Impacts of off seasonal farming
The world food supply as of this year is currently trying to support just over 7 billion people. However, the number of humans is estimated at current projections for 2050 to reach up to 10.5 billion people. Although the food production has reached a vast 3 billion tons of food a year, enough to feed each and every person across the world, it is estimated that approximately 30% of this food produce is completely wasted, which equates to nearly 1.3 billion tons a year of food gone. Primarily, consumers in rich nations are the ones found to waste a combined 222 million tons a year, measuring to as much as all the food produced in sub-Saharan Africa alone. These damning facts do however bring much needed attention to a larger, unfailing habit of our modernized world, and that is the idea of excess. As seen in many developed modernized nations across the world, it is a belief that just having seasonal produce, whether potatoes to green beans, sold in its usual growth season is not satisfactory, but rather have seasonal crops and vegetables to be produced every season of the year even if the consumer demand is not high. It is vital for consumers in these developed nations to have access to any type of produce at any time of the year. Now more than ever, there is mounting pressure on the job of many developing nations to support the growing demand of seasonal food products and many have to adapt to environmental limitations to ensure that their produce meets the growing global demand of off seasonal produce.
Many developing nations, of which act as the basis for crop production for the food superhighway, have had to find more and more sustainable farming methods over the past several years to just keep up with this global demand in farm produce. However, increasing food production by 70% in the next 40 years may prove harder than it was to raise them by 150% in the previous 40 years. The main reason in many views stem from problems with yields. The global growth in yields has been slowing down, from about 3% a year for staple crops in the 1960s to around 1% now. However, there have been some developing nations which have resorted to the most sophisticated of methods to not only keep up with the global demand, but also remain locally and globally competitive at the same time. One example is that of Egypt, producing one of the thirstiest of crops grown in its arid deserts, and that is potatoes.
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There has been a big aspiration for just this one vegetable, and the government of Egypt even hopes to increase potato production in the country by 60% over the next 10 years, planning to increase both consumption and export sales, which will feed the country’s hungry citizens and ravenous global economy. Even before the recent UN attention for widespread hunger in its country, the vegetable had been moving into a spot of importance in Egypt over the last 20 years and especially the last five. Today, potatoes are the country’s number one vegetable export. Egypt ranks among the top potato exporters globally and is number one in Africa. However, one must remember that Egypt is one of the most arid countries in Africa and is still able to maintain the position of one of the highest exporters of potatoes, let alone produce, in Africa. Since Egypt is largely a desert and relies primarily on irrigated agriculture, precipitation over the country itself matters very little and this can be seen in the graph.
This graph above outlines the environmental changes over the course of 2011 in Egypt and it also emphasizes to a large extent of the suitable conditions for growing produce which Egypt lacks. With one of the lowest precipitation levels in Africa, it is truly a technological marvel that has allowed Egypt to overcome its high temperatures and scarcely low annual precipitation levels to become one of the largest producers of potatoes in Africa. With precipitation levels reaching an average of just 1 inch (26 mm) per year, it also supports why Egypt is only composed of 2.7% of arable land relative to its total area. With such inconvenient environmental factors coming to play particularly in commercial farming of potatoes in Egypt, one has to dispute whether Egypt is making an economically valid decision to invest in agricultural farming. Are the strenuous constant inputs to just keep this farming scheme afloat actually worth it in the long term? This has is a topic likely to be heavily debated in the near future as Egypt’s water levels are reaching a dangerously low levels. It can’t be disputed however that for the meantime, Egypt has been successful in its attempt to maximize its resources to meet such global demands for seasonal produce.
Egypt alone has established one of the biggest trade deals in exports of potatoes to the UK market. Annually, there is production of over 400,000 tons of potatoes in Egypt for the UK market. The potato is not native to Egypt, so it is effectively being grown in an unfamiliar climate, namely the Sahara desert, using seed potatoes imported from Scotland. Although Egypt has been able to sustain such high productions of potatoes, the level of maintenance to support its thirsty crops such as potatoes in average temperatures of 45C seems quite ludicrous. Just to produce one kilo of potatoes, it takes 500 liters for them to grow. Despite such little precipitation and decreasing water levels in the Nile River, Egypt have been able to take advantage of one of their most important natural resources to adapt to such restrictions. They have sunk boreholes 350 meters down into subterranean aquifers, known as the Nubian Sandstone Aquifers, and they are pumping this water through an overhead irrigation system. The desert sands which span across Egypt carry no nutrients in its dry sands to grow potatoes, so fertilizers must be mixed with the water and rained on the potatoes about 18 hours a day in order that they may infiltrate through the ground and be absorbed by the growing tubers.
