Groundwater Nourishing Life by Dr Irfan Peerzada and published by Greater Kashmir applies to all areas of the planet, particularly to those regions that are at the forefront of the sweeping global warming.
It should be noted that this threat has been taking on an alarming dimension for several years. Risks and vulnerability analyses of the Climate Change effects on the MENA region were carried out on behalf of certain authorities in charge of the environment. Most came up with findings on the fragile sectors of agriculture and water resources and established maps from local and international data such as the “drought severity” map based on the World Resources Institute.
These analyses of risks and vulnerability to climate change developed by these experts for several years also indicated that climate change will cause the MENA region generally a rise in temperatures, a decrease in total rainfall but also a greater instability of the distribution of precipitation during the year. It will lead to a degradation of the vegetation cover and soils resulting in greater erosion and acceleration of desertification.
In the above-featured image “Groundwater is also critically important to the healthy functioning of ecosystems, such as wetlands and rivers. “Flickr [Creative Commons]
Reliance on groundwater for food production continues to increase globally
Groundwater is invisible, but its impact is visible everywhere. Out of sight, under our feet, groundwater is a hidden treasure that supports our lives.
Almost all the liquid fresh water in the world is groundwater. Life would not be possible without groundwater. Most arid areas of the world depend entirely on this resource.
Groundwater supplies a large proportion of the water we use for food production and industrial processes. Groundwater is also critically important to the healthy functioning of ecosystems, such as wetlands and rivers.
Groundwater: The invisible ingredient in food
Population growth, rapid urbanisation, and economic development are just some of the factors driving increased demand for water, energy and food. Agriculture is the largest consumer of the world’s freshwater resources. Feeding a global population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050 will require a 50 per cent increase in food production.
Today, approximately 70% of global groundwater withdrawals are used in the agricultural sector, for the production of food, livestock and industrial crops. Reliance on groundwater for food production continues to increase globally, resulting in more use for irrigated agriculture, livestock and related industrial processes.
Indeed, about 30 per cent of all the water used for irrigation is groundwater, with regions heavily reliant on groundwater for irrigation such as North America and South Asia.
Groundwater has already lifted millions of people out of poverty and significantly improved food security, especially in India and East Asia, since technologies for drilling and energy sources for pumping were made widely available for rural farmers in the latter half of the 20th century.
Groundwater: a finite resource
Groundwater is being over-used in many areas of the world, where more water is abstracted from aquifers than is naturally recharged by rain and snow.
Continuous groundwater over-use can lead to depletion of this resource, compromising significant groundwater-dependent ecosystems and threatening to undermine basic water supply, agricultural production, climate resilience and food security.
Avoiding the problems of groundwater depletion requires increased management and governance capacity at multiple integrated levels and in inter-sectoral approaches. Reducing food waste can also play an important role in lowering water consumption.
Groundwater is polluted in many areas and remediation is often a long and difficult process. This increases the costs of processing groundwater, and sometimes even prevents its use.
The use of chemical and organic fertilizers in agriculture is a serious threat to groundwater quality. For example, nitrate is the most common contaminant of groundwater resources worldwide. Other diffuse contaminants of concern to groundwater from irrigated agriculture include pesticides and antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.
Laws and regulations need to be enforced at all levels to prevent or limit diffuse groundwater pollution from agriculture, to preserve ecosystems and human health.
What can we do about groundwater?
Groundwater has always been critically important but not fully recognized. We must protect groundwater from pollution and use it sustainably, balancing the needs of people and the planet. Groundwaters’ vital role in agriculture, industry, ecosystems and climate change adaptation must be reflected in sustainable development policymaking.
In some areas of the world, we do not even know how much groundwater lies beneath our feet, which means we could be failing to harness a potentially vital water resource.
Sustainable groundwater use requires continuous monitoring of water consumption, particularly in irrigation systems serviced from non-renewable aquifers.
Satellite technologies offer cost-effective opportunities for estimating groundwater consumption and abstraction levels by measuring actual evapotranspiration in near-real time, over large areas.
Dr Irfan Peerzada, Department of Agriculture, District Bandipora
The top featured image of Reuters is not only for illustration but meant to draw some attention to one of the most important cause of this traumatic situation of Egypt as well as that of many countries in the MENA region. Russia-Ukraine crisis poses a serious threat to Egypt, that with an over-population still on the rise, has a limited but diminishing arable lands area. Building on farmland coupled a certain lack of control of all real estate developments bear on the lower social classes; those supposed to be at the forefront of food production.
