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Irrigated Agriculture

Irrigated Agriculture

Irrigated Benchmark Locations in MENA Region

Irrigated agriculture

Existing irrigation systems in much of the Middle East are highly inefficient and waste precious water resources. The Water and Livelihoods Initiative (WLI) is therefore working throughout the region alongside rural communities to improve irrigation efficiency, raise water productivity, and help farmers achieve ‘more crop per drop.’ The initiative is also experimenting with the utilization of marginal water to help producers get the most from alternative water resources in situations of extreme water scarcity.

Key challenges:

  • Inefficient conventional irrigation systems that waste precious water resources.

  • Deteriorating infrastructure, compounded by instability and conflict.

  • Poor, inequitable distribution of quality water resources.

  • Lack of knowledge and awareness of improved irrigation practices

Irrigated agriculture innovations:

In order to improve on conventional irrigation systems, use limited resources efficiently, and stabilize yields of fruit, vegetables, and crops (mainly wheat and barley), WLI researchers are investigating the potential of the following innovations:

Supplemental irrigation: the addition of small amounts of water to crops when rainfall fails to provide sufficient moisture for normal plant growth. In water-scarce environments this innovation ensures the minimum amount of water required during critical growth stages.

Drip and sub-surface irrigation: a more sustainable and water-efficient form of irrigation that allows water to drip slowly to the roots of crops.

Irrigating with marginal water: in situations of water scarcity when access to quality water is limited, WLI is investigating how farmers can utilize marginal water and mitigate its potentially harmful effects – focusing on the application of nutrients, fertilizers and hormones.

Selected research activities and impacts:

  • In Egypt, WLI researchers are investigating whether water previously used for the production of tilapia fish can be enhanced with additional nutrients and utilized again for the irrigation of saline-tolerant crops such as sugar beet and barley.

  • In Tunisia, the adoption of supplemental irrigation increased water use efficiency by 45 percent. Researchers also studied the effect of regulated deficit irrigation as a strategy to promote efficient water use for growing citrus in the Northern Part of Tunisia.

  • In Iraq, Applying K Fertilizer to brackish water raised potato yields: yields were 47 percent higher when 600 kilograms (kg) of K2SO4per hectare (K2SO4/ha) was applied, and 58 percent higher when 400 kg of K2SO4/ha was applied. Applying K fertilizer also increased pepper yields – the best result being a 24 percent increase with the application of 420 kg of K2SO4.

  • In Iraq, applying 10 tons per hectare (t/ha) of compost fertilizer and 3500 m3of brackish irrigation water generated potato yields of 62 t/ha.

  • In Yemen, where researchers have studied the impact of supplemental irrigation on the productivity of sesame, farmers have experienced a 103-120 percent increase in yield productivity. Cost-benefit analyses show that the gross margin ranged from 1596 to 2570 USD per hectare (USD/ha) – significantly higher than the 586 to 1139 USD/ha generated when supplemental irrigation was not applied. Spate or flood irrigation is the most common and traditional form of irrigation in Yemen.

  • In Iraq, applying Cytokine hormones at a rate of 200 milligrams per hectare (mg/ha) and brackish irrigation water at a rate of 150 m3/ha resulted in cucumber plants demonstrating more resistance to drought.