Use of brackish groundwater in agriculture and aquaculture

Fish farming has shown tremendous growth during the last two decades 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 (except government-owned hatcheries) and farmers use drainage water or ground water 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 between the Nile and Libya. 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 desirable.

Adapting to the inevitable results of climate change

During the last decades, the Netherlands is also increasingly confronted with the salinity theme. Large parts of the country are below sea level and are very vulnerable for sea level rise as a result of climate change. Climate change adaptation of agriculture and other land use functions has progressed considerably in The Netherlands. The paradigm shift that is taking place deals with the change from ‘protecting against climate change’ towards ‘adapting to the inevitable results of climate change’. Through government stimulation programmes the agricultural sector is challenged to find solutions for adaptation.

Reuse of water and nutrients

The experience of Egypt (producing brackish water fish species) and of the Netherlands (developing agricultural adaptation measures) makes the combination of fish farming with agriculture using brackish water in an Integrated Agri – Aquacultural (IAA) approach a high potential for future economic cooperation activity between both countries. This integrated approach allows the reuse of water and nutrients to save on pumping costs and fertiliser input and to protect the environment (groundwater) against pollution. The Netherlands are quite advanced in knowledge and technology whereas Egypt has a strong private sector and a large potential of brackish, unpolluted groundwater.

The subject IAA has been on the agenda of the Water Mondiaal Panel since 2012 when the Panel members selected the subject ‘Use of Brackish groundwater in agriculture and aquaculture: innovative trend at the national scale’ for further elaboration. During 2013 a pre-feasibility study was implemented and the results were presented to the Panel meeting in June 14th. The panel judged the results of the feasibility study as promising in terms of opportunities for private sector involvement for both Egyptian and Dutch entrepreneurs.