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An expert helps train a group of farmers as part of a project conducted by the IAEA.

With the dwindling of water resources and the increasing demand for water, agriculture is further challenged to use water more efficiently. This is particularly crucial in arid and semi-arid regions such as in West Asia

Micro-irrigation systems and fertigation -- which is the application of fertilizers through an irrigation system -- have many benefits as they help to control water and nutrients in the root-zone, saving labour and equipment costs. Eight countries from the West Asia region (Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen) participated in an IAEA regional project over a 5-year period, where nuclear techniques were used to identify improved water and fertilizer management practices. Tremendous saving of water and nitrogen fertilizer was observed when the above methods were compared with traditional methods of applying water and nitrogen fertilizer to the field. In Iran, drip irrigation saved about 50% of irrigation water for tomatoes, and nitrogen-fertilizer recovery increased from 5% to 30%.

In Jordan, maximum garlic yields could be obtained with 80 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare (N/ha) when applied by fertigation as compared to 120 kg N/ha when applied by conventional methods. In Lebanon, cucumbers grown under continuous fertigation, applied every second day, gave yields significantly higher than all other treatments. In Syria, fertigation was a very efficient technique for cotton, conserving both water and nitrogen fertilizer:

  • 36% of irrigation water was saved under drip irrigation,
  • 22% increase in seed-cotton yield was observed, and
  • 93% increase in irrigation water efficiency based on dry matter yield was obtained.

Water is a scarce resource in Mediterranean Countries. Agriculture is the biggest user with about 80% of the renewable water resources used for irrigation. Traditional methods such as furrow, surface irrigations are highly inefficient: with only one-third of the applied water being transpired by the crops. Clearly, there is great need for improving irrigation management.

Data obtained so far show that fertigation is a very efficient technique for conserving both water and nitrogen fertilizer and increasing crop production. On average:

  • 42% of irrigation water can be saved under drip irrigation,
  • a 42% increase in yield can be realized for fertigation compared with traditional fertilizer and water management practices, and
  • a 79% increase can be gained in the efficiency of using irrigation water use, based on crop yield.

In addition, the project together with other national efforts has had a major positive influence on governmental policies in the Mediterranean region on the rational use of scarce water resources for agriculture.

For more information, see the Web Pages of the IAEA's Section on Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition.

Last update: 26 Jul 2017

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