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Agricultural Water Management: Proceedings of a Workshop in Tunisia (2007)

Chapter: Linking Agricultural Water Management and Scientifically-Based Decision Making

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Suggested Citation:"Linking Agricultural Water Management and Scientifically-Based Decision Making." National Research Council. 2007. Agricultural Water Management: Proceedings of a Workshop in Tunisia. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11880.
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Linking Agricultural Water Management and Scientifically-Based Decision Making

Sayed-Farhad Mousavi

Professor, College of Agriculture,

Isfahan University of Technology, Iran


As it was stated in the paper entitled "Agricultural Drought Management in Iran", published in the proceedings of Iranian-American Workshop on "Water Conservation, Reuse and Recycling", and held in December 2002 in Tunis, Tunisia, the main source of water in Iran is precipitation in the form of rain (70%) and snow (30%). Normally it amounts to 252 mm or 413 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually.


At present, the population of Iran is more than 68 million. About 4.5 bcm of water is for drinking, 1.5 bcm is allocated for industries and mines, and 82.5 bcm is used to irrigate approximately 8.4 million hectares of agricultural land (orchards and field crops). About 1.4 million hectares (ha) of these areas are managed by modern irrigation and drainage networks, 6.7 million ha by means of traditional conventional irrigation systems (furrow, border, flooding), and less than 0.3 million ha are under pressurized systems (sprinkle and trickle irrigation).


Some of the water problems include:

  • Declining groundwater levels (≈ 1 m/year) in arid regions, which depend on groundwater resources for agriculture, industrial activities, and urban water supply. Overall, 60% of these activities depend on groundwater sources.

  • Deforestation in the north, west and central mountainous areas.

  • Floods and drought occur more frequently than before. Heavy damages and economic losses result from these phenomena.

  • Conversion of high-value agricultural lands by urban dwellers, especially the lands which are close to rivers or fresh water resources.

  • The irrigation and drainage networks of some constructed dams have not been built or completed after decades.

  • Immigration of rural people to towns and cities and leaving agricultural activities behind.

  • Increases in soil and water salinity.

  • Low efficiency in irrigation systems (33% for surface, 65% for sprinkle and 85% for drip systems). More than 90% of the lands are irrigated with conventional surface systems.

  • Many large dams (capacity range of 1-7000 million cubic meters) were built during the last 25 years to supply agriculture and drinking needs. These dams have adverse environmental effects. Few scientists were involved in making construction decisions.

Suggested Citation:"Linking Agricultural Water Management and Scientifically-Based Decision Making." National Research Council. 2007. Agricultural Water Management: Proceedings of a Workshop in Tunisia. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11880.
×
  • Attaining self-sufficiency in major agronomic crops puts pressure on water resources. The Ministry of Agriculture has been successful in attaining self-sufficiency in wheat in 2005. What is the price of this self-sufficiency as the "virtual water" concept is concerned?

  • Lack of farmers' participation in decisions related to water management.

Some of the frequently asked questions in the scientific community (Iranian universities and research institutes) in respect to water management are:

  1. How can scientific knowledge and research results be more effectively distributed especially to farmers who are the main users of water resources, in their water consumption and management decisions?

  2. How can policy makers be convinced to apply certain scientific findings in the society?

  3. How can new sources of funds be found to work out new ideas?

  4. How can the disconnections among scientists, policy makers and water authorities be alleviated?

These questions are intensified in the third world as the type of water problems, views of the public, level of people's education and knowledge of the laws, public requests, and institutional and economic situation are different from developed countries.


The following steps are proposed to overcome some of the problems listed above, to find practical solutions, and to foster better relationships and collaboration between scientific communities and policy makers, water managers, and farmers. These steps are very important and necessary:

  • Differences in the context of activities and efforts should be understood. Scientists live in academic environments full of students and other colleagues, while policy makers are practicing in governmental offices face to face with the people having real problems who seek quick solutions to their problems.

