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Prospects for agricultural water management
Irrigated agriculture has reached a stage where it needs a reform that focuses on productivity and sustainability of the investment made by the public sector and private farmers, as well as the rational use of its limited water resources. Irrigated agriculture is leading to the depletion of several aquifers and is putting the sustainability of the investments made at risk. Water productivity is still relatively low despite the introduction of modern irrigation techniques. The Ministry of Agriculture is developing a new agriculture strategy geared towards a greater macro-economic development of the sector, while sustaining the basic resources and increasing their productivity.
A “Future Plan for Agriculture” (draft version of November 2004) was developed in studies carried out by the PARCI (King Saud University). With regard to land and water resources, the plan calls for (FAO, 2007):
- Reducing water demand through a policy of diversification of agricultural production, taking into account the comparative advantages of each region in the country;
- Stopping expansion of high water consuming crops such as dates and forage;
- Concentrating on high added value crops;
- Stopping the distribution of agricultural land except in regions with sufficient renewable water resources;
- Improving irrigation water management and using modern irrigation methods, and stopping any support for well digging or water extraction;
- Estimating crop water requirements;
- Encouraging farmers to make use of tools that help manage irrigation water better, such as soil probes for a better scheduling of irrigation water deliveries;
- Respecting standards set by the MOA for digging wells, in collaboration with well digging companies;
- Taking a decision to solve the situation of open hand-dug wells, either through the use of adequate piping systems or closing these wells and digging others;
- Controlling water consumption through the use of meters for measuring the amount of water flowing out of the wells;
- Water pricing for all water used above the crop water requirements, starting with agricultural companies and specialized farms;
- Intensifying agricultural extension so as to make farmers more aware of the need to conserve water resources and to encourage a new dynamic in the role of agricultural associations and cooperatives in this respect;
- Establishing as a condition for the issuance of permits for agricultural projects the use of water conserving irrigation techniques, as well as an assessment of the relative characteristics of the region and its water potential;
- Expanding the use of treated wastewater in the agriculture and industry sector;
- Orienting and supporting research aimed at producing crop varieties that are resistant to drought, salinity or acid soils.
The next step for the MOA is to create an irrigation strategy that includes all its actions and activities in order to achieve the goals developed in the agriculture plan by 2020.