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Promoting Efficient Use of Marginal Water Improves Rural Livelihoods: Reducing the Effect of Brackish Water on Potatoes

April 12, 2016

Water scarcity is a serious problem in Iraq and particularly in Abu Ghraib, the WLI benchmark site in Iraq and home to over 400,000 rural people who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. The area is characterized by extremely variable rainfall that changes from year to year, as well as in distribution through the seasons. The farmers mostly depend on the Euphrates River for irrigation. Unfortunately, the supply of fresh irrigation water was cut in 2015 by the ISIS crisis that occurred north of the Abu-Ghraib area and resulted in reduction in overall agricultural production and income.

Marginal water use, including drainage water and brackish water from over-drawn wells, is now a common coping strategy adopted by farmers in the area. In response to this growing challenge, the WLI team embarked on new research to reduce the effects of brackish water when used as a source of irrigation for vegetables and to increase overall yield, with the aim of boosting farmers dwindling income.

The research focused on the potato (Solanum Tuberosum), one of the most important horticultural and fast-growing cash crops in the area. Unfortunately, the potato is highly sensitive to salinity and drought related stress. The team worked with farmers in Hectria Province at Abu-Ghraib and introduced the application of potassium fertilizer ( k2SO4) with a rate of 600 kilograms per hectare, in conjunction with 2-5 deciSiemens per metre of brackish water through subsurface drip irrigation. The innovative package increased total yield to 63 tons per hectare, improved water productivity by 58%, and increased incomes by 0.6 fold as compared to farmers’ current practices.

The practice also reduces the negative effects of using brackish water on soil and plants, thus reducing the effects of salinization on farmers’ fields. The technology was transferred to farmers through various field demonstrations and trainings that targeted men, women, and young men in the community. Mr. Omar Mred is one of the farmers who benefited from this research and is grateful for the opportunities it is giving him.