With less than one tenth of Turkey's irrigable land under modern irrigation techniques vast potentials for water saving exist in agriculture, user of nearly three quarters of the nation's increasingly scarce water.
“We have to change our perception of water and water use practices considerably,”WWF-Turkey CEO Dr. Filiz Demirayak told the World Water Forum, now going on in Istanbul today.
“In pilot modern irrigation projects in Konya Closed Basin in central Anatolia and Bafa Lake Sub-Basin in western Anatolia, we have achieved more than 50% of water in the production of sugar beet, cotton and corn, which are among the thirstiest crops.”
Agricultural water use in Turkey is above world average levels, taking 72% of the water compared to 18% in household consumption and 10% in industry. Unsustainable water use practices in agricultural production are linked with the drying of lakes and rivers, declines in underground water levels and rising soil infertility from a build up in salinity.
Dry country a major producer of some of world's thirstiest crops
“Turkey is the 7th biggest cotton and 6th biggest sugar beet producer in the world yet modern and appropriate irrigation techniques are not employed in the production of these crops,” Dr Demirayak said.
“In 21 pilot projects in Anatolia WWF-Turkey has implemented drip irrigation technique in 270 decares (27 hectares) of agricultural land and trained thousands of farmer who are now growing their crops with half the average water they used previously.”
In a project WWF-Turkey conducted with the collaboration of Altınekin Governorship and the Environmental Protection Agency for Special Areas in Altınekin, Konya Closed Basin a comprehensive transformation to drip irrigation system was undertaken together with farmers in 5700 decares of agricultural land, with water savings of 37%.
According to a WWF report, cotton, rice, wheat, sugar cane and sugar beet are the thirstiest crops in the world and are the biggest consumers of water in agricultural production.
WWF Netherlands freshwater programme manager Esther Blom told the forum that 50 % saving in water use had been achieved in strawberry production in Donana Basin in Spain, rice production in India and flower production in Kenya.
“In Spain annual strawberry production is 200.000 tons, for which 20 million m3 of water is consumed every year,” Blom said.
“The main markets for the strawberries are Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland. We have achieved a significant transition in strawberry production in Donana by forging collaborations with the supermarkets in Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland.”
In rice production, WWF projects had accomplished 25-50% savings in water use while achieving a 20-40% increase in yield, with overall improvements in the productivity of land, labor, water and capital.