Russia-Ukraine crisis poses a serious threat to Egypt – the world’s largest wheat importer
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could create a global food security crisis. It is disrupting agricultural production and trade from one of the world’s major exporting regions. This threatens to drive rising food prices still higher and create scarcity, especially for regions most dependent on exports from Russia and Ukraine.
Particularly affected is the Middle East and North Africa – or MENA – region. These Arab countries consume the highest wheat per capita, about 128 kg of wheat per capita, which is twice the world average. More than half of this comes from Russia and Ukraine.
As agricultural and food security experts, we have explored the impacts of the war on the wheat market, focusing on Egypt.
Wheat is a key food item for Egypt, representing between 35% and 39% of caloric intake per person in the last few years. And wheat imports usually account for about 62% of total wheat use in the country.
Despite the government’s efforts following the global food crisis in 2007 to 2008 to diversify sources of cereal imports, the vast majority of cereal imports, between 57% and 60%, come from Russia and Ukraine.
A number of key policy actions are needed that will reduce dependence on Russia and Ukraine in the short term. This will help Egypt’s agriculture and food system to become fairer and more resilient – an absolute necessity in the context of looming threats from climate change, water scarcity and conflict.
Black Sea import disruptions
Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat. It imports a total of 12 to 13 million tons every year. With a population of 105 million, growing at a rate of 1.9% a year, Egypt has become increasingly dependent on imports to meet food needs.
Imports of cereal crops have been steadily increasing over the last three decades at a rate higher than that of domestic production.
Egypt’s wheat market and trade regime is largely controlled by government agencies. The General Authority for Supply Commodities, operating under the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade, usually handles about half of the total wheat imported, while private trading companies handle the other half.
Government agencies are already feeling the impact of the war, which has led to recent cancellation of tenders due to lack of offers, in particular from Ukraine and Russia.
Still, there is no fear of shortage in the coming weeks. In early February, Egyptian MoSit Minister Aly Moselhy said that the country held sufficient inventory to cover five months of consumption. But the outlook beyond that is less clear.
With the abrupt closure of Ukraine ports and current maritime trade in the Black Sea – wheat is transported across the Black Sea – Egypt will have to find new suppliers if Ukraine is unable to export wheat this year and if sanctions against Russia impede food trade indirectly.
Such opportunities are, unfortunately for Egypt, limited.
Currently, wheat producers in South America – Argentina in particular – have larger than usual surpluses from the last harvest available to export. Overall, however, it will be difficult to expand the global wheat supply in the short run. About 95% of the wheat produced in the European Union and about 85% of that in the United States is planted in the fall, leaving those regions little room for expanding production in the near term.
In addition, wheat competes with crops such as maize, soybeans, rapeseed, and cotton, all of which are also seeing record high prices. In combination with record-high fertiliser prices (also exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict), farmers in some regions may favour less fertiliser-intensive crops, such as soybeans.
About 20% of world wheat exports come from the Southern Hemisphere (primarily Argentina and Australia) which typically ship from December through March.
In addition, Canada and Kazakhstan are large producers that harvest in the fall. Over the coming year and beyond, their exports may be able to make up much of the deficit created by the loss from Ukraine production, but at a higher cost due to longer shipping routes and increased transportation costs triggered by higher oil prices.
Rising global wheat prices hit a 10-year high at US$523 per ton on March 7. This is a serious problem for the Egyptian government’s budget and a potential threat to consumer purchasing power.
Even just before the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, prices of commodities in Egypt were increasing. The war has started adding further pressure and consumers are feeling these impacts.
Some countries have already imposed export restrictions in response to rising prices. These trends, coupled with disruptions in Russia’s and Ukraine’s exports, will likely add further upward pressures on prices going forward. Even under the most optimistic assumptions, global wheat prices will remain high throughout 2022 and the trend is likely to persist through 2023, given limits on expanding production.
