Cairo Climate Talks (CCT) held its twenty-fifth panel discussion last Wednesday, under the name "Growing with Climate Change: Adaptation and Innovation in Agriculture" at the German Science Center (DWZ). CCT is an initiative established at the end of 2011 by the German Embassy in Cairo and the Egyptian Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs (EEAA), bringing experts for regular panel discussions to exchange experience and raise awareness about current environmental affairs.
Panelists included Dr. Mohamed El Raey, Professor of Environmental Studies, Alexandria University; Dr. Martin Keulertz, Postdoctoral Research Associate at Purdue University's Department for Agricultural and Biological Engineering; Dr. Ariane Borgstedt, Program Coordinator of the Water Management Reform Program of GIZ; and Faris Farrag, Founder and owner of Bustan Aquaponics Farm.
"Egypt has been doing agriculture since time immemorial, so it must be wired into Egyptian genes," said HE Hansjorg Haber, German Ambassador in Cairo. "Agriculture now in Egypt is in threat both in the short and long term. Most [problems] are due to climate change, desertification, urbanization expansion, water scarcity, water salinity, population growth, energy crisis and subsidies. 25% of the Egyptian labor force is employed in agriculture and it is for all these reasons that is it of utmost importance to develop sustainable solutions."
"Most of the scientists worldwide like we have here are covering the effects of climate change, and I am concerned," said Prof. Hany El Kateb, Presidential Advisor and Senior Scientist at the Technical University of Munich. "Egypt ranks number one in the world for desertification due to legal and illegal construction; we are losing around 70 hectares of land daily and there are no efforts to protecting green fertile lands. Agroforestry technique has mitigated as well. Egypt is advised to resort to innovation in the agricultural system."
After the opening speech of the German Ambassador and Prof. El Kateb, panel discussions quickly commenced. The first and clear issue that all the panelists' discussions agreed and elaborated on was water scarcity.
El Raey explained that climate change has a domino effect, where the rising sea level causes sea salt intrusion which increases salinity in the Nile Delta. Water salinity as well as rising temperatures will reduce agricultural productivity. The Nile Delta's global climatic problem is the rise in sea level, and locally the Nile Delta is subsiding. Keulertz underlined that Egypt is the largest wheat importer in the world making it an agriculturally dependent country.
Borgstedt explained that Egypt will never have enough water to make agriculture serve its big population, and that water efficiency is vital, especially for large scale farmers. The discussion shifted to organic and aquaponic types of sustainable farming and its scarcity in the market. The discussion emphasised that the impetus improve agriculture efficiency should be from the market itself, and not only from the government perspective. Farrag, owner of the first aquaponic farm in Egypt, explained that the farmers in his farm are aware of healthily grown food and of its benefits over food with pesticides.
Egypt is predominantly desert with only a limited 7% or less agricultural landscape. This agricultural landscape is threatened by numerous variables, the biggest of which is climate change. It was apparent throughout the discussions that innovation and sustainability key to the survival and future of Egypt's agriculture.
Image: Darla دارلا Hueske, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0