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Raised-bed planting: maximizing water use efficiency

Nov 09,2016

Raised bed planting involves planting crops on ridges and applying irrigation water to the bottom of furrows.
 
An improved surface irrigation technique is offering farmers a practical and more sustainable alternative to conventional irrigation systems which tend to be highly inefficient and waste already-scarce water resources. Raised-bed planting – where crops are planted on ridges and irrigation water is applied to the bottom of furrows – is a priority of the ‘Enhancing Food Security in Arab Countries’ initiative, an ICARDA-managed program aiming to improve wheat production across nine Arab countries. 
 
Instead of spreading water over the entire surface area – the practice most commonly applied by farmers – raised-bed planting collects water more efficiently, applying this precious resource where it is most needed. Its introduction in Egypt and Sudan is not only improving water use efficiency – the amount of crop generated per m3 of water – but raising yields and boosting farmer incomes.  
 
Raising yields while improving water-use efficiency 
 
Impacts in Egypt’s Al-Sharkia Governorate, where the innovation was disseminated, have been particularly impressive. The results, obtained during the initiative’s first phase, compared the raised-bed technique with conventional flat surface irrigation. They include: 
 
- A 25 percent average saving in applied irrigation water
- A 30 percent average increase in grain yield
- An average 73 percent increase in water use efficiency 
- A 30-50 percent saving in the quantity of seed used for planting.
 
In addition, raised-bed planting brought savings in energy and labor. The average time needed to pump water to irrigate one hectare (ha) of wheat planted on a raised bed was 29.4 hours, compared to 43.9 hours on a flat field. The subsequent reduction in the costs of labor and fuel – approximately 33 percent – contributed to a rise in farmer incomes. 
 
In Sudan, raised-bed planting was also tested, and demonstrated that wheat yields could be increased by an average of 15 percent. In Morocco, water-use efficiency increased by 13 percent compared to basin irrigation.  
 
Gaining support 
 
In all three countries the practice is gaining wider support. In Al-Sharkia, for instance, land devoted to raised-bed sown wheat increased from 950 ha in 2009/10 to 33,600 ha in 2014/15. A similar trend has been noted nationwide across different parts of Egypt. Raised-bed planting now covers some 105,000 ha – the result of government efforts to replicate successes in Al-Sharkia.