Adapting to climate change and building resilience in food security in Southern Egypt

Heba and Adel are two of many smallholder farmers in the village of Mansouria in Upper Egypt’s Aswan governorate whose lives have been affected by climate change. Intense heat and strong winds have, in the past, led to substantial decrease in wheat production. Wheat is the region’s staple crop and the cornerstone of many livelihoods, leaving many households vulnerable to food insecurity and loss of income. To help farmers adapt, WFP is implementing a four-year project aimed at improving the capacity of farmers like Heba and Adel to adapt to anticipated reductions in food production from climate change and to build institutional capacity at all levels.

CAIRO, EGYPT - With no more than 1 or to 2 fedans  of agricultural land, Heba and Adel live in a region that has seen livelihoods affected by climate change. "During the last decades, we have been without winter and high temperatures have taken away our wheat”, says Heba. “Especially in the last 5 years, intense heat waves and strong winds have caused the loss of wheat, our main staple crop.” 

Instead of helping seeds to germinate, high temperatures have allowed fungus to propagate and the wheat has died from rust. Lost yields led to low income, and scarcity of supply led to high wheat prices in local markets. As a result daily lives were affected and farmers like Heba and Adel had less income to sustain their food and other household needs like paying for health services and education for their children. “We lost half of our wheat yields.  We did not have any other source of work and food,” she says with a sigh.

Adaptation activities helps build livelihood resilience 

Adel (with the shoulder bag) escorting the project expert and two neighbours in a visit to his wheat field in December 2014. Photo courtesy: Romani Emil

The project “Building Resilient Food Security Systems to Benefit the Southern Egypt Region”, funded by the UNFCCC Adaptation Fund, supports Egypt’s National Adaptation Strategy which aims to help the country adapt to climate change in sectors including coastal zone management, water resources, agriculture, tourism, health, population, housing and roads.

“Due to the unexpected extreme weather events such as heat waves, we lost half of our wheat yields.  We did not have any other source of work and food.”
During the 2013-2014 winter season, a new heat-tolerant wheat variety was introduced and raised-bed cultivation was adopted in the fields of XXX community. Technical assistance was provided to help farmers change their cultivation dates as well as their irrigation and fertilization schedules. This resulted in a 35 percent increase in productivity as well as 25 percent reduction in costs. Benefitting from the results achieved in the 2013-2014 winter season, farmers in Aswan requested the project to continue work with them in the upcoming summer season.  They also expressed a strong willingness to revert to sorghum – a crop previously shunned by farmers due to its association with poverty. The new variety was introduced in the 2014 summer season. 

Sorghum harvest day – Mansouria, Aswan September 2014. Photo courtesy: Romani Emil

“We know better when to wait, when to cultivate, when to harvest. Sorghum can tolerate heat much better than maize. We have now seen this.”

As two of the farmers of Aswan who adopted the sorghum crop, Heba and Adel are happy with the results they see. Adel describes how the introduction of new sorghum varieties, shifting planting date and the weather news proved a success. Adel’s sorghum yields have increased his income by 55  percent. The straws from the sorghum are given to cattle, and income generated is spent on different livelihoods needs. “We know better when to wait, when to cultivate, when to harvest. Sorghum can tolerate heat much better than maize. We have now seen this” he says.

Heba (dressed in black) attending a village meeting in Mansouria. Photo courtesy: Romani Emil

Planned to run for four years, the project has been welcomed by the Government as an important step in addressing the challenges posed by climate change. Other activities being implemented include generating awareness of climate threat within rural communities through climate information centres, radio and community theatre, diversification of rural incomes by introduction of high value crops, bee keeping and livestock. Institutional capacity building is also part of the project’s activities. In addition, the improved crop varieties introduced have been developed by the Agriculture Research Center of the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture.