This website uses cookies to ensure a better browsing experience; in addition to technical cookies, third-party cookies are also used. To learn more and become familiar with the cookies used, please visit the Cookies page.
By continuing to browse this site, you automatically consent to the use of cookies


A new irrigation method saves water and farming lands in Syria

Innovation / -

Stabilizzare l’acqua del sottosuolo, aumentare la produzione e diminuire i costi è il focus di questo progetto.

The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (Maeci) and the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari (Maib) have introduced an innovation in Syria that stabilizes subsoil water, increases production and cuts down costs.

Real changes in the world of agriculture are rare events, considering that over 80% of farmers use traditional irrigation techniques with high water consumption. But in Syria, because of a climate characterized by wide temperature ranges and little rainfall, something needed to be done to improve crop yields. This is why the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in concert with the Maib (Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari) began promoting a new irrigation method in 2005. Syrian farmers gain two benefits from using innovative machinery and simple methods. First, they can stop the reduction in subsoil water, which creates dangerous swallow holes in the agricultural fields. Second, their economic conditions can be improved by lower production costs (and lower water consumption) along with larger crop yields (especially grains and cotton). This initiative increases the quality of Syrian agricultural products with a view to making them competitive on the international market.
Cutting-edge agricultural equipment
The project plans for the development to take place over two phases. The first involves the introduction of a new, sustainable irrigation system (with the unfortunate acronym of ISIS, which in this case stands for Improved Surface Irrigation System) that is easily used and adapted to different types of crops. A method for calculating the water used in the fields, reducing the soil salinity and rationalizing the use of fertilizers is also developed. Another invention is a new type of machine that makes it possible to sow and furrow (in other words, to create the furrows where the seeds are placed) in a single step, saving a great deal of time.
The second phase aims at rationalizing the natural resources by using new techniques for harvesting rain water, creating farmer associations and an alarm system for possible bacteria in the crops.
The land is safe now
The implementation of this program was complicated by the cautious attitude of the 4 thousand Syrian farmers, combined with the outbreak of the civil war. But with only two years to go before the end of the first phase, the data are showing that the water level in the aquifer is no longer diminishing, thereby blocking the formation of new swallow holes in the land. The amount of water saved for irrigation is 30 million cubic metres, equivalent to 35% compared to traditional farming methods. Records show that the farmers' income has increased by 45%, crop yields have improved (+45% in grains) and costs have come down (-42% in energy). Even though the second phase couldn't be completed because of the start of the war, the project has already been exported and replicated in other countries.

Five questions for Maeci. In Syria the farmers themselves have adopted state-of-the-art irrigation techniques

Innovation / -

Sistemi d'irrigazione innovativi in Siria

In a country blighted by instability, innovative methods of irrigation can improve people’s lives, and reduce costs. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (Maeci) talks us through the various stages in the process.

At Expo Milano 2015, visitors will be made aware of Maeci project thanks to the photo-story displayed in Pavilon Zero. What message would you like to convey with your approach to the issue of food security?
Innovative and sustainable irrigation techniques can, with full cooperation from farmers, generate benefits both to the present, and to future, generations. While crop yields are increased, production costs are reduced, and water resources are safeguarded.

What difficulties have you encountered while working on your project? How did you overcome them?
The main difficulty was the initial diffidence on the part of the local technical experts. They found it inconceivable that a new way of irrigating the fields could increase output, and at a lower cost, while saving water and manpower. Thanks to the enthusiasm of the farmers, who were keen to put this new approach into action, not to mention a diligent campaign to spread the word about the success achieved, we managed to overcome this diffidence.

Since the submission date, how has your project developed to date?
Between the end of the first phase of the operation in 2007, and that of the second, in 2011, the number of hectares  where this new method was adopted increased from 150 to 1,000 hectares, with local technical staff refining and adapting the techniques in line with local conditions. During the same period, some thirty million cubic meters of water were saved. More recently, this approach has been adopted in a number of other countries, thanks to the work of JICA, the Tokyo-based Japan International Cooperation Agency, and ICARDA, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, in Beirut. Unfortunately, due to the civil war, we have no way of monitoring how the original project, in Syria, is performing.
What developments do you expect in the long term for your idea?
Given these good outcomes, the Bari outpost of CIHEAM, the International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic, which carried out the work on the Italian government’s behalf, is giving presentations on this new irrigation system in a number of international settings. Via our Institutes and Research Units, we will continue to promote this Best Practice, emphasizing the aspect of sustainability.

Do you plan to extend this initiative to other countries, or in other contexts?
In 2012, the same system was tried out in a number of experimental areas in Iraq, by ICARDA. The same sort of irrigation project has been documented in a number of countries by various Turkish companies that produce the irrigation equipment. We too, plan to continue to spread the word, since this irrigation system has proved itself to be both efficient and cost-effective.

Over a million people are already #FoodConscious. What about you?

The ExpoNet Manifesto