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International Programs News & Views Volume 1

March 1997



Egypt's agricultural land resource consists of approximately 700 miles in the Nile River Valley between Aswan and Cairo, as well as the Nile Delta between Cairo and the Mediterranean Sea.  This agricultural area consists of about 6 million acres which can no longer produce the food and fiber for Egypt's increasing population.  Currently, about 50 percent of the food required by Egypt is imported.  Agriculture depends on irrigation water and utilizes most of the available water supply with about 95 percent of their total water being supplied from the Nile River.  It has become imperative to understand the behavior of the Nile in order to be able to better manage and exploit this limited resource.  The agricultural area of the Nile does not have adequate rainfall  for agricultural purposes.


Since 1983, NRCS has continued to work with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide assistance with on-farm water management, planning water resource projects, operating and maintaining irrigation systems, and related subjects.  This assistance was provided through the technical and managerial leadership of two NRCS engineers, William J. Carmack and Charles Houston, serving on resident assignments over this 13-year period.  USAID played an active role in supporting these efforts most notably in implementing the Irrigation Management System (IMS) Project.  

The IMS Project is an integral and comprehensive program of the Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources consisting of a number of irrigation and water resource components. The NRCS portion of the IMS Project was completed when management of  water in the canal systems was established. In the final months of the project, the concept of water-users associations was partially implemented and will be fully addressed in follow-up activities.

Conservation at Work

With the assistance of NRCS engineers, USAID has installed a telemetry system composed of two subsystems, a meteor burst data collection system, and a voice - data communication system.  Both of these systems automatically collect water-level data and record and display this data at local Directorate offices as well as the Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources Headquarters office.  

The benefits from the telemetry system include:  efficiency through timely overall distribution of water throughout the irrigation delivery system; increased agricultural production through the redistribution of water from water excess areas to water short areas; water savings through a more reliable source of water resulting in efficient and effective irrigation of privately owned land; improved planning through the use of consistent and accurate elevation and flow-rate data; and improved communication between headquarters, irrigation directorates, inspectors, district offices, field engineers, and gate tenders.  

NRCS engineers have also contributed to the rehabilitation of existing structures throughout the Nile irrigation system.  These structures have allowed the managers to control water flow easily, thereby increasing the efficiency of the overall delivery system.  Engineers from NRCS have been instrumental in establishing water users associations in Egypt.  These associations have worked closely with the local farm communities to install pipelines, alfalfa valves and small water control structures where farmers can now easily irrigate their fields by simply opening a valve or changing the water flow in an on-farm irrigation structure.  They are also working with farmers on irrigation scheduling to help minimize conflicts over irrigation water timing and use.  These initial associations have proven beneficial, and it is anticipated that water-users groups will be established over much of the irrigated lands along the Nile River.

It is essential to establish a culture that encourages participation in these associations.  Extensive efforts have been made to involve the many diverse users in initiatives and implementation plans.

Commitment to Conservation

The Government of Egypt (GOE) is aware of the challenges it faces in improving irrigated agriculture and utilizing its water effectively.  Irrigation water can now be managed more effectively and efficiently in the canal because water control structures have been installed to control water flow, and monitoring stations have been established throughout the system to gather elevation data to determine flow rates.  With proper water management, farmers can receive a reliable supply of water to irrigate their crops. 

As a result, they have developed and will continue to develop programs to deal with irrigation and water management issues.  NRCS resident engineers have helped Egypt during the initial stages of the Nile River Irrigation Rehabilitation Project.  With the accomplishment of main objective of this project, short-term assignments for the agency's employees will be the key to NRCS's contribution to improving irrigated agriculture in Egypt.  Our participation is just a small portion of the total picture, but a very important part for the long-term future of the people and the communities in Egypt. To maximize the possibility of success, there should be a constant flow of new ideas and revisions of basic concepts in the field. 

Joint ventures between the Government of Egypt (GOE) and the local people should be undertaken--neither can do the job alone.  The end to our involvement in the IMS Project does not represent the end of continuing cooperation and activities with our Egyptian counterparts.  NRCS will pursue follow-up activities related to natural resource management activities in Egypt. 

Authors:  Richard Van Klaveren (retired), Director, Conservation Engineering Division and Patricia B. Washington (retired), Technology Management Specialist, Conservation Engineering Division

Editor:  Gail C. Roane (retired), International Programs Division