During the conference, the organisers held several sessions under the theme “Water Conservation for Sustainable Development” in partnership with GIZ, European Union partners and the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), alongside a diverse group of decision makers, intellectuals and experts. The sessions gave participants the opportunity to discuss regional and local issues and find adequate solutions.
The Nexus Regional Dialogue in MENA participated in the “Solar Powered Irrigation Systems (SPIS): Benefits and Risks” session, convened by FAO in conjunction with GIZ, the League of Arab States (LAS) and the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation.
The session, chaired by Pasquale Steduto (FAO Regional Programmes Coordinator) and moderated by Faycel Chenini (Senior Water Expert, FAO) aimed to analyse the opportunities and challenges of implementing solar technologies in agriculture, taking into consideration the links between water, energy and food supply and illustrating trade-offs related to solar irrigation and ways to assess them.
In her presentation, the keynote speaker Lucie Pluschke (Land and Water Officer, FAO) covered numerous topics, including the initiation and historical development of solar powered systems, details of the solar energy toolbox developed by FAO and GIZ - including its ten modules - as well as a market assessment and the socioeconomic impacts of solar pumping.
The subsequent keynote speaker Hammou Laamrani (Senior Advisor, LAS) talked about the risks and benefits of using solar energy in the MENA region. Focusing on Morocco and Egypt, he discussed the remarkable opportunities for water, food and energy security in the Arab region and for regional integration as a first step to becoming a leading hub for SPIS technology.
Following these presentations, Shahira Wahbi (Chief Natural Resources Sustainability & Partnerships, LAS) highlighted the need for developing an Arab strategy for solar-powered irrigation systems as a foundation to start using SPIS in the Arab region on a broader scale.
Dr. Nisreen Lahham (GIZ advisor for the Nexus Dialogues Programme) discussed the ongoing Nexus Regional Dialogue study on SPIS in Tunisia, stating that the preliminary results of the study show positive economic impacts on farmers using SPIS. She highlighted the opportunity for MENA countries to learn from countries like India, which has several years of experience with SPIS technologies, and to benefit from the prospects of South-South cooperation.
In his speech, Ridha Gabbouj (Director General DGGREE, Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources) mentioned the wide incentive schemes in Tunisia for SPIS, and its multiple environmental and economic benefits, highlighting the importance of managing excessive water extraction to ensure water sustainability.
Finally, Aymen Ibrahim (Sector head of Monitoring Systems & Communication, MWRI, Egypt) presented on the importance of regulations to monitor the usage of groundwater and the need for effective anticipatory water governance with inclusive and enforced regulations.
As stated by all panellists, the benefits of SPIS include: using a clean energy resource with low maintenance requirements, thus providing the possibility of extending irrigation into remote regions not connected to the grid. This would allow for other SPIS uses in drying, cooling, post-harvesting treatments, drainage water systems, as well as opportunities for new businesses - especially start-ups - and job creation.
On the other hand, the risks associated with SPIS applications, as mentioned by the panellists, include: the excessive use of ground water and overexploitation of scarce water, high initial cost of these applications, lack of qualified labour to maintain the applications and low investor and banker awareness of the applications and benefits of SPIS. To confront these challenges, there was consensus that coordination between different stakeholders is essential, with a need for capacity building on SPIS applications and benefits for stakeholders at all levels.
At the end of the session, representatives of national, regional and international institutions expressed their willingness to participate in the regional policy dialogue on SPIS, which is led by a FAO initiative and will be organised at the LAS.