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Egypt to plant wheat in Congo amid water shortage

Amid Egypt’s acute water shortage, Cairo is eyeing the Republic of Congo to plant wheat and other strategic crops to cover the country’s food needs.

Sherif Al-Gabali, head of the parliamentary African Affairs Committee, said on Oct. 17 that Congolese authorities have allocated 20,000 hectares (48,000 feddans) of arable lands for Egypt in the city of Mossendjo to be cultivated with crops such as wheat and rice under a friendship agreement between the two countries.

“Under the deal, Egypt will get 60% of the produced crops, while the remaining 40% will go to Congo,” he said. “The offered lands are very fertile and Congo is a water-rich country and does not have an irrigation problem.”

Ahmed Hamdy Bakr, deputy assistant foreign minister for central African affairs, said agricultural investment in Africa is a national security issue for Egypt. “Investment in the agriculture field in Africa serves Egypt’s efforts to achieve food security,” he added.

Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer. According to the state statistics agency CAPMAS, Egypt consumes up to 21 million tons of wheat annually, around 13 million tons of which are imported.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, however, has largely disrupted Egypt’s wheat supply as 80% of the country’s wheat imports come from the two countries, forcing Cairo to look for alternatives.

Wheat is a water-consuming crop, and its cultivation adds more pressure on Egypt’s already limited water resources.

A nation with a population of around 104 million, Egypt is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. It needs 114 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually, but it receives an average of only 60 bcm — mainly from the Nile River, the country’s only source of freshwater.

The country is engaged in a yearslong dispute with Ethiopia over a mega-dam project being built by Addis Ababa on the Blue Nile, the Nile River’s main tributary, which Cairo views as an existential threat to its water share.

Experts, however, poured cold water on the initiative citing hot weather and lack of experienced farmers as the main obstacles to growing wheat in Congo.

Nader Noureddine, a professor of water resources and land reclamation at Cairo University, said wheat cultivation is generally weak in the whole equatorial region, including the Congo Republic.

“Wheat is cultivated in areas with cold weather like Russia, Canada, the United States and Argentina. In Egypt, wheat is planted in the Nile Delta, while its production in Upper Egypt, where the temperature is high, is poor,” he told Al-Monitor.

Mohamed Nasr al-Din Allam, a former Egyptian irrigation minister, said the lack of experienced farmers might undermine endeavors to grow wheat in the Republic of Congo.

“Wheat is not a strategic crop in most African countries, and its cultivation will need well-trained farmers in order to be able to plant it in such hot weather in Africa,” he told Al-Monitor.

He said Egypt’s water shortages hinder efforts to expand in wheat cultivation for providing food for the country’s growing population.

“The per capita share of water in Egypt ranges around 550 cubic meters per year,” he said. “Egypt has carried out several projects to make use of every drop of water by building plants for water desalination and reuse of agricultural water in order to overcome the water crisis in Egypt.”

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