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Water Benchmarks Project

Community based management and optimization of water resources in agriculture

With water scarcity approaching critical levels in many developing countries – while food demand continues to rise – it is critical to increase water productivity in agriculture. The Water Benchmark Project has developed, validated and promoted low-cost technologies such as supplemental irrigation and water harvesting across West Asia and North Africa.

The project is now in its third phase, with support from the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development. The aim is to scale out technologies tested and piloted in previous phases. For example, field trials in different environments have shown how supplemental irrigation can increase yields while saving 30% of irrigation water.

GIS mapping and other tools have been developed to help national agencies plan and design water harvesting structures. In rangeland areas, the project has introduced mechanized methods to build water harvesting structures, ideally suited for large-scale land rehabilitation programs. The project has also developed integrated conservation technologies such as raised-bed planting. Use of this technology in Egypt has tripled in the past year.

Research covers three major agro-ecologies: rainfed areas, irrigated zones and dry rangelands. The approach is to use ‘benchmark’ sites in each agro-ecology as primary research platforms, complemented by ‘satellite sites’ for broader testing and scaling out. Egypt, Jordan and Morocco host the benchmark sites for irrigated, rangeland and rainfed ecosystems respectively.

In parallel with this project are several other multi-country, multi-partner initiatives such as the USAID-funded Water and Livelihood Initiative which targets seven countries in the Middle East; and a new project in Iran’s Karkheh river basin, that will build on previous and ongoing ICARDA work in the area.

Socio-economics and policy research, under the Benchmark and other projects, is helping to identify policy and institutional options to accelerate dissemination of water-efficient technologies, and create the incentives needed to encourage sustainable use of water resources.