The Egyptian government has been spending about US$3 billion annually for wheat imports. The recent price increase could nearly double that to US$5.7 billion. This, in turn, threatens Egypt’s Baladi bread subsidy program. This program provides millions of people with 150 loaves of subsidised bread per month. About 90% of the production cost is borne by the government at an annual cost of US$3.24 billion. The program requires about 9 million tons of wheat annually about half of the total wheat consumption in Egypt and three-quarters of Egypt’s wheat imports.
In the short term, Egypt needs to diversify its food import sources.
The government is actively exploring this option, while also increasing planned procurement from domestic sources by 38% over last year’s figure. The government has just announced a new and relatively higher buying price for domestic wheat from farmers.
In addition, the government has decided to ban exports of staple foods, including wheat, for three months to limit pressure on existing reserves.
In the long term, Egypt needs to explore options for reducing the gap between domestic supply and demand. Here are some of its options.
Boosting domestic wheat production will be challenging, as Egyptian farmers are already achieving high yields, relying on high input and water use. While there are some opportunities to expand arable land, modernise farming systems and improve water management practices, the country’s principal focus should be to adapt the farming system to address imminent water shortages and climate change threats and increase resilience, rather than unsustainably expanding production.
Reducing the high consumption and waste of bread has significant potential. Egyptians on average consume about 145 kg of wheat per capita annually – double the global average.
Improve the efficiency and targeting of the Tamween food subsidy program. This provides beneficiaries with ration cards for various foods. The program absorbs a large share of imported wheat and vegetable oils. Reforming it could reduce inefficiencies in the wheat sector and the cost of running the program.
In conclusion, the Russia-Ukraine war poses a big challenge to global food security and particularly difficult obstacles for Egypt. The short-term and long-term impacts will of course depend on how the war unfolds and affects exports from Russia and Ukraine over the coming months and years. Impacts on Egypt will also depend on other countries’ responses to global price hikes and cereal shortages.
Egypt can mitigate some of these impacts with short-term actions as outlined above, but major global shocks like the Russia-Ukraine war are also reminders of the need of longer-term reforms and solutions.
The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It just decided that in ALGERIA: Djorf Ettorba Dam should be proposed for Ramsar wetlands list.
ALGERIA: Djorf Ettorba Dam proposed for Ramsar wetlands list
In Bechar, a wilaya (region) located in southwest Algeria, the authorities in charge of forests want to register the site of the dam Djorf Ettorba, on the list of wetlands of international importance (Ramsar site). This need was formulated on January 31st, 2022, two days before the 2022 edition of the World Wetlands Day.
On January 31st, 2022 in Bechar, a wilaya (region) located in south-western Algeria, technical executives of the Forestry Conservation issued an appeal to the Ramsar Committee. They request the inclusion of the site of the dam Djorf Ettorba (60 km south-west of the wilaya) in the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance. Framed since February 2, 1971 by the Ramsar Convention, a Ramsar site confers a status that aims to stop the degradation or disappearance of a wetland, recognizing its ecological function and its economic, cultural, scientific and recreational value.
Built between 1965 and 1968 and commissioned in 1973, the dam Djorf Ettorba, 37 meters high, is the fourth largest dam in Algeria, forming a reservoir with a capacity of 365 million m3. It is therefore an artificial wetland, with a vegetation of about 4,000 hectares, consisting of various plant species, including Tamarix. According to a study conducted by the authority of Bechar forests, there are nearly 43 species of birds and rare animals including the golden jackal, the fennec, the desert monitor, the fox starved, the desert gerbil, the whip tail (a saurian), the Goundi Atlas, in addition to marine mammals such as the rare common otter, the aquatic turtle and several other species of freshwater fish.
The reasons for the call to classification
Local officials of the conservation of forests, consider necessary the classification of the dam Djorf Ettorba as a wetland, given its geographical location in a semi-desert region, known as the transit area for migratory birds that uses the west coast of Africa through the Strait of Gibraltar.
This call is made on the eve of World Wetlands Day, celebrated every February 2 of the year, to commemorate the signing of the Convention on Wetlands. But the celebration comes in a critical context. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), wetlands are among the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. About 85% of the wetlands present in 1700 were lost in 2000. Many of them have been drained to make way for development, agriculture or other uses.
FOOD SECURITY‘s article on this new trend is merely a description of the rediscovery of oneself’s subsistence way of living one’s life in the large but empty regions of the MENA. It addresses the particulars of how the Lebanese grassroots food security initiative fosters Agricultural self-sufficiency as if by chance. Here it is anyway.
