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Irrigation and drainage
Evolution of irrigation development
Recently a study on land suitable for irrigation was conducted. The suitability index was based on the mean values of soil texture, soil depth, CaCo3 content, gypsum content, salinity and alkalinity, drainage and slope degree. About 44 500 ha were found to be marginally suitable for irrigation outside the farms and 7 628 ha marginally and moderately suitable within the farms (Awiplan Qatar & Jena-Geos, 2005).
As in any other arid region, agriculture in Qatar is not possible without irrigation. The part of land suitable for irrigation that can be considered when assessing irrigation potential depends on the future availability of alternative sources of water, because groundwater is already being depleted at the recorded present rate of abstraction. In 2004, there were 1 192 registered farms in the country, of which 945 were actually operative. The area equipped for irrigation was estimated at 12 935 ha (Table 5), while 6 322 ha were actually irrigated, which is 49 percent of the equipped area (DAWR, Agricultural and Statistics Section, 2006). In 1993 the area equipped for irrigation was 12 520 ha, of which 8 312 or 66 percent was actually irrigated.
Surface irrigation (basins and furrows) is the most commonly used irrigation technique (Figure 3). The total area equipped for sprinkler irrigation is 1 813 ha and the total area equipped for localized irrigation is 1 415 ha according to the agricultural census of 2000/2001 (Table 6). Examples of relatively large-scale projects that use modern irrigation techniques are the Ar Rakiyah project, where 20 centre pivots cover 813 ha, and the Al Mashabiyah project, where 14 000 date palms are irrigated by bubblers and more than 800 ha of vegetables are irrigated by drippers on experimental and private farms.
Most of the water used in irrigation is primary groundwater, with very low water use efficiency (Figure 4). The water is pumped from the wells via pipelines with a conveyance efficiency of about 90 percent. However, the application efficiency is estimated at 50 percent, thus making the overall irrigation efficiency 45 percent.
Role of irrigation in agricultural production, the economy and society
There is great potential for increasing water use efficiency by shifting from surface irrigation techniques to sprinkler and localized irrigation. If modern irrigation techniques are adopted, together with improved cultural practices, the water use of the major crops could be in the range shown in Table 7. This would lead to saving 35ľ40 percent of the present crop water consumption. The cost of modern irrigation techniques using PVC pipes (excluding pumps, conveyance pipes and installation) is estimated at US$3 300/ha for an overhead sprinkler system, US$2 200/ha for a bubbler system and US$3 800/ha for a drip system (Hashim, 2005).
Small schemes (< 20 ha) cover 13 percent of the total equipped area for irrigation, medium size schemes (20-100 ha) 41 percent and large schemes (> 100 ha) 46 percent (Figure 5). All agricultural land in Qatar is owned by Qatari nationals, but farming is not the primary occupation of these landowners. Farming is carried out by expatriates, mainly Palestinians, Iranians and Egyptians. The landowners either employ expatriate farm managers or let their farm to expatriate tenants on short-term leases. There are five commercial agricultural companies and 17 farms are public and state-owned (The Planning Council, 2005).
Major irrigated crops are green fodder, vegetables, fruit trees and cereals (Figure 6). Tomatoes are the main winter vegetable and melons the main summer vegetable. The main fruit trees are dates and citrus. Alfalfa is the main green fodder crop. Barley is the main cereal, with a small quantity of wheat and maize (DAWR, Agricultural and Statistics Section, 2006).