Egypt in fact has been fortunate to take advantage of one of the largest aquifers in the world located in Western Africa. The Nubian Sandstone Aquifer as seen above, where Egyptian farmers extract the water particularly for growing the potatoes, is the largest fossil water aquifer system in the world. The aquifer contains more than 5 million cubic feet of groundwater, a vital water source for the region, especially for the agriculture sector and for large development projects in Libya and Egypt. Despite its size, it has an incredibly low recharge rates and with decreased rainfall this year, now at a projected 0.8 inches of rainfall, and has placed the sustainability of the aquifer in jeopardy. In fact, large amounts of water are still being withdrawn from the aquifer, causing already 28 naturally flowing springs in the North of Egypt to dry up and it brings significant water shortages to the region. In Egypt alone, water levels in the Nile River have declined by nearly 200 feet because of increased water use, causing increased withdrawals from the Nubian Sandstone aquifer. Not only is this a huge danger for the state of the entire water source of Egypt, it also poses a huge risk to the population of Egypt which already is facing water scarcity.
The most plausible option in my point of view would to actually invest in the agricultural sector in Ethiopia. Though Ethiopia may be near Egypt, an area which experiences high temperatures and low annual precipitation, Ethiopia in fact has one of the highest annual precipitation levels in Western Africa. It experiences more than 1048 mm of rain every year according to the World Bank in 2011. It is a country that is heavily dependent on rainfall for its agricultural farming as seen in the graph above. Although these two factors are quite hard to compare, if one observes the graph, the decreases in rainfall also show decreases in economic growth and vice versa. In Ethiopia, around 75% of the population are dependent on farming, which is almost entirely small-scale and rain-fed. With the right investment to get Ethiopia out of subsistence farming, Ethiopia can be a great location for the production of crops and it can also be sustainable as well. The reason for such decreases in economic growth when compared to rainfall is that poor irrigation and low-tech farming methods are inefficient in maximizing profits from farming. Already, Ethiopia is the highest exporter of green beans in Africa, and there is no reason a crop like potatoes could grow relatively efficiently in Ethiopia.
Though the extraction of water from these reserves may pose a general threat to Egypt’s water sources in the near future, these extractions have also posed immediate risks to the general population of Egypt. Over the past 4 years, there have been cases where the solutions used to water the plants which also contain minerals as well as chemicals for the plants growth, have contaminated nearly 25% of the shallow waters used not only for drinking water, but again used for agricultural farming methods. Pollution from nearby sources of wastewater seeps from septic tanks and agricultural waste water has caused parasites to be found in the well water, and later in the bottled water. Another directly linked with the contamination is the shallowness of the wells. A lot of companies have rather shallow wells, between 50 and 300 meters below ground, when pure, healthy water is found much deeper in the aquifers. These wells are porous and allow water to enter in, usually rainfall and dissolved solutions, and this is how the contaminated water has been able to reach the wells. This has already caused 400 deaths in Egypt with over 8,500 people sick over the past 2 years due to the contamination. Now, there is not only just a long term issue to worry about in Egypt; now there are short term impacts which have caused unnecessary deaths across Egypt. This has already caused unruly protests in the capital of Egypt recently, with as many as 600 protestors fighting for some better care in how many of these companies handle the water. With such limited water supplies in Egypt, it is important that the government should handle the water with great care and attention because this is a natural resource that is finite in this area of Africa and it seems as if the Egyptian government is only looking at future economic gain than the impacts of far less water or its communities to even support themselves on.
Regardless of their size or location, water bodies can be depleted if they’re not managed properly. Sadly, this applies even to the largest fossil water aquifer system in the world. However, aquifers like the one located primarily in Egypt does not get much attention outside the small geographical groups that specifically study its groundwater, and very little information is available as to how and when its countries which the aquifer is based in plan to begin exploiting it on a large scale. There is no mention of how much the Egyptian farmers have to pay to this day for the water that is extracted from the aquifers in the Egyptian desert in the farming of potatoes. And since the potatoes are non-perishable and can be stored for an extended period of time, it makes no sense to grow potatoes in such a harsh environment that increasingly puts pressure on the water table. To further put the aquifer in further jeopardy, the NSAS underlies four of the most water challenged countries in the world. Among these four countries are some of the lowest precipitation levels and highest average temperatures across Africa. The International Water Management Institute estimated in 2010 that by 2025, Egypt and Libya will suffer from physical water scarcity where the water used will exceed 60% of its usable supplies, and Chad and Sudan will have severe economic water scarcity. These are some of the dangers that Egypt must come to terms with; whether it is worth the economic gain to use its current 80% of water for its agricultural sector or use the water to ensure that all its citizens are provided with adequate water.