Problems associated with the sustainable management of agricultural production in areas subject to harsh environmental conditions, such as those of southern Iraq, were discussed at a workshop on ‘Mesopotamia: sustainable development and agriculture’, conducted at Expo Milan 2015, on September 10th, by The Italian Development Cooperation (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation), Florence University and the European Commission. Presenting a framework for Salinity Management in Iraq at this event, Dr. Kamel Shideed, ICARDA’s Assistant Director General for International Cooperation and Communications, spoke about ICARDA’s Iraq Salinity Management Project, funded by Italian Development Cooperation and Australian Center for International Agricultural Research, which uses a multi-disciplinary and multi-scale approach.
Salt-affected soils are present in at least 75 countries and occupy more than 20% of the global irrigated area. At a global scale, annual income losses from salt-affected irrigated areas are reported to be around USD 12 billion, based mainly on crop yield losses. In some cases, farmers in Iraq cultivate only 30% of their land and experience up to 65% yield reduction due to the lack of water and high soil salinity. In the most extreme cases of salinity, farmers abandon their land and livelihoods. Positive impacts of investment in salinity reclamation are evident from the success of Dujaila Project, which covers an area of 99,000 ha and is irrigated from the Tigris through a 57 km canal.
To control salinity, key investments need to be undertaken in the areas of land and production systems, enabling actions, water systems and knowledge systems. These need to be viewed from a holistic and comprehensive systems perspective. Looking at the current food security challenges, there is an urgent need for productivity enhancement of salt-affected lands in irrigated areas. Based on ICARDA’s experiences, several research and development investment options are available to manage salinity. Dr. Shideed also emphasized the need to analyze the economic cost of ‘no action’ (benefit loss due to salt-induced land degradation under ‘business-as-usual’ scenarios) and the net economic benefit of action (derived from preventing and/or reversing land degradation), with a particular focus on irrigated areas. These can provide sustainable and enduring solution for managing salinity.