about 86% of Nile water that flows to Egypt is still used to grow food, with the $28 billion agricultural sector accounting for about 12% of the economy. Agriculture is also the cornerstone of food security, as the government relies on its domestic production to avoid overdependence on foreign sources. In a telling sign of the vital national interests at stake, Egypt transferred responsibility for Nile disputes with its African neighbors from the Water and Foreign Affairs ministries into the hands of Egypt’s intelligence and security chief in 2010.
Despite being a national priority, the agricultural sector is one of the hardest-hit victims as Egypt runs out of water. Since 1991, employment in the agricultural sector has dropped from 44% to less than 27%, in part due to farmers abandoning their unprofitable lands to look for work elsewhere.
The country’s failure to feed its people has transformed the former breadbasket of the Roman Empire into the world’s largest wheat importers: The country imported 12.5 million metric tons (13.8 million US tons) of wheat and flour from April 2018 to April 2019 — 50% more than it produced — according to the Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). To make matters worse, farmers are increasingly growing crops in the desert as the country loses fertile land to urbanization.