A new story
focuses on risks to Egypt’s agricultural economy from climate change, water scarcity, inflation, and urbanization.
In the 1990s, water availability in the country fell below the international “water poverty” benchmark of 1,000 cubic meters per person per year. Egypt has managed that scarcity by meticulously recycling agricultural water and, in recent years, curtailing the production of water-intensive crops like cotton and rice and importing 40% of its wheat and other food staples. In the last few decades, “Egypt has had the same amount of water, the same amount of land,” says Aly Abousabaa, director of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). “So the country’s productivity gains, in terms of being able to squeeze more from the existing resources, are really a big success story.”
But threats to the water supply are mounting. The population is still growing quickly and could reach 160 million by 2050. Meanwhile, rising temperatures and falling rainfall mean crops—which consume 86% of Egypt’s water supply—will require more irrigation to survive. Without additional climate adaptation measures, crop yields in Egypt could fall 10% on average by 2050, resulting in an economic loss of nearly $2 billion, according to IFPRI.