New and unique data on how much water crops use
ICARDA and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently organized a two-day workshop to document and share the outcomes of a project that uniquely establishes the amount of water used by key crops in regional settings, providing vital data for farming approaches and government policies.
Evapotranspiration (ET) is how soil and plant surfaces lose water to the atmosphere (evaporation) combined with how water leaves small openings of the plants’ leaves (transpiration). The process of evapotranspiration means the water is no longer stored in the soil or the plant. To manage water resources effectively and determine water requirements for fundamental crops, scientists and farmers seek to measure ET accurately.
Currently, many remote sensing (RS) evapotranspiration estimates are available for use in regional planning and policy development. Still, they suffer from uncertainties as they are not rigorously validated, especially in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) Region.
Ihab Jomaa is Head of irrigation and agrometeorology in the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI) and Director of Research Station of Tal Amara located in Beqaa Valley, Lebanon. “Heat, solar energy, and the climatic conditions all contribute to the evaporation of water from the soil and transpiration of water from the plant,” he says. “The science needs to fully understand and assess the process of evapotranspiration on specific and important crops, considering the conditions around it. We collect this new and unique scientific knowledge and introduce new instruments that can standardize the data across the region to help decision-makers allocate water efficiently for crops while reducing water wastes,” he explained
ICARDA, in collaboration with FAO’s Regional Office for Near East and North Africa (RNE), has established the first regional network for field measurement of evapotranspiration in five countries - Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, where different ET measurement options are used through National Agricultural Research Institutes. The network builds common understanding and methodology on ET measurements in the field and through remote sensing to deliver accurate data assessments and how to use them for agriculture-related applications such as water accounting, water productivity, and water management.
Jean-Marc Faurès, Regional Programme Leader, FAO Regional Office for the Near East and North Africa, said that “measuring water and optimal water use are fundamental for water resource management, but field measurement is not standardized in the region. But due to this innovative project, several countries now exchange knowledge and value across the region.”
ICARDA’s role is to develop standardized protocols and methods for evapotranspiration field measurements. With this technical support from ICARDA, the first measurement project was launched by country partners on cereals in the winter of 2019 using different instruments. Though COVID19 and its imposed travel restrictions have since affected how ICARDA works with country partners, ICARDA developed virtual exchange tools to overcome this obstacle and continues to exchange knowledge smoothly and provide fast troubleshooting services.
Through the ET network, members become fully familiar with the ET-Network measurement protocols using different methods and they can properly and accurately collect, analyze and disseminate the obtained data to relevant stakeholders for better regional water planning. ET-Network members also communicate with each other to exchange generated data and knowledge despite COVID-19 imposed challenges. A more accurate regional dataset on ET mapping is also being developed to better inform decision-makers and policymakers in the region
“ICARDA and FAO goals are complimentary. ICARDA is a research field-level partner that provides the evidence needed for policies, while FAO, as an intergovernmental organization, uses this evidence to persuade policymakers to make the necessary changes for a food- and water-secure future,” Mohamed AlHamdi, FAO's Senior Land and Water Officer at Near East and North Africa Region asserted. “ICARDA, as a trusted research institution is vital in this regard and helps us by delivering this unique data from the field. Water scarcity in this region is very severe and it is going to impede future sustainable development. The more research we can carry out now, the better it is going to be for those vulnerable countries to overcome those challenges.”
To ensure the sustainable use of the ET methods and techniques, nearly 70 participants in the region from Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, and Morocco receive training on ET measurements and the assembling and use of instruments.
“It is very important for FAO to partner with organizations like ICARDA that are experimenting, testing, and piloting these new methodologies on the ground. ICARDA can bring to our table a unique and valuable critical review of results in the field. The ET network that previously didn’t exist in the region fills a critical data gap, and no one could provide this vital information before. It’s important to upscale this project in-country and to other countries interested and to build capacities to ensure the right adoption of these technologies,” declared Domitille Vallée FAO Chief Technical Advisor and Manager of SIDA Project « water sustainability in agriculture » & Platforms collaborative on water productivity and water accounting/auditing.