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Producing more food with less resources

12/04/16

Mechanized raised beds in Egypt show clear impact on the ground

The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the Agricultural Research Center (ARC), Zagazig University, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) hosted a high level Traveling Workshop 60 kilometers north of Cairo in the Sharkia Governorate April 11, 2016. The workshop intended to encourage small-scale men and women farmers to adopt an effective practice in irrigated farming that uses mechanized raised beds to enhance water productivity and water use efficiency.

The Workshop is also intended to encourage high level policy makers to consider matters of natural resources management from the angle of how to upscale nation-wide new farming technologies developed by ICARDA and its local partners, ARC and Zagazig University to produce more food by using less natural resources.   

As part of the Traveling Workshop, H.E. Samy Sedham, Deputy Governor of Sharkia, Dr Mohamed Seliman ARC Director, Dr Ahmed Mashtour, Vice-President of Zagazig University, Dr. Mahmoud Solh, Director General of ICARDA, and Dr. Pasquale Steduto, FAO Representative in Egypt, among other agriculture luminaries, were in attendance.

Quote: Dr Mohamed Seliman ARC Director

Raised bed farming is a simple, but effective mechanization technology and a big step in the right direction, as the agricultural sector in Egypt would be able to save on applied irrigation while at the same time producing more food.”

The agricultural sector is utilizing nearly 80% of the available water resources, which will create complex challenges as more crops will have to be produced with less water. This requires very effective and serious action programs to reduce water losses and increase crop water productivity. The more applied irrigation water saved, the greater the opportunity to avoid irrigation water deliveries shortages in the Delta and increase sustainable food production, bringing the country towards greater food security. 

Raised-beds are a type of planting crops in which furrows - long, narrow trenches made in the ground by a plow - are widely spaced and crops are planted on raised strips.  The width of the strips is determined to ensure homogenous adequate water distribution into the soil profile to meet crop water requirements. 

The raised bed farming technology along with a full production package including improved crop varieties and agronomic practices were developed to answer problems of water scarcity in Egypt. In addition to improving water use efficiency by 75% compared to the traditional surface irrigation, raised beds, along with the complementary technology package, result in lower costs of irrigation and higher crop productivity.

As wheat yields are increased by up to 25%, subsequently raised bed farming also greatly influences farmers’ incomes. The raised bed technology was successfully developed by ARC, Zagazig University and ICARDA, in close collaboration with its local partners, within the framework of the Egyptian National Wheat Campaign and the Arab Food Security Project, financed by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, the Islamic Development Bank, the OPEC Fund for International Development, and disseminated to farmers, covering an area of over 29,000 hectares in Egypt.

Environmental benefits of raised bed farming include a reduction in soil salinity, soil and water pollution, water logging, and drainage water.

All workshop attendees joined a consolidated farmers’ platform which has adopted the mechanized raised beds package for wheat.

The raised bed technology package has already been tested in farmers’ fields on wheat, berseem clover, faba bean, maize and cotton through an ICARDA-led ‘Irrigation Benchmark Project’ in the Egyptian Delta, financed by the Arab Fund for Economic abs Social Development and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The package implementation resulted in substantial improvement in agriculture productivity and on-farm irrigation management in main irrigated lands. Highlights included an increase in wheat productivity by 25% and 15% for faba bean, and reduction in applied irrigation water by approximately 30%.

Quote:  Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General:

Egypt was the first country that welcomed and cooperated with ICARDA as a strategic partner on research linked to water scarcity. Since ICARDA’s founding in 1977, the Government of Egypt and ICARDA have built a solid base for cooperation, resulting in many projects, all of them related to research for sustainable development and food security. Specific highlights of our collaboration are linked to water management in agriculture and the development of heat and drought resistant wheat and faba bean varieties for better adaptation to climate change.”

The 2017 National Water Resources Plan for Egypt estimates that the total cultivated areas in the agricultural sector will increase to 4.05 M hectares by the year 2017 and to 4.83 M hectares by 2030. The plan also anticipates that cropped areas will increase to approximately 8.06 M hectares in 2017, with an intensification rate of 198 percent, and to about 9.66 M hectares in 2030, with an intensification rate of 199 percent.

Dr Pasquale Steduto from FAO

“The growing impact of climate change in the Near East and North Africa Region (NENA) region is placing additional stress on our ability to meet the growing demands on water and food. The Water Scarcity Initiative (WSI) for the Near East and North Africa Region NENA was launched in 2013 came as a response to sustainably improve agricultural productivity through a better use and management of scarce water resources. This raised bed technology is one of the Climate Smart Agriculture interventions that FAO is assisting its member countries in partnership with research entities such as ICARDA and the national agriculture system to scale it out. Moving research milestones that are accepted by farmers and proven multi benefits to an adoption at scale.”   

In recognition of the threats that continue to constrain agricultural production systems in Egypt and the region, ICARDA and FAO strengthened their collaboration and partnership in 2015 through a new agreement with the aim to scale out proven, climate-smart technologies, including the scaling out of the integrated mechanized raised bed production package.

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