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Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

Irrigation in Ukraine has a long tradition, particularly in Crimea, where it dates back to the early centuries of the modern era. Major irrigation development also took place in the Middle Ages, during the Tatar Empire (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries), and again in the nineteenth century, when it expanded from Crimea to the steppes in the south of the country. Large irrigation schemes were built in the 1930s in eastern Soviet Ukraine, as part of the ‘electrification of the socialist state’ project. In 1967, the area equipped for irrigation was estimated at 667 000 ha.

The irrigation potential has been estimated at 5.5 million ha. The most suitable areas for irrigation development, from a technical and economic point of view, are: the coastal plain along the Black Sea coast between Odessa and the Danube Delta; the area between Odessa and the Southern Bug valley; central Crimea; and the coastal areas along the Sea of Azov.

In 1984, the irrigated areas in Ukraine amounted to 2.4 million ha. More than 50 percent of this total was concentrated in the four districts that border the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Other important regions for irrigation are the valleys of the Donets and of the Dnipro where supplementary irrigation is practiced in summer.

In 1992, the area equipped for irrigation covered about 2.6 million ha of which 0.5 million ha surface irrigation and 2.1 million ha sprinkler irrigation (Figure 3). Surface water was the only source of irrigation water and the reservoirs built on the main rivers, and particularly on the Dnipro river, provided water to the irrigated areas downstream through canals up to 500 km long. These canals also provided water to cities and industrial complexes in Crimea and in the far southwest of the country.

In 2013, total area equipped for irrigation was estimated at 2 169 000 ha (Ukrstat, 2014). In 1992, almost 80 percent used sprinkler irrigation technology. In 2003 actually irrigated area accounted for 731 400 ha, which was only about one third of the area equipped for irrigation in that year.

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, economy and society

In 2003, the area equipped for irrigation was 731 400 ha, of which 25 percent were permanent grass and fodder, 14 percent cereals, 14 percent annual fodder, 10 percent fruit trees, 10 percent vegetables, 8 percent potatoes, 7 percent pulses, 6 percent sunflowers, 3 percent sugar beet and 3 percent rice (Table 5 and Figure 4).

Status and evolution of drainage systems

The first drainage works were introduced at the end of the eighteenth century in northwest Ukraine, then part of Poland. At that time, major canals were built mainly for communication and transport purposes, and the swamps were drained for cultivation. Drainage development has continued in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In 1994, the drained area was estimated at 3.3 million ha, of which 63 percent was equipped with subsurface drains, mainly pipes (Table 5). About 1.8 million ha of irrigated land were equipped with drainage facilities to prevent salinization. In these areas, the groundwater level is kept at 1.5-3.0 m below the soil surface. In 2013, the total drained cultivated area is also estimated at 3.3 million ha.


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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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