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Irrigation and drainage
Evolution of irrigation development
The irrigation potential in Georgia is estimated at 725 000 ha. The country has a tradition of land improvement through irrigation and drainage. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the total irrigated area in Georgia was about 112 000 ha. Major investments were made in the irrigation sector during the Soviet period, resulting in a total area of about 500 000 ha equipped for irrigation at the beginning of the 1980s, mainly located in the more arid eastern part of the country.
During the 1990s, civil strife, war, vandalism and theft, as well as problems associated with land reform, the transition to a market economy, and the loss of markets with traditional trading partners, contributed to a significant reduction of the irrigated area. It has been reported that during the severe drought of 2000 only about 160 000 ha were irrigated. Almost all pumping schemes (about 143 000 ha) were out of order. As a consequence, Georgia’s State Department of Melioration and Water Resources started a rehabilitation programme to renew the infrastructure of existing irrigation and drainage schemes and to establish Amelioration Service Cooperatives. About 255 000 ha are covered by these programmes.
In 2007, irrigation covered 432 790 ha, of which 31 500 ha equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms and 401 290 ha full or partial control irrigation. River diversion is the main source of water for irrigation and groundwater is not used for irrigation in Georgia. The main irrigation technology is surface irrigation (372 980 ha). Localized irrigation is practiced on 28 300 ha (Table 4 and Figure 3).
Most of the schemes are large-scale (Figuere 4). The largest one are: the upper Alazani (41 100 ha), the lower Alazani (29 200 ha), the upper Samgori (28 100 ha), and the lower Samgori (29 200 ha). There is no private irrigation in Georgia. All irrigation schemes are managed by the State through its Department of Melioration and Water Resources. Though irrigation remains the responsibility of the State, the land irrigated can be owned either by private farmers or by the State but leased to farmers, cooperatives or agro-firms.
The unfavourable location of plots, low soil fertility, the failure of old irrigation and drainage systems, desertification, secondary bogging, salinization and erosion processes contribute to the non-lease and non-transfer of land to private owners. In addition, the slow pace of registering land ownership is due to the fact that the existing system deals with owner registration only, which is an insufficient basis for the full exercise of land ownership rights and the conclusion of subsequent transactions. Moreover, land registration and the process of proving land ownership are time consuming as old Soviet data have to be checked thoroughly (Government of Georgia, 2002).
Role of irrigation in agricultural production, the economy and society
At the beginning of 1997, irrigation water charges were introduced in Georgia, at a rate of US$3 per 1 000 m3. This figure was the same for all schemes in Georgia. The water charges covered about 12 percent of total O&M costs, the government budget covered 15 percent of the total, while the remaining 73 percent was not covered, resulting in the degradation of irrigation systems. In 1996, over 300 000 ha were estimated to be in need of rehabilitation. The current policy is for the government to pay for the O&M of the dams and headworks which have been constructed, while the O&M costs of the distribution and on-farm network are to be paid by irrigation users through a higher water charge.
No recent data for irrigation costs are available. In 1996 the average cost of irrigation development varied between US$3 500 and US$4 500/ha for surface irrigation, and between US$6 500 and 7 200/ha for sprinkler irrigation. Average O&M costs vary between US$55 and US$70/ha per year respectively.
In 2006, the total irrigated crop area was estimated at 126 060 ha, but no details for the different crops are available. In 1986, the major crops cultivated under full or partial control irrigation were fruit trees and grapes, pasture and fodder crops, vegetables, potatoes, wheat, maize and sunflower. Irrigated crop yields compared relatively favourably with rainfed crop yields, although the average difference is very small due to the good climatic conditions in the areas where rainfed agriculture is practiced. In 1986, in the full or partial control irrigation schemes, the average irrigated crop yields were 3.0 tonnes/ha for winter wheat, 2.9 tonnes/ha for maize, 4.8 tonnes/ha for grapes, 5.0 tonnes/ha for fruits and 12 tonnes/ha for potatoes.
Status and evolution of drainage systems
In 1996, the total drained area was estimated at 164 740 ha, consisting mainly of surface drainage. However, the infrastructure deteriorated drastically during the 1990s, reducing the drainage area to 65 000 ha.
Drainage has been developed mainly in the high rainfall region of western Georgia (Kolkhety lowland), on 132 940 ha out of a total of 164 740 ha for the whole country. The total area of the Kolkhety lowland where drainage infrastructure could be developed in the future is about 800 000 ha.
About 31 800 ha of full or partial control irrigation equipped areas are also equipped with a network of surface and subsurface drains (Table 4). About 31 100 ha of the equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms are also power drained. They are located in the coastal regions of west Georgia, in polder systems where electric pumps drain seawater and excess floodwater.