Across much of the West Asia and North Africa region, harsh drought conditions – created by irregular rain patterns and exacerbated by climate change – result in substantial yield losses for farmers.
To help them overcome these severe losses, CGIAR researchers at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) designed the supplemental irrigation system, an approach that determines the minimum amount of water required to stabilize rainfed crops and increase yields when there is insufficient rain to promote healthy plant growth. The system maximizes physical and economic crop water productivity, as well as water security, by fine-tuning when and how much to irrigate, locating water sources, and promoting best agronomic and diversification practices for cropping systems. Supplemental irrigation has been shown to provide higher and more stable yields, a lower risk of crop failure, and significant improvements to crop water productivity and farmers’ income.
In Syria, wheat production has increased from two to four tons annual over ten years, with supplemental irrigation responsible for at least one-third of the increase. Farmers applying the method in Tadla, Morocco, and in Anatolia, Turkey, found they were able to plant their crops earlier in the season, resulting in more than double the water productivity and yields. In Yemen, the approach has helped increased sesame productivity by 103% to 120%, resulting in a gross margin ranging from $1,596 to $2,570 per hectare.
Supplemental irrigation has been shown to provide higher and more stable yields, a lower risk of crop failure, and significant improvements to crop water productivity and farmers’ income
The approach can easily be scaled up in a number of water-scarce areas because of its smart application of small amounts of water and customizable packages, which include guidance, training, and inputs. The packages are developed by researchers to provide several important services, including optimal irrigation, minimal water usage, limited water wastage, deficit irrigation, matching water use with optimal varieties for different soil fertility levels, increased water productivity and neutralizing the impacts of climate extremes.
CGIAR researchers at ICARDA and their partners, including farming organizations and farmers, have developed and optimized supplemental irrigation packages for crops and cropping systems in Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey. Several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Burkina Faso and Niger, have launched their own programs based on CGIAR’s innovative approach. The FAO Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture now promotes supplemental irrigation as a climate-smart practice, and the World Bank has used the research as a standout investment example for development clients.
Header photo: An olive grove from an olive irrigation project. Photo by ICARDA.