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A picture shows a part of the River Nile in the Egyptian Capital Cairo on March 7, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: The Egyptian government has unveiled an ambitious scheme to conserve irrigation water as the country is locked in a years-long dispute with Ethiopia over a giant Nile dispute.

Egypt fears that the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam will negatively affect its share of the Nile, a lifeline for the country’s population of nearly 100 million people.

The Egyptian government said this week it will set into motion early next year a plan introducing sophisticated irrigation systems, replacing the country’s centuries-old submersion system.

Farmers observe water pumping along the nile. Image Credit: AFP

“The shift is aimed at conserving water use and increasing agricultural productivity,” Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said, according to Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency.

The 10-year plan will be implemented, starting from January, in three stages, a government official has said.

“The first stage will take two years, targeting the recently reclaimed lands,” government spokesman Nader Saad told private television station MBC Masr late Wednesday.

“The second stage, which will also take two years, targets gardens. The third will run for six years and cover all fields in the Nile Valley and the Delta,” he added, referring to areas home to Egypt’s largest tracts of arable land and the majority of population.

The government has said it will offer easy-term loans to farmers to help them make the irrigation switch.

“The government will also set up a specialised company to assist in shifting to modern irrigation methods. Farmers will have the choice either to obtain the loan, or leave the matter to the government,” Saad said.

Earlier in October, Egypt said its negotiations with Ethiopia over the dam had reached a dead end and called for an international mediator in the row.

Last week, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi and Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad met on the sidelines of an Afro-Russian summit in Sochi and agreed to resume negotiations.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi and Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad. Image Credit: Reuters

Foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, which is also a Nile country, will meet in the US on November 6 in a new effort to resolve the dispute.

Ethiopia has repeatedly denied that the dam will harm Egypt’s interests and said that the hydroelectric facility is necessary for its development.