MENA Region Strides toward Sustainable Water Management in Agriculture

Dealing with water scarcity has proven to be a challenge worldwide. There are now less than 1,000m3 of renewable water resources per person in MENA, as compared to 4,500m3 in East Asia Pacific countries, and 9,000m3 in the United States, according to the World Bank. Competing demands among agriculture, population growth and rapid urbanization are putting immense pressure on the region’s scarce water resources. Consequently, more attention is presently being paid to water saving techniques in irrigation practices. Micro irrigation, specifically drip irrigation, is one of the solutions that countries in the MENA region are currently exploring to promote sustainable irrigation and water management.

The micro irrigation systems market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 18.3 percent from 2016 to 2021, to reach USD6.81 billion by 2021, according to a report by MarketsandMarkets. With the increasing water scarcity, higher yield requirement, and increasing adoption of irrigation tools in countries such as South Africa, Saudi Arabia, India, China, and Brazil, the market for micro irrigation systems is continuously expanding. The types of micro irrigation systems used mainly include micro sprinkler and drip. A Transparency Market Research report states that drip irrigation helps in saving both fertilizers and water by letting water drip slowly near the roots of the plants. Drip irrigation works effectively through a network of pipes, emitters, valves, and tubing. Drip irrigation systems are designed by taking into consideration the growing issues of water scarcity worldwide. The variation in water and fertilizer supply can be regulated through drippers and valves. It also helps in lessening soil erosion.

“… shifting to drip irrigation, in particular for smallholders, requires a substantial behavioral change”

On the other hand, shifting to drip irrigation, in particular for smallholders, requires a substantial behavioral change, according to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Drip systems are often expensive and difficult to manage, and require advanced skill sets. In addition, over-pumping and salinity may actually result in reducing the efficiency of the system if the network is not adequately cleaned and maintained. Therefore, IRENA states that the technology should be customized to adapt to local conditions, especially with respect to capacity building across the value chain. The report also notes that the adoption of technologies, such as drip irrigation, may increase water and energy use efficiency, but might increase overall consumption owing to an expansion in irrigated areas and/or an increase in the intensity of cropping and irrigation. Therefore, countries in the MENA region are striving to increase productivity across all scales of water and energy-use efficiency. They aim to save money, use water more efficiently, increase crop yields and reduce pollution. To illustrate, USAID is supporting the region’s water resources management movement by funding the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) for a new Ultra-Low Energy Drip Irrigation program for Middle East and North African (MENA) countries. This three-year activity implemented in Jordan and Morocco is valued at over USD2.3 million, states a USAID report. The objective is to design and test ultra-low pressure drip irrigation systems for the MENA region that will cut pumping energy by 50 percent (for electric or diesel pumps), enable drip systems to run on low-pressure municipal water supplies, and facilitate the dissemination of low-cost, solar-powered drip irrigation solutions.

Dana Hani
Senior Content Editor & Researcher
CPH World Media