Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation Ezzeddin Abu Steit recently announced that an increase of 50 percent would be allowed in the land allocated for rice cultivation this season. 1,074000 feddans will be cultivated with rice this year instead of 724,000 feddans last year, he said (one feddan is 1.038 acres).
The decision aimed to increase production and reduce the country’s imports bill in order to save foreign currency, he said. A ministerial plan is currently being applied to target the increased productivity of agricultural land by promoting new kinds of high-quality rice with low water consumption.
Abu Steit said that according to Ministerial Decree 65/2019, the area of land available for rice cultivation this year would be divided into three.
The first 724,000 feddans will be irrigated by Nile water, while the second 200,000 feddans will be cultivated with new kinds of rice able to tolerate less water.
A third area of 150,000 feddans will be irrigated with recycled water. The rice cultivation season runs from May to September.
Ragab Shehata, head of the Rice Division at the Federation of Egyptian Industries, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the decision was a positive one and a step towards achieving a balance between rice production and consumption.
The area allocated for rice cultivation has been a controversial issue over the past few years. The government has said that owing to water shortages a reduction in rice production has been required. However, there have been concerns that rice shortages in local markets, as a result, could lead to an increase in the price of an important food staple.
In 2017, Egypt’s rice production stood at four million tons, while local consumption was three million tons. Egypt exported one million tons of rice that exceeded consumption.
However, experts say that exporting rice is like exporting water because it is a crop that requires a great deal of water at a time when Egypt faces an annual water deficit of around seven billion cubic meters, according to the UN.
To rationalize water consumption and balance the production and consumption of rice, the government decided in 2018 to reduce the area available for rice cultivation from 1.7 million to 724,000 feddans.
The Ministry of Agriculture has started to apply strict regulations on growing rice. Farmers are no longer able to cultivate rice unless their land is located in an area designated by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Rice cultivation is allowed in the Delta governorates but is prohibited in Upper Egypt, South Sinai, Marsa Matrouh, Qalioubiya, Menoufiya, Cairo and Giza.
Farmers who violate the rules are subject to penalties under Law 12/1984. Mohamed Abdel-Kader, a farmer who lives in Meet Ghamr in the Daqahliya governorate, cultivated rice although it was forbidden in his area and he had to pay a fine as a result.
Abdel-Kader said that this year the fines had doubled, so the farmers in his village had decided to stop growing rice.
Due to the government’s decision to cut rice cultivation, production decreased to 2.6 million tons while consumption remained at three million tons in 2018. The gap between consumption and production was covered by increasing imports of rice.