“The idea back then was to create a mechanism that would link local production to the markets,” Nicolas Gholam, founding coordinator of Ardi Ardak, tells Food Tank. Working with rural, small-scale producers under an agroecological, climate-smart approach is central to Ardi Ardak’s mission, explains Gholam.
The food security initiative formed as “a response to the deteriorating socioeconomic situation in Lebanon,” says Gholam.
In October 2019, protests ignited against government corruption and austerity measures. Prior to the 17 October Revolution, Lebanon faced a massive economic downturn. By the end of 2019, Lebanon’s public debt ballooned to the world’s third highest, estimated at 171 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2020, with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy worsened. During the first six months of 2021, the inflation rate averaged 131 percent, disproportionately affecting the poor and middle class.
According to a recent report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the U.N. Economic and Social Commission For Western Asia (ESCWA), the loss of purchasing power renders 40 percent of Lebanese households unable to satisfy their basic food necessities.
In 2020, the explosion in Beirut’s port—which handled 70 percent of food imports in a country importing about 85 percent of its food—devastated Lebanon’s food supply. The blast destroyed a major grain silo and damaged 120,000 metric tons of staple food stocks stored at the port, including wheat, soy and other beans. Food prices skyrocketed.
Ardi Ardak emerged in response to these events. The initiative links investors and large landowners with small farmers and rural women, and rehabilitates abandoned arable lands. Almost 89 percent of Lebanon’s population lives in urban areas, while agricultural land comprises 64 percent of the country. According to Gholam, “Those people who came from rural areas still have lands they were not looking after.”
According to a 2020 report from the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture, the agrifood sector remains a low priority from the government. This has resulted in limited public investment in infrastructure and research, and poor organization of the agrifood value chain.
To address these challenges, Ardi Ardak first conducts assessments on the agricultural viability of abandoned lands. The initiative aims to act as a hub connecting large landowners who have left their lands—whether they are “bankers, or restaurateurs, or anything,” says Gholam—with farmers still living in rural areas. Then, the initiative provides technical guidance to promote sustainable agricultural practices for farmers willing to work the land.
“In the first year, we reached 180 assessments, and it’s been steady ever since,” Gholam tells Food Tank.
Ardi Ardak believes it is also important to provide market access and adequate infrastructure for rural small-scale producers. The initiative aims to ease the burden of managing every single aspect of the value chain for smallholder farmers, because, Gholam says, “not all smallholders are entrepreneurs.” Through partnerships with humanitarian organizations and private sector start-ups, the initiative works to create an environment where farmers can focus on production.
Gholam notes that, on average, rural small-scale producers spend two and a half days per week focused on delivery or selling activities. “This time should be spent in the workshop, or on the farm, or testing products,” Gholam says.
The marketing channel Soul aal Souk helps to achieve this goal. A monthly farmers market established in partnership with AUB, it fosters linkages between urban residents and rural producers, offering city residents access to healthy, traditional food. Ardi Ardak supports food trails promoting smallholder Lebanese producers through rural tourism. To further cultivate market access, Ardi Ardak also collaborates with Food and Roots, a company that gathers, packages and sells traditional and innovative products from rural areas.
In the future, the grassroots initiative hopes to complete two projects to transform landscapes, livelihoods, and the Lebanese food system. Ardi Ardak is partnering with a local municipality in the Beqaa Valley to implement an agroforestry model on a large swath of land. They hope to help residents sustain the local forest, work the agricultural land, and enjoy a public park. In Tripoli, Afif Wehbe, an Agricultural Engineer at AUB, says Ardi Ardak is in the early stages of plans to build a small urban garden divided among community members, which would include a section for a farmers market.
“We have potential, but we need the infrastructure,” Gholam tells Food Tank. “We’ll start by giving people an option they did not know existed beforehand, and that’s a good enough thing to start with.”
