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FAO Press Release 02/07

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The report is entitled: Case studies on water conservation in the Mediterranean region.

For more information please contact: Erwin Northoff, (+39) 06 570 53105,

Rome, 4 February 2002 - Competition for scarce water resources will increase in the Mediterranean basin in the coming decades and will seriously aggravate the existing shortage of water, according to a new study published today by the International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage (IPTRID). IPTRID is hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Among the 21 countries that have been declared water-scarce, 12 are in the Near East region and many of them are Mediterranean countries. "Despite water shortages, misuse of water is widespread", the report said.

"In the Mediterranean region, agriculture is considered to be the sector where the largest volume of water can be saved," IPTRID said. With 80 percent of total demand, Mediterranean agriculture is the biggest water consumer but farmers use large amounts of water poorly.

The 11 countries examined by the study are in the Middle East and North Africa. Their fresh water resources vary from 220 m per capita in Jordan and 330 m per capita in Palestine to about 2,000 m per capita in Turkey and Syria.

Irrigation plays a major role in agricultural production in the region, the report said. The total area irrigated in the region increased from about 6 to 8 million hectares between 1960 and 1980 and is today approaching 11.8 million ha. "The contribution of irrigation to food production is very important because of its high productivity. Irrigated cereal yields reached 5.5 tons per ha in Egypt, non-irrigated cereals elsewhere yielded only 1.5 tons/ha."

The report includes case studies on water conservation initiatives in five countries. IPTRID said that Mediterranean countries had benefited from technological progress in irrigation technology in the past and that many countries in the region have developed good knowledge at local level of efficient ways to reduce water demand. "Poor implementation and management, however, have seriously limited expected water savings and increased productivity."

A case study on Jordan showed that the use of improved drip irrigation saved 20-50 percent of water, increasing cucumber and tomato crop yields by 15-20 percent. In Morocco, new irrigation technology (laser-levelled basin irrigation) resulted in water savings of 20 percent and cereal crop-yield increases of 30 percent.

In Egypt, a case study showed that modernised irrigation canals and management transfer to water users' associations have been successful, mainly because farmers were already informally organised before modernisation.

The report called for a flexible, farmer-oriented irrigation and criticised the fact that some countries continue to distribute water in a rigid and cumbersome way, calculating water requirements for each crop on each farm. "This method of water distribution is inappropriate to micro-irrigation, which requires small quantities of water, frequent application and variable frequency."

However, the report warned, "localised irrigation is not a miracle technology. Excellent as well as poor results were obtained from these technologies and their adoption really depends on the ability of farmers to finance and operate them and the type of crop production."

The report stressed the importance of irrigation management transfer. "The case studies of Egypt and Turkey showed that irrigation management transfer, involving Water Users' Associations and adequate technology transfer, yielded important water and cost savings. The Egypt case study emphasises the need to build on existing farmer organisations when modernising irrigation systems, especially when farmers are reluctant to introduce new technologies."

The study also suggested public water-saving programmes, incentives for farmers to modernise their irrigation systems and a strong involvement of the private sector.

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