The Iraq Salinity Project was introduced to a large number of visitors during the recent 39thInternational Agricultural Fair in Baghdad. This event was supported by the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture and with the presence of ministers, ambassadors, high-profile investors and international donors.
Publications and other technical material distributed during the fair grabbed the interest of the Iraqi agriculture experts facing the country. Materials describe the current salinity situation particularly in the country’s central and southern areas and aims to structure a national framework for salinity management. This requires the collaboration of ministries and rural communities to reduce the impact of salinity through raising public awareness about the salinity problem.
Attendance included some 1500 public and private companies specialized in agriculture, commerce and industry representing 20 countries, coming together to discuss potential cooperation and expand trade relations. Iraq Salinity Project was also introduced to the visitors of the Basrah Agriculture and Food Industries expo, earlier in 2012.
The project’s socio-economic team has produced a review of the performance of the agricultural sector in Iraq from a government perspective. The purpose of this study is to propose policy and institutional guidelines to encourage better land management.
The study analyzed the policy landscape- looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT). Points of ‘strength’ are the existing policies and programs that the government has already devised, and include the development of key partnerships between government and local communities, increased knowledge, and improved technological solutions, which seem promising to reduce the salinity; ‘opportunities’are programs such as the National Strategy for the Protection of the Environment that points to a rising interest and awareness for better land management, conservation of water and reduction of salinity.
‘Weaknesses’are poor agricultural practices that contributed to increase salinity in Iraq. Currently it is estimated that more than 1.5 million donum each year is affected by salinity, resulting in significant environmental, social, and economic costs; ‘Threats’are the factors that increase salinity levels in soil and water such as water scarcity, depending on other countries for water resources, social instability and institutional weakness.
The study proposes a list of recommendations for salinity management. These include using modern and cost-effective salinity control technologies that focus on aspects of agricultural production growth, rehabilitate the degraded infrastructure to manage irrigation, allocate more funding for programs on soil salinity and water conservation, and establish water-user associations to ensure equitable distribution of water.
For this work the research team builds on earlier research and data available from the Iraqi Ministries of water Resources, Agriculture, Environment and other work done by international programs such as the USAID and Agricultural Initiative.
Tracking salinity-high risk and high potential areas for farming
Researchers from the project team worked with eight local farmers to test and establish
, higher efficiency surface irrigation systems in selected fields in Batha, Dujailah and Garraf last month. The objective of the irrigation system was to improve water use efficiency and reduce shallow groundwater that is a cause of salinization.
Temperature sensors and weather stations were also installed in farmer fields to measure rainfall, relative humidity, ambient air temperature, wind speed and direction.Soil water sensors were installed to monitor the field conditions during the year that will help guide better water management for salinity control.
The piped irrigation system helps farmers have better control over how much water is released. It also shows that these irrigation systems which are low-tech and made using locally available material – can improve irrigation water management. This system has been experimented in Syria before and it saved water application by 30-45%, decreased labor cost by 60% and power cost by 40%.
Eighteen Iraqi technicians were trained on assembling, calibrating and installing equipment at farmers’ fields in Al Nassiriah area.