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MIRRA seeks to expand ultra-low energy drip irrigation system in Jordan

By MIRRA - Nov 16,2020 - Last updated at Nov 16,2020

AMMAN —  From 2016 to 2019, the project “Ultra-Low Energy Drip Irrigation for MENA Countries”, implemented by Jordanian NGO, Methods for Irrigation and Agriculture (MIRRA), addresses challenges regarding water scarcity, irrigation efficiencies, and energy use in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region through the utilisation and piloting of a new, innovative technology — a low-pressure drip irrigation system. 

Designed by the Massachusetts’ Institute of Technology’s GEAR (Global Engineering and Research) Lab, this technology drastically decreases the energy requirements for irrigation by almost 50 per cent through the introduction of innovative ultra-low pressure-compensating emitters.

Drip irrigation, however, is not a new idea. It has often been used to disperse treated wastewater, a solution to one of Jordan’s largest challenges — freshwater scarcity. 

Despite its promise, Jordanian farmers refrained from using this technology due to an increased risk of clogging in the emitters. 

Though this issue can easily be avoided with filtration systems, “many farmers avoid using filtration systems because it lowers the pressure in the [irrigation] system,” explained Samer Talozi, an Associate Professor at the Jordan University of Science and Technology. 

“We believe that MIT’s ultra-low-pressure emitters will allow Jordanian farmers to use drip irrigation with wastewater combined with a filtration system. This, however, must be tested in the field,” Talozi said.

With funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), MIRRA demonstrated the success and immense potential of this new system through the initiative. 

The effort was divided into two phases: Phase 1 involved the implementation and testing of the irrigation technology and phase 2 incorporated the installation of a solar-powered pump to power the irrigation systems. 

Specifically, the project focused on more than 15 selected farms in three Jordanian regions, namely in the Sharhabeel, Ramtha and Mafraq regions. 

During phase 1, MIRRA successfully installed and tested the innovative technology despite the technical and social challenge involved with these brand-new prototype emitters. 

At the Ramtha research station in north Jordan, the prototype emitters operated with the desired outcome using treated wastewater, effectively addressing the existing fear of clogging and Jordan’s challenge of water scarcity. 

Through MIRRA’s effort in adjusting accordingly to the challenges posed by the local environment, the Sharhabeel research station in the Jordan Valley and a large private farm in Mafraq benefited immensely from the new irrigation dripper. 

For all three regions, regular Distribution Uniformity Tests (DUTs) were conducted in order to illustrate that water was uniformly distributed, further demonstrating the capability of ultra-low-pressure drip irrigation.

Additionally, to build awareness among the farmers, training programmes were conducted throughout the field tests. These include topics on the online pressure compensating emitters, the importance of filters and how to clean them, the various devices in the irrigation control system, and the significance and operation of the fertigation system. 

Through empowering the farmers to ensure good operation and maintenance of irrigation networks, these outreach efforts maximise the benefits brought by these innovative technologies and allow for a greater impact in water and energy conservation.

During phase 2, the drip emitters’ performance with solar power was tested. Now, the irrigation system requires a smaller solar system, because the innovative emitters require much less pressure than what is available in the market. 

In the past, farmers usually invested in electrical or fuel-powered pumps due to solar power’s cost and variability in performance. However, through installing a solar powered pump at the Sharhabeel site, the MIRRA team demonstrated that an integrated irrigation system powered by the sun is equally effective. Through these efforts, Jordan is one step closer towards accomplishing a more sustainable future that has lasting environmental, social and economic benefits.

Terminating on September 19, 2019, the project was successful. As a result, the partnership between MIRRA and MIT was extended through a 39-month project (2019–2022) titled “Tuning water delivery to evapotranspiration using ultra-low energy drip irrigation and commercialising it in the MENA region.” 

Due to the established capability of this innovative irrigation system, the new initiative hopes to commercialise the drip emitter technology at a larger scale, expanding the conservation efforts of this project to many more agricultural communities nearby. 

 

(MIRRA contributed this article to The Jordan Times)

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