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Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Climate change is having a visible effect on Egyptian agriculture

How climate change is hitting agriculture in Egypt: The Mediterranean and North Africa region is among the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change, with summer temperatures rising, rainfall dwindling, and extreme temperatures becoming more pronounced, this year’s landmark climate report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found. Last month, we broadly explored how vulnerable Egypt is — by virtue of its geography, climate and dependence on agriculture — to these changes in our climate. Today, we look at examples of how this is being observed on the ground: namely our mango and olive crops, which took a beating this year.

Sounding the alarm: Productivity on olive groves and mango farms has seen a significant decrease in the first half of 2021, according to multiple sources who spoke to Enterprise. And while the full scale of the damage is still being tallied, all farmers and climatologists we spoke with tell us that this year has been among the worst they’ve observed in decades.

Olive production fell by around 60-80% during this year’s harvest season, head of the agrometeorological department at the Central Laboratory for Agriculture Climate Shaker Abou El Maaty told Enterprise. With local olive crop yield in 2020 standing at 497k tonnes in the 2019-2020 year, this year’s yield is between around 100-200k tonnes so far. Egypt’s 2020-2021 yield was forecast last year to come in at 690k tonnes.

This is particularly significant given Egypt’s leading position in the global olive market: Industry figures show that Egypt was the largest exporter of table olives in the world in the 2019-2020 season, producing almost a quarter of the global total.

It’s not just us that are decrying falling olive production: Major exporters such as Italy and Greece as well as Portugal, Morocco, and Tunisia all experienced significant drops in olive production this year.

So, what happened to the olives in Egypt? Olives succumb easily to climatic fluctuations and Egypt’s weather this year was very prone to sudden shifts, Mohamed Fahim, head of the Central Lab for Agriculture Climate, explained to Enterprise. Olive crops are greatly affected by warm winters and the warm khamaseen winds, both of which took place this year. He explains that the winter season this year was unusually warm and began in the middle of February — which otherwise is the time when Egypt’s rainy season begins to prepare for the spring. “Olives need the temperature to drop to 10°C for a certain number of hours throughout the winter in order for the tree to be ready for the next growing season,” he said.

Our favorite kunafa topping is also in trouble: Mango production fell 20-25% in this year’s harvest, a source at the Agriculture Ministry tells us. Enterprise spoke with local farmers to judge the impact on the mango crops. For Mohamed Adam, a mango farm owner and wholesaler in Ismailia governorate, his crop saw only one or two trees bear mangos this year, meaning his production was almost zero. Abdel Hafez Al Ahmadi, another owner of an Ismailia mango farm, told Enterprise that he estimates that weather-related factors contributed to a 40% decrease in production compared to last year.

Mango crops succumbed to high temperatures in an unprecedented way, with Adam attributing the fall in his production to the heatwave that hit Egypt in Ramadan, he told us. Meanwhile, Al Ahmadi relates it back to a more long-term inconsistency in weather, particularly during February and March of this year. The fluctuations did not help the pollination process of mangoes and led to "embryo death" in many cases, he added. Heading into the end of the season, it’s evident that quantity will remain down, Al Ahmadi said.

A look at the numbers: Average mango production last agricultural year amounted to 5 tonnes per feddan, our source at the ministry told us. Production data will be released when the season ends in mid-October, but by his estimated percentage we calculate that they should be around 3.75-4 tonnes per feddan. Egypt's agricultural exports amounted to around 4 mn tonnes in the period between January 2021 to June 29, 2021, with mangos contributing the least of all agricultural products with a total of 768 tonnes, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

Egypt’s climate changes are apparent: The summer of 2021 is the hottest in five years, with temperatures recording 3-4°C above normal rates, a study published last August by the Egyptian Meteorological Authority said. This has been a long time in the making, with Abou El Maaty explaining that Egypt’s climate changed in the past 20 years by 1.5-2°C, which caused an increase in temperatures from an average of 28°C at the end of the 1970s to 45°C now.

Major swings in weather are a major part of Egypt’s climate change crisis and could lead to an irreversible change in the environment, Fahim warns. “Egypt's geographical location and the fragility of the country's climate exacerbate the impact of slight changes in weather conditions,” he says. Fahim’s lab monitored the change in the climate between 2006 and 2018, finding that “summer” now extends to most of the year. As a result of this change, agricultural crops that are not accustomed to the new year-long climate are wilting away. Olives and mangoes are two of the most susceptible crops to weather changes and their impact this year is a warning that Egypt should take seriously.

Your top climate stories for the week:

  • A joint ministerial climate agreement: Egypt will embark on a climate change project in Greater Cairo as per a ministerial agreement between the health, development and transport ministries.
  • Possible climate agreement with the World Bank: Officials from the international cooperation and environment ministries discussed with World Bank representatives ways to cooperate on developing new policies to combat climate change.
  • Five new factories for recycling: E-Tadweer could establish five new factories for recycling.

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