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Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

All irrigation takes place on land that has been excessively drained. In fact, there is no real need for irrigation, except in areas where the groundwater has been lowered too much by excessive drainage. For this reason, no figure on irrigation potential is available.

Irrigated areas first appeared in the statistics in 1974. In 1993, the area equipped for irrigation was equal to 131 000 ha. It was largest in 1980 when it still was part of the Soviet Union, with 163 000 ha, but the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, combined with the difficult economic situation, resulted in a deterioration of the drainage and irrigation systems, and cultivation on part of these lands was abandoned. In 1993, the whole area was reported to be sprinkler irrigated, using moving sprinkler irrigation systems. With this type of irrigation, the area equipped for irrigation may vary from year to year and is in fact equal to actually irrigated area. The variation depends mainly on whether precipitation is sufficient or not, but has decreased considerably during the last 5 years. While it was still 114 100 ha in 2006, it went down to 52 900 ha in 2009, 56 900 ha in 2010 and 30 600 ha in 2011 (NSC, 2011). Of the 114 100 ha in 2006, 85 percent was irrigated by surface water and the remaining 15 percent by groundwater (Table 6 and Figure 3).

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, economy and society

In 2011, total harvested irrigated crop area was estimated at 30 600 ha, of which around 66 percent permanent meadows and pasture, 17 percent fruits and vegetables, 10 percent potatoes and 7 percent leguminous crops (Table 6 and Figure 4).

Status and evolution of drainage systems

Due to the climatic conditions, there is a need for drainage rather than irrigation in the country, except in areas where the groundwater level has fallen too much due to excessive drainage.

The history of drainage in Belarus dates back to the second half of the 18th Century in the then Polish state. On huge private estates marshes were drained, mainly by open canals, to turn them into meadows. In the final quarter of the 19th Century, large-scale drainage works were carried out in the Polesye region, where about 4 700 km of canals were built with an average depth of 1.1 m. These works were also intended to facilitate wood exploitation and the floating of timber down to Ukraine. Drainage work stopped at the beginning of the 20th Century but restarted in the 1920s, independently in the western part (Poland) and the eastern part (the Soviet Union). During the Second World War, work was suspended and when it restarted after the war it was initially on a small scale. Following the “Land Draining and Sovkhoz Building Act” of 1966, large-scale drainage work started again. Most of the drainage work was concentrated in the Polesye region, where 85 000 ha had been drained by 1939, and this drained area amounted to 560 000 and 1 400 000 ha in 1966 and 1986 respectively. In the period 1966-1986, mainly subsurface drainage systems were built. Most of this drained land in the Polesye region was contaminated after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant which, combined with the difficult economic situation, resulted in a deterioration of the drainage systems and cultivation on part of these lands was abandoned.

In 1993, about 3 million ha had been drained for agricultural purposes. In addition, land had also been drained for non-agricultural purposes, such as construction. On average, in 1993, there were 250 m of drains per ha of drained land. Subsurface drains existed on more than 75 percent of the drained area, the remaining 25 percent being drained by open canals. The total length of the irrigation and drainage network exceeds 800 000 km, which is almost nine times the total length of the natural rivers in the country. The total area where drainage infrastructure could be developed has been estimated at 7.9 million ha.

In 2011, the area of drained lands of the republic was 3.41 million ha, of which 2.95 million ha was drained agricultural land: 43.1 percent croplands, 56.8 percent meadows and pastures, 0.1 percent permanent crops (MNREP, 2009; NSC, 2011).


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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