  • Scientists, policy makers, water managers, and farmers often are living in their own thoughts and are not aware of the existence of the others. For example, despite the fact that hundreds of universities and research institutes exist in big cities, farmers still use conventional thousands-year old irrigation or agronomic systems to grow agricultural crops with low water use efficiency. Or, many parliament members or water managers either have no contact with universities or may not encourage the university members to observe decision-making processes and give scientific advices. Closer relationships and collaboration between these parties is recommended.

  • The timeframes and constraints are different for scientists and policy makers. Scientists are not in hurry to find results of their research. They should be able to verify the originality of their research findings. Policy makers and water managers are confronted with hundreds of real-time problems, which must have proper solutions as soon as

Suggested Citation:"Linking Agricultural Water Management and Scientifically-Based Decision Making." National Research Council. 2007. Agricultural Water Management: Proceedings of a Workshop in Tunisia. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11880.
×

possible. They must respond to the voters. Farmers need water at the beginning the growing season and cannot wait longer. Understanding these differences helps all sides to find the optimum solution to the problems at the best time.

  • Local integrated water resources councils or planning groups, with participation from representatives of all sectors, may be established to resolve local or regional water problems and conflicts. An example of this kind of council is the “Water Council” found in most of the provinces of Iran. This council includes the governor general of the province, representatives from the regional water authority, water and wastewater company, the municipality, the department of environment, agricultural organizations, local universities, water research institutes, the department of meteorology, management and planning organizations, and some others. This committee is very active during drought and flood periods.

  • Scientists should focus more on conducting applied research for solving the problems of local farmers and water managers and consider integrating these practitioners in the early design of research activities. Here, most of the researchers and scientists find the research ideas more or less on their own ingenuity or reading papers. Farmers don’t convey their problems directly to the scientists. Lack of farmers’ associations impedes the understanding of problems and solutions.

  • New technologies, like the internet and satellite programs, should be used to propagate and disseminate the results of research findings and to help set research priorities. This would eliminate the need for frequent meetings of busy people.

  • The extension services should be strengthened with the help of properly educated intermediaries to disseminate research findings and to expand the flow of information. This would remove some of the barriers between the three parties involved in water use and management. Presently, extension services are under the supervision of Ministry of Agriculture. They do whatever they can to convey the latest research results, but there is no direct connection with the university system.

These efforts are quite important and need the support of universities, state water authorities, planning and budget organizations, for financial backup, and agricultural organizations. Evaluations should be done to allow for further refinements and adjustments to the activities.


One might ask: who is going to organize these activities and who is going to support them financially? Is it the task of universities or ministries of energy and agriculture? Do the governors of the provinces orient and conduct the activities? Etc.


I think there should be multi-participatory committees, listening to different views and making decisions as practicable as possible. The stimulus should come from policy makers and politicians because they are the ones responsible for resolving everyday problems and are the arms of the government. One fact should be brought up---politicians, policy makers, and water managers are usually university-educated people with BS or MSc. level degrees. Rarely, do you find someone with PhD degree. Time is so important for them that they wish they could work

Suggested Citation:"Linking Agricultural Water Management and Scientifically-Based Decision Making." National Research Council. 2007. Agricultural Water Management: Proceedings of a Workshop in Tunisia. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11880.
×

more than 24 hours a day. This might be a good reason for not looking at new papers, new journals or books. Listening to experts who have up to date information is important.

Suggested Citation:"Linking Agricultural Water Management and Scientifically-Based Decision Making." National Research Council. 2007. Agricultural Water Management: Proceedings of a Workshop in Tunisia. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11880.
×
Page 66
Suggested Citation:"Linking Agricultural Water Management and Scientifically-Based Decision Making." National Research Council. 2007. Agricultural Water Management: Proceedings of a Workshop in Tunisia. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11880.
×
Page 67
Suggested Citation:"Linking Agricultural Water Management and Scientifically-Based Decision Making." National Research Council. 2007. Agricultural Water Management: Proceedings of a Workshop in Tunisia. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11880.
×
Page 68
Suggested Citation:"Linking Agricultural Water Management and Scientifically-Based Decision Making." National Research Council. 2007. Agricultural Water Management: Proceedings of a Workshop in Tunisia. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11880.
×
Page 69
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