Understanding Farmers’ Adaptation to Water Scarcity: A Case Study from the Western Nile Delta, Egypt
This research study analyzes how farmers adapt to water scarcity in the command area of a secondary canal in the Nile Delta of Egypt (al-Bayda Canal). The results of the study show that farmers use several methods to adapt to water scarcity: changing cropping patterns, crafting collective irrigation rules, reusing agricultural drainage water, practicing deficit and night irrigation, and over-irrigating whenever water is available. The analysis then focuses on the changes in cropping patterns, seeking to demonstrate how crop choice is shaped and constrained by a set of factors, including water availability and economic profitability. Interestingly, the lowest water-intensive, but most cost-effective in terms of return per cubic meter, crop (watermelon) was mainly cultivated in the locations with the best water supply, while water- intensive crops, such as luffah (sponge gourd plant) or grapes, were mostly cultivated in the unfavorable lower reaches of the canal. Understanding how farmers adapt to water scarcity reveals that there are other factors besides water scarcity and profit maximization that affect the responses of farmers. These additional factors include food security of the family, agronomic risk management, social capital and history of farmers, and most unexpectedly the collective dimension of crop choice. This illustrates the variegated rationales and constraints as well as the collective dimensions of individual crop choice, and cautions against the oversimplified view of profit maximization as the basis of farming system dynamics.