WESTBURY, New York — The High Atlas Foundation is helping Morocco’s local communities determine how they choose to develop their land and grow out of poverty sustainably. Like those in the northern Atlas Mountains, Morocco’s most vulnerable communities have long suffered from water scarcity, shaky access to land and unregulated grazing rights. These hardships make it difficult for many individual planters to harvest profitable yields on their produce and further strain their labors. Also, their reliance on traditional and overplanted crops like barley, corn and dates deliver low profits. Additionally, they exasperate a low diversity of fruits and vegetables in the poorest of the nation’s regions. While Morocco’s red fruit production saw an increase of 84% last year, many of the nation’s poorest farmers were not included in the agricultural boom. Yet, one organization is working to reverse this in a new sustainable development model, improving agricultural development in Morocco.
The High Atlas Foundation
Peace Corps volunteers who served in Morocco founded The High Atlas Foundation in 2000. They committed themselves to sustainable development through several human development initiatives. These included sustainable agriculture, education, health and women’s empowerment. Working with local and international institutions, the High Atlas Foundation works to facilitate development through participatory planning.
The Borgen Project spoke with Dr. Yossef Ben Meir, The High Atlas Foundation’s Founder and President, in an interview to learn more about the High Atlas Foundation’s approach to sustainable development and advocacy. “I’m a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Morocco in the early 90s, and others, having gone through that two-year experience, were moved in terms of the severe life challenges of particularly rural communities,” said Dr. Yossef Ben Meir. “A number of us founders served in mountainous areas. I served in the south side of the High Atlas region.”
Agricultural Land Struggles
Unfortunately, 70% of agricultural land only generates 10 to 15% of agricultural revenue in rural regions, and 80% of arable lands are located in arid or semi-arid areas. Still, only 15 percent of the country’s lands are irrigated. Ben Meir says the dependence on the traditional subsistence approach to growing barley and corn keeps people down. He says the potential for waterborne diseases, high unemployment and a lack of access to basic government services is a barrier for rural families. The transition from barley and corn to more lucrative fruit trees and medicinal plants may have challenges.
“80% of rural incomes comes from agriculture,” said Ben Meir. “Most people who experience poverty in Morocco are in rural places and overcoming this dependency on or generational reliance on barley and corn. It’s one of many factors that have to be addressed in the agricultural value chain, but one of them is the generation of fruit trees so that farmers and farming families can make that transition.”
Most recently, the foundation is taking several steps to foster deals to reallocate government land and organize a community-based approach to fruit tree planting, aiding agricultural development in Morocco. Today Ben Meir and his teams help manage 13 tree nurseries that care for over 1.6 million saplings. He says a modest investment into the way planters harvest their crops can profoundly impact people’s lives. It allows more locals to better participate in the local economy.
“It’s also the exposure that we had to community planning,” said Ben Meir. “The beneficiaries of the projects when they determine the project design and form and location and what it is and how it will be managed and evaluated when they’re in control of it, it has a longer life and sustainability if you will.”
Ben Meir says these experiences embody the foundation’s original mission to facilitate participatory community planning towards development initiatives. In this sense, local communities play a crucial role when creating and implementing a project. The foundation uses a process called Imagine, a four-day or 32-hour program of personal and group introspection. Afterward, multiple sessions focus on the community planning of projects. They then implement development initiatives requiring accelerating revenue streams and beneficiaries. For example, the monitoring and certifying of trees to generate carbon offset credits. They can commercialize and reinvest in their projects. Teams like these allow the foundation to generate enough revenue to be financially stable alongside other advocacy efforts.
The High Atlas Foundation understands the importance of creating sustainability projects. For instance, technology like renewable solar pumps helps power the 13 nurseries, facilitating a zero-waste version of sustainability. Ben Meir says the foundation takes zero waste extremely seriously, not only in terms of energy but also in biomass. For example, something as simple as renewing wasted walnut shells could further progress the foundation’s goal.
Recently The High Atlas Foundation implemented the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Program in Morocco. The program helps create opportunities for cooperatives along the agricultural value-chain by using local and U.S. experts, improving agricultural development in Morocco. Additionally, it created the Religious and Ethnic Communities project, an interfaith community organization that shares stories and narratives that capture the human experience of intercultural exchange and interfaith relationships. Ben Meir says these experiences are an inescapable aspect of Moroccan history and life. Alongside their development projects, they can pave the way for interfaith and intercultural narratives to flourish like their trees.
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Earth has been used as a building material for at least the last 12,000 years. Ethnographic research into earth being used as an element of Aboriginal architecture in Australia suggests its use probably goes back much further.
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