Feasibility of the Use of Brackish Groundwater in
Integrated Aqua-Agriculture Systems in Egypt
Dr. Samia El gendy
Representing the WM Egyptian – Dutch Panel /APP
In the framework of the Water Mondial Egyptian Dutch Panel on Water Management
, one of the projects is: Use of Brackish Groundwater in Integrated Aqua-agriculture
systems in Egypt. One of the important starting points of Water Mondial is to work in
the so called Golden Triangle of Government, Research and Business, with emphasis
on active involvement of businesses from Egypt and the Netherlands.
In May 2013 on Dutch- Egyptian feasibility mission has been conducted with two
a. Give an indication of the technical and economic feasibility of the use of
brackish groundwater in integrated aqua-agriculture systems in Egypt, and
b. Formulate a roadmap with needed next steps, actions and process to realise
this on pilot level first and on national level later.
Based on own experiences of the Dutch and Egyptian experts and of several ‘parallel’
projects and practices on several Egyptian companies, the Feasibility team has
developed a ‘business model’ for a prototype real life integrated, brackish
groundwater- aqua-agriculture farm, in the area of Wadi el Natrun. Wadi el Natrun is
proposed by APP as the most promising in a list of possible pilot areas.
Fish farming has shown tremendous growth during the last decade in Egypt and has
turned the country into a world-player in this field. Fresh water use for fish production
is not allowed in Egypt and farmers use drainage water or groundwater for this.
Increasingly also brackish water is used for agriculture and for fish production.
Large pockets of (brackish) groundwater are available in the Oases in the Western
Desert. Oases are vulnerable and precious ecosystems and also represent an important
cultural heritage which has a large potential value in tourism. Uncontrolled farming
and fish growing without restrictions on the drainage water discharge is therefore not
The combination of fish farming with agriculture using brackish water is a high
potential future economic cooperation activity between Egypt and the Netherlands.
This combination allows reuse of water and nutrients and has potential for economic
and environmental savings. There Fore we were asked to advise on the feasibility of
the integration of fish growing with agriculture using brackish groundwater in the
Oases or desert areas . We call this combination Integrated Aqua- Agriculture (IAA).
We have defined and examined six building blocks for this IAA approach with fish
growing technology ranging from low tech to high tech in combination with a number
of crops. The low technology approach was rejected for the Oases environment
because it produces too much drainage water. The high technology approach was
rejected because the fertiliser content of the drainage water was too high for
Our analysis points out that for the fish culture in Oases we have to opt for a higher
technology level than the current extensive fish pond culture practised in the Nile
Delta. We recommend to test the extensive Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS),
because it prevents evaporation and uncontrolled leakage losses from the fish ponds
and provides the excellent quality drainage water with matching fertiliser
requirements for crop growth. Red Tilapia could be an interesting species to farm in
this system. It has high salinity tolerance, fetches a high price and gives good
opportunities for collaboration with Dutch companies.
We have identified a number of crops that can be grown with brackish water in the
desert environment. We recommend to grow these crops using modern irrigation
techniques and irrigation advice based on soil moisture and soil salinity monitoring.
So far there is limited experience in Egypt with growing crops that can tolerate high
salinity. We therefore recommend to start the testing of the IAA approach with low
salinity but brackish groundwater (1 – 3 g/l).
The best performing building block consists of an extensive RAS fish production of
0.5 feddan producing 100 tonne of fish annually and 50 feddan of agriculture with salt
tolerant potato as a winter crop and Quinoa as a summer crop. Our preliminary
assessment of the economic feasibility indicates a break-even of the investment costs
of about 5 to 6 years assuming the culture of Red Tilapia.
We concluded that the IAA approach certainly has a future in Egypt and seems to be a
good business proposal. Many uncertainties and questions still remain to be answered
however. A research and development program needs to be developed to test and
improve the technologies that we describe and assume in our Study. Such a program
could best be developed in an desert environment that is close to the Delta: Wadi
Thanks to the advice and mediation of APP we have met a number of Egyptian
entrepreneurs that may be further involved in testing and development of the IAA
To really start and implement the proposed pilot in Wadi el Natrun several activities
have to be fulfilled and several conditions to be agreed, by means of a Public Private
Partnership PPP Agreement between the Egyptian and Dutch partners.