GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Improved water use efficiency; a key practice to attain profitable food production and sustainable farming systems in the GCC countries
Paper Proposal Text :
Natural resources such as water and farmable lands are limited in the GCC countries due to the lack of sufficient rainfall and the desert environment of the region. The agricultural sector consumes approximately 65-90% of the water resources. The amount of abstraction of ground water is by far greater than the recharge and aquifer levels are rapidly declining and ground water is increasing in salinity by intrusion of sea water. Agricultural sustainability is hampered by harsh environmental conditions whereby water evaporation by crops exceeds over ten folds that of precipitation. Moreover, the region has no surface water resources to rectify the imbalance in the water budget. Farming is hence only possible with irrigation. The farming systems are dominated by small scale irrigated holdings cultivated by conventional crops mainly date palms and fodders and irrigated with ground water which is pumped into gravity-driven open earth channels leading to crops’ irrigation basins. Soils are sandy and often gravelly with high rate of water percolation. Irrigation management is rarely based on the actual water demand by crops. In most cases, water losses through evaporation and deep percolation exceed the actual crop water needs for transpiration. Several strategies have been suggested to improve the productivity of water, among which is better management of the water resource. This paper addresses some practical solutions to the water stress problem which is characterizing the region. The common feature among these solutions is to improve the efficiency by which water is applied to and used by crops. FAO CROPWAT is a very friendly computer-based program that can help in adjusting water application based on the actual water needs. Other irrigation management models are effective in designing a proper irrigation scheduling system. IMAGE –for instance- is a physically-based non-intensive data acquisition model which was developed based on data collected from small farms irrigated with saline water in Oman. The model provides flexibility in scheduling irrigation in terms of the amount and time of application as well as in adjusting the size of irrigation basins relative to crop canopy and the vegetation cover. Though no water pricing or allocation system is applied in farms irrigated with well water, over-pumping of ground water increases the cost of the energy required and eventually the cost of crop production and contributes to the ever increasing load on the ground water aquifers. The application of a proper water pricing tariff can serve as a safe guard in using water by farmers in a more judicious manner. The most water-effective and commercially profitable technique for crop production under water and heat stress conditions is by using soilless hydroponic systems. This method of modern production system utilizes agro-technologies to eliminate water and chemicals wastages. The technology is based on planting crops out of the soil environment (with or without growing media) and protect them from the harsh environmental conditions using cooled green houses. Water draining from the system is recalculated to be reused in a closed system. This allows for the use of the water in the most effective manner. Forage crops occupy appreciable size of the current farming system in the GCC. With the traditional flood method of irrigation, these crops are depleting water resources of the region. Hydroponics growing techniques improve WUE by restricting water loss. This technique can be used to produce fodder in very short periods (7-10 days) and it has been proven to be efficient both financially and environmentally. It is estimated that with this technique, the costs of agricultural inputs are at least 10 times lower than under field conditions. High water use efficiency is, however, a major advantage of this technique which saves about 95-97% of used water in comparison to conventional agriculture with small piece of land. Moreover, treated sewage effluents can be used as a source for water and nutrients. The Arabian Gulf University – a GCC regional University based in Bahrain- hosts an agricultural research center named “Sultan Qaboos Center for Modern and Soilless Agriculture”. The center has been experimenting soilless and hydroponic techniques over a decade in an attempt to adopt them for the region. A strong data base is now available that can help investors to plan their projects on a solid ground.