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Safe and High Quality Food Production using Poor Quality Waters and Improved Irrigation Systems and Management

Final Report Summary - SAFIR (Safe and High Quality Food Production using Poor Quality Waters and Improved Irrigation Systems and Management)

The SAFIR project addressed two fundamental concerns of the general public, namely the safety and quality of food and the increasing competition for clean fresh water. The project employed a multidisciplinary approach which integrated the European as well as the global dimension of the EU policy on food quality and safety. Its overall aim was to develop and apply innovative, affordable, easily applicable irrigation technologies using recycled wastewater.

SAFIR had the following objectives, which were realised by different, yet well connected, work packages:
1. Development of a novel irrigation technology, combining small-scale water treatment plants and improved irrigation hardware.
2. Design of new irrigation single crop management schemes to ensure safe and high quality production using low quality water resources and improved water efficiency.
3. Development of single crop models to take into account the various effects of partial root zone drying (PRD) irrigation with low quality water.
4. Evaluation of the proposed irrigation systems impact on water, soil and vegetable produce.
5. Assessment of the risks of the improved irrigation system in terms of food safety and farmers' health.
6. Appraisal of the economic impact of the developed methods at a farm and national level, along with identification of institutional barriers for the implementation of the proposals.
7. Design of a decision support system (DSS) for irrigation management at farm level which would incorporate various components of the improved methods.
8. Dissemination of the project outcomes.

Two innovative water treatment technologies were designed, a compact pressurised membrane biofilter (MBR) and a field treatment system (FTS). The treatment pathways were designed for wastewater from small industrial or residential areas, secondary treated wastewater produced by urban water treatment plants and already disinfected wastewater which required further refinement on site to avoid food contamination. Prototype scale devices were implemented into new irrigation systems.

The proposal was flexible, could fit the requirements regarding raw water quality and pollutants' bioaccumulation and included the coverage of seasonal concentration changes. Deficit irrigation strategies were facilitated and a definite range of target water qualities was produced. A best available technology (BAT), targeted to different agricultural water reuses, was also developed. The water treatment unit was applied in experimental sites and subsequently refined. The performance of the irrigation systems was examined using a batch test, in order to check the impact of treated water on the drippers' technical characteristics.

The MBR system was patented and became commercially available. Moreover, the technical and technological difficulties arising through the production of a high quality PRD dripline were extensively studied and feedback was provided to experts in the field, so that the product could be improved. Finally, a user manual addressing to farmers and water companies was published.

Physical and chemical characteristics of vegetables irrigated with the proposed technology were monitored and compared to those of products irrigated with conventional water. The technology was subsequently evaluated through application of statistical methods on the experimental data. The PRD method appeared advantageous compared to deficit irrigation (DI) practices. Water saving guidelines were developed based on observations on the model plants.

Furthermore, SAFIR expanded single crop models based on existing tools in order to examine the effect of the technology on water use efficiency, plant water uptake, soil water distribution and crop yield. The models were calibrated using the available experimental data and were planned to be integrated in existing modelling routines to allow for managing irrigation water and nitrogen at various soils and climatic conditions.

The efficiency of the developed methods was investigated with respect to selected trace pollutants and pathogens, whose concentrations were identified in the root zone, fresh products and processed products. In addition, modifications of the soil properties due to irrigation with low quality water were examined. Conceptual and numerical models of chemical and biological transfers were accordingly developed at field scale, to provide feedback on water quality requirements and on the potential risks of the designed innovations. Thus, useful conclusions were derived and the development of an affordable, yet safe, solution regarding recycled water irrigation schemes was facilitated.

SAFIR project included a risk assessment of the proposed systems, in order to minimise health impacts at all stages, from production to consumption. Risk assessment models were developed in accordance with the methodologies recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and applied to the project case studies.

Furthermore, the financial and economic effect of the improved irrigation systems was assessed at farm and regional scales, while the institutional barriers to the proposal implementation were identified and evaluated. Differences of profitability due to local conditions, access to water and factor inputs were taken into consideration. In addition, the study incorporated both direct and indirect costs at a regional level. It occurred that adaptation of new technologies was mainly driven by energy, labour and capital costs rather than by saving water concerns. The MBR technology proved an affordable option when applied at a community scale; however, it was not competent for application by individual farmers.

Finally, a DSS for irrigation management was designed, aiming to assist farmers. The system integrated aspects of existing dynamic models in order to incorporate crop and irrigation water quality, irrigation techniques and environmental impacts of the applied technologies. Its application by the farmers was facilitated by the development of an open modelling interface. The data derived by the experimental field sites served for the model evaluation and assessment. DSS development resulted in the production of a simple web-based and a more advanced desktop version. In addition to those, a more detailed prototype management model, consisting of a range of modules, was designed.

SAFIR outcomes were disseminated to different stakeholders through various procedures. A website was developed and updated with the attained progress. Communication with key stakeholders was established, while a technology implementation plan was finalised and initiated prior to the project completion. Moreover, dissemination workshops were organised and documentation related to the project was published in various information sources.

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