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Better use of water for crops in the Mediterranean

Scientists took a new look at an old but growing problem, water usage for crops in dry regions. Insight gained and recommendations made should help increase efficiency and sustainability, supporting fragile economies.
Better use of water for crops in the Mediterranean
Agriculture is an important part of the economy in countries in the Mediterranean region and southern Europe. Numerous research projects have addressed water use efficiency (WUE) as related to crops. However, practical implementation of results in the region has been limited.

In some cases, the Mediterranean agricultural reality does not lend itself to the methodologies outlined. In others, there has been an inefficient transfer of knowledge from researchers to end users including the farmers themselves.

In order to improve regional water management and crop WUE in Mediterranean developing countries, scientists initiated the EU-funded ‘Evaluation of the water use efficiency indicators in the Mediterranean region’ (WEMED) project.

Scientists relied heavily on a range of scale models that included real costs.. In addition, they made important suggestions for new models that can provide a more accurate picture of water usage and efficiency.

The consortium investigated development of WUE indicators, improving water usage itself, and developing or adopting new crops better able to withstand the dry and arid climates. The team evaluated incorporation of a variety of parameters into indicators of water productivity and WUE including biomass produced, crop yield, income and the like.

They successfully employed intelligent systems based on prediction of demands for improving water distribution and timing of irrigation. Crop improvement was also an important issue and the focus in this area was on using drought-resistant crops, either natural ones (for example fruit trees) or those produced by genomics-assisted breeding.

Finally, in response to global change and increasing human demands, scientists delineated a number of factors to be considered in crop water usage and suggested a participatory system based on fees reflecting water cost and profit of a given crop.

WEMED took another look at crop water usage in Mediterranean developing countries with important insight and field validation regarding improving WUE. In an era of ever-increasing water scarcity, the results promise to have important impact on the respective economies in a number of ways.

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