Improving water productivity

June 12, 2012 at 7:22 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Contour strips: the vacant areas serve as miniature water catchments for the crop strips, increasing yields and water productivity, and controlling soil erosion

Water availability is the biggest limiting factor in dryland agriculture. Several field trials at Tel Hadya are helping to test and promote low-cost innovations to increase water productivity. Rainwater harvesting methods are being tested on a five-hectare demonstration plot that includes micro- and macro-catchment techniques. In the former, runoff water is captured from a small area (a single field, or even the area surrounding a single tree). In the latter, water is captured from a large catchment area and shared by multiple fields. The ongoing experiment tests four types of micro-catchment: contour ridges, semi-circular bunds, small basins and contour strips. The first three are used to ‘irrigate’ forage shrubs; while contour strips are being tested with different crops. Smaller experimental plots measure runoff coefficients under different land uses: weeded crop area, grazed area, undisturbed land. The results will help design the most effective water harvesting system for a given area.

A separate 7000 m2 plot tests the use of deficit irrigation, which trades a small reduction in yield for a very large increase in water productivity. The experiment measures the effects of deficit irrigation on sugar beet, evaluating yield and sugar content under different irrigation levels. Sugar beet is a major irrigated crop in several Middle Eastern countries, so even small increases in water productivity would lead to huge water savings.

Another experiment looks at the potential of obtaining irrigation water from non-conventional sources. Wastewater from ICARDA’s sheep research unit, filtered but not chemically treated, is being used to irrigate olive, pistachio and mulberry trees on a three-hectare plot. The experiment compares fruit and nut yields under wastewater and freshwater irrigation with non-irrigated yields. The results will help determine ‘water quality thresholds’ and design cost-effective, safe and profitable ways to recycle wastewater in agriculture.

For more information contact Dr Theib Oweis, Director, Integrated Water and Land Management Program, email


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