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July 9, 2018

Amid Water Shortages, Iraqi Farmers Aim to Use It More Effectively

photoWheat harvesting
photoAbdul, center, installs a pump to send water to the fields.

Basrah Governorate in southern Iraq. In May, wheat harvesting goes on under the blazing sun. But this year, the situation is different.

"This year’s harvest will be 1.5 times more than last year's. And, we actually used about 20 percent less water," enthuses Abdul, age 27, a full-time farmer in a family of five.

For many years, JICA has been supporting Iraq, which suffers from severe water shortages, by helping to make technical improvements and build a system for the more efficient use of irrigation water. Since last year, JICA has also been providing technical support in the management of irrigation facilities by farmers and in new cultivation methods that can save water. This has improved the farmers' livelihood.

The situation in Iraq remains tense. The government is aiming for a
quick recovery, and JICA continues to work with the people facing hardship to give them hope for the future.

Effective use of irrigation water is a national issue

photoA pump guiding water from a river
photoWater pumped from the river travels along a small canal to the fields.

Iraq, most of which has a dry desert climate, relies on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for most of its water resources. It has gotten more difficult, however, to secure irrigation water due to reduced water flow caused by large dams constructed in upstream countries, dilapidated irrigation facilities, and improperly managed water use. To secure agricultural production, the effective use of irrigation water is of national concern for Iraq under decreasing water resourses.

As the water shortage grew more severe in Iraq, conflicts over water were increasing in the country. To build an efficient water management system in Iraq, since 2008, JICA has been providing support to develop irrigation facilities and spread Water Users Associations (WUAs) that manage agricultural water. “WUA Instructions” came into force in Iraq in 2014, partly as a result of this support. About 140 WUAs have been established in Iraq to date, and a water management structure is taking shape.

JICA, following this progress, began a new initiative with the Iraqi government in 2017 to help farmers take the lead in managing WUAs and promote the effective use of irrigation water. The Iraqi government plans to expand the new initiative to the whole the country in the near future.

Running water users associations democratically

photoA general body meeting of WUA. People were given the opportunity to express their opinions.

During their activities in Iraq, JICA experts discussed closely with farmers the proper management of two WUAs. Up to then, though the farmers complained about not having enough water, they didn't know what to do to solve the problem. Through repeated discussions, the farmers learned how to manage the associations and apply new irrigation techniques. They became more aware that water shortages were their own problem, and consequently, they began making decisions to solve it.

photoA farmer in charge of taking minutes of the meetings. "I'm proud of my responsible position," he said with notes in hand.

The association members took notes on what was discussed among the members, enabling them to review the content of discussions, to understand the points at issue, and eventually to reach solutions. At one meeting, they decided that when pumps were left broken, repair funds will be collected from all association members. The operation and maintenance of facilities were improved, which led to more efficient water use.

Agricultural production increases with the introduction of water-saving irrigation and cultivation methods

photoA tractor with its attachment is used to create ditches in a wheat field.

Irrigation and cultivation methods that could save water are increasingly being adopted. Furrow irrigation is a method being used for the first time in a wheat field in Iraq. Ditches are created and water flows into them. Compared to flood irrigation where the field would be covered with water, furrow irrigation requires less water and reduces cost of pumping water from canals. Innovations also have been made in seed planting and cultivation methods, which has led to an increase in agricultural productions and income.

"The most important thing for Iraqi farmers is that, rather than being passive, they need to actively get involved in water management and use irrigation water effectively," a JICA expert emphasized.

An awareness that they are the ones to protect the water has started to grow among the farmers themselves. This awareness is becoming the key to promoting the effective use of water in Iraq.


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