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6 Sep 2022 Water & Ressources

Egypt’s Toshka project: safeguarding food security

Food scarcity Water supply Irrigation Water sustainable use of resources

Developed decades ago, the initiative known as the Toshka project in southern Egypt is now gaining momentum under the current government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Part of the ‘Egypt Vision 2030’ strategy, this project aims to make the country less dependent on food imports. Wilo supplies important technologies for sustainable irrigation of the country’s deserts.

The vision: arable land in the desert

Back in the mid-1990s, former president Hosni Mubarak wanted to reclaim around one million acres of desert, an area about the size of Jamaica, and convert it into farmland. The strategic goal was to eventually make Egypt independent of grain imports and ensure a secure food supply. Thus, the Toshka project was born. Egypt, the most populated country in the Middle East, imports more wheat than any other nation in the world. The importance of a stable food supply for peace in the country was illustrated, for example, by the bread riots of 1977. Back then, the government wanted to raise the price of bread, a move which sparked protest among the population. Similarly, during the protests of the Arab Spring in 2011, people demanded ‘bread, freedom, human rights’.

“The strategic goal of the Toshka project is to make the country independent of wheat imports in the long term and to ensure a secure food supply.”

President & CEO of the Wilo Group President & CEO of the Wilo Group

Oliver Hermes, President & CEO of the Wilo Group

Global crises affect food supply

Global crises, protectionism and nationalism are challenging established alliances and international supply chains. This break from multilateral alliances has huge economic and socio-political consequences. The war in Ukraine, for instance, is causing disruptions that will have long-term effects. With Russia and Ukraine being two of the most important wheat exporters in the world, the military conflict in Eastern Europe has severely exacerbated food shortages, especially in Africa. Egypt needs long-term solutions if it wants to overcome its dependence on grain imports.

Cityscape

Increasing urbanisation

About 60 per cent of Egyptians currently live in cities or their immediate surrounding areas. Through a process known as urbanisation, these metropolitan areas are growing faster than the necessary infrastructure is being developed. More and more people are migrating from rural areas. Since 1980, Egypt’s population has grown from around 40 million to over 104 million people. By 2030, the population is expected to reach almost 120 million. One of the biggest issues, therefore, is ensuring a safe and sustainable supply of drinking and process water since 95 per cent of the country is desert.

Aerial view of the Sheikh Zayed channel in Toshka, Egypt.

Mubarak Pumping Station: largest pumping station in the Arab world

To meet these many challenges, al-Sisi’s government plans to expand Egypt’s arable land to 25 per cent. To this end, one of the largest pumping stations in the world has been built in the country’s arid southwest between Lake Nasser and the oases of the Libyan desert. The Mubarak Pumping Station transports up to 1.2 million m³ of water per hour from Lake Nasser into the Sheikh Zayid Canal. At the heart of the Toshka project, the station conveys a total of 25 million m³ of water daily. In the past, Nile floodwaters would seep into the desert sand. Today, the vital liquid is channelled and brought to the required destination with the help of numerous pumping stations. As part of ‘Egypt Vision 2030’, developed in conjunction with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Sustainable Development Strategy for Africa 2063, this project is intended to ensure Egypt’s sustainable development.

Effectively irrigating the dessert

For the irrigation of another 56,700 hectares of land, the Egyptian government is relying on highly efficient and resource-saving pumps. The estimated demand is 5.5 billion m³ of water per year, which will be drawn 265 kilometres upstream from the Aswan Dam. This huge amount of water will eventually transform the desert into arable land. Yet administrative demands are very high. Egypt’s current share of the Nile water is 55.5 billion m³ per year, specified in the Nile Water Treaty of 1959. Therefore, only structured planning and a highly efficient use of resources will enable a sustainable water supply for the area. Wilo provides the necessary technology and expertise. ‘With this project, the Egyptian state aims to boost food security, increase exports, help agriculture thrive and create thousands of jobs. Our team has done a top-class job to ensure that this huge task can be achieved’, says Yasser Nagi Managing Director Wilo Middle East & Egypt and Group Director Sales Area Middle East and Asia. In total, Wilo is supplying more than 300 split-case pumps, helping to secure a sustainable water supply for the region.

"With this project, the state is aiming to contribute to food security, increase exports, help agriculture thrive and create thousands of jobs. Our team has done an outstanding job at the highest level to ensure that this massive task can be accomplished."

Yasser Nagi, Managing Director Wilo Middle East & Egypt / Group Director Sales Area Middle East and North Africa

Logistical and climate challenges

In addition to the intense heat with temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius, the desert sand also presents a real challenge to the project’s implementation. This is because many of the machines used are sensitive: the engines may overheat or block when sand gets into the gearbox. Engineers therefore developed particularly robust solutions that can also withstand extreme environmental conditions. In addition, the pump stations in the individual project sections must be sandstorm- and earthquake-proof to ensure long-term functionality.

Neighbourly criticism

For decades, the ten countries bordering the Nile Basin have been engaged in controversial, sometimes heated debates about the use of the Nile’s waters. It is not surprising that one of the driest regions in the world argues over every drop of water. North Africa and the Middle East are home to more than six per cent of the world’s population, yet natural sources there contain less than two per cent of the earth’s renewable freshwater. Many of Egypt’s neighbours therefore view the project with concern. Nevertheless, with an annual rainfall of 1 billion m³, 7.5 billion m³ of groundwater and 5 billion m³ of recycled agricultural drainage water, the Egyptian government is optimistic that it can implement the project without increasing the country’s quota of Nile water.

‘The Toshka project is a contribution to securing the food and water supply in Egypt. We want to support the country in becoming less dependent on grain imports and help secure the livelihoods of many millions of people.’

Oliver Hermes, President & CEO of the Wilo Group

Harvest in Toshka: first crops bear fruit

In April 2022, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited the Toshka region to mark the start of the harvest season. At the same time, he inspected the status of construction work on the project. Four construction phases have already been completed, and others are being developed as part of the long-term partnership between Wilo and the Egyptian state. Here, the focus is on targeted measures to secure the food and water supply. Wilo is committed to a responsible and sustainable use of resources, especially water. ‘The Toshka project is a contribution to securing the food and water supply in Egypt. We want to support the country in becoming less dependent on grain imports and help secure the livelihoods of many millions of people,’ explains Oliver Hermes, President & CEO of the Wilo Group.

Conclusion

‘Egypt Vision 2030’: sustainable development for Egypt

Egypt has been working on a project to irrigate the desert and relieve urban centres since back in the mid-1990s. The Toshka project, as it is known, plays a crucial role in the implementation of the ‘Egypt Vision 2030’ strategy. The aim is to increase the country’s arable area to 25 per cent. Since global political crises and the challenges of climate change are increasingly complicating the food and water supply in North Africa, this project aims at long-term independence from grain imports. Moreover, despite critical voices from neighbouring countries, Cairo is confident that this project can be implemented with the available water resources. The first yields are already visible: in April 2022, the harvest season started in Toshka as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi looked on. In cooperation with the Egyptian government, Wilo is providing solutions to support the expansion of the project and ‘Egypt Vision 2030’.