Supporting efficient irrigation systems in the West Bank

Supporting efficient irrigation systems in the West Bank

14/08/2018

Contaminated water and quarrels with neighbours are a thing of the past for Hamed Rwasat, a farmer from An-Nassarieyh village in the West Bank. A Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) project, supported by the Government of Canada, has addressed poor management and inefficient use of water resources by repairing damaged sections of irrigation systems. This has improved access to clean water for irrigation and put an end to social conflicts over water usage. 

The father of six owns 3 ha of land, which he uses to cultivate eggplant, cauliflower and wheat. Things have not always been easy for Hamed. During peak seasons, he could not access enough water to irrigate his crops. This led to conflict with neighbouring farmers over water, forcing Hamed and his family to pump wastewater from a nearby stream at night. 

“We did not have an option,” explained Hamed. “I was forced to use untreated wastewater for irrigation to sustain my farm and feed my family.’’ Hamed is one of many farmers in An-Nassarieyh who resorted to using wastewater for agriculture – a practice that endangers food safety and health in addition to being costly and unsustainable.

Water scarcity coupled with poor management and underuse of accessible water resources are key issues hindering agricultural growth in the West Bank. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, old and damaged irrigation pipes can cause leakages of up to 40 percent of the total amount of pumped water. In An-Nassariyeh village the cost of leakages is estimated to be 231 200 cubic metres every year. Expenses associated with these water leakages cost farmers up to USD 185 000. The farmers also lose the opportunity to irrigate at least 45 ha of land, which has the potential to generate USD 225 000 per agricultural season.  

FAO’s project rehabilitated 32 water conveyance systems in the West Bank, improving the efficiency of 147.6 kilometres of water piping for domestic and agricultural use. As a result, farmers once again could access sufficient water, ensuring equitable distribution. Water loss through leakages was eliminated and the use of untreated wastewater for irrigation purposes was curbed. 

Hamed is now a member of his local water user committee, which was set up by the project to ensure the water systems are maintained. Hamed has expanded his cultivation to include different varieties of vegetables such as squash and beans. He no longer uses contaminated water sources for irrigation, which has improved the quality and safety of his crops. Moreover, production costs have significantly decreased: the cost for each pumped cubic metre from the repaired network (USD 0.5per cubic metre) is less than that pumped from the contaminated water source (USD 0.9 per cubic metre). These factors combined have led to an increase in Hamed’s net profit return per hectare. Hamed, who used to cultivate his land only one season per year, is now cultivating all year round.

Similarly, Solyman Blwani used to have problems with poor production and food safety as a result of using contaminated wastewater for crop irrigation. “Due to the leakages from the old and damaged irrigation network, I was not able to expand my farm with new varieties of crops, such as seedless grapes”, explained Solyman. “After leakages were eliminated I was able to cultivate three additional grape orchards and my income has increased by more than 50 percent.” Each hectare that Solyman cultivated has resulted in a net profit of up to USD 3 000. 

The project has enabled 207 farming families in An-Nassariyeh to increase their production, cut production costs and avoid using unsafe contaminated water sources. In addition to mitigating social, economic and environmental impacts on communities, the pipe rehabilitation work led to the creation of seasonal jobs for at least 2 000 agricultural workers in the West Bank.