Faculty of Science, Semlalia, Morocco
Most developing countries belong to semiarid regions. Those with the most limited water resources are in the Middle East and northern and southern Africa. In these countries, the water supply for agriculture, domestic and industrial use, as well as for environmental use, has kept pace neither with population nor with economic growth. Given that most of these countries devote 60 to 90 percent of their water to irrigation, water conservation in the agricultural sector is considered as a major option for the future.
The case of the Maghreb countries (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) is important to investigate. The three countries receive an average rainfall of about 275 billion m3 per year. Only 37.2 billion m3 is usable with existing technology, and irrigation consumes most of it (87 percent). The index of exploitation (the ratio of exploited to potential resources) is less than .3.
Although irrigation has been practised for centuries in many regions of North Africa, La Grande Hydraulique is the biggest agricultural development since Independence. The related projects have increased the region's agricultural output but not without some negative effects:
Therefore, the focus of irrigation modernization should be on demand management, with conservation and increased water-use efficiency as the main policy objectives. Such a strategy would be less costly than new infrastructures and society at large would benefit much sooner. Although increasing efficiency is commendable, additional water sources will inevitably have to be tapped.
Irrigation modernization in developing countries is a process which must incorporate new design procedures and new equipment with a clear vision of future operations. It must integrate training and applied research as key elements to improve the productivity of investment and to protect the environment.
Applied research themes
Research priorities should cover three categories: technical, socio-economic and environmental, and institutional studies.
Socio-economic and environmental studies
The development of modern irrigation systems in developing countries can be facilitated by the co-ordination of different actions provided by international organizations, national governments, the private sector, academic institutions and local populations. Specific programmes with clear actions could act decisively to support continuing training and applied research in the field of modernization of irrigation systems.