Arab-Israeli Partnership Aids Farmers in Dry Areas

BRUSSELS, Belgium, April 10, 2003 (ENS) - Researchers in drought prone Mediterranean countries, including Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Greece and Cyprus, have pooled resources to devise a common strategy for sustainable water use in horticulture. The 1 million (US$1.079 million) project known as Hortimed and funded by the European Union, will provide guidelines for Mediterranean farmers who suffer from the adverse effects of low quality water with high saline content.

"Research helps build bridges between cultures in the Middle East," said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "The scientists involved are looking beyond political hostilities to construct a lasting framework for crop irrigation. Their endeavors will help to ensure that both Arabs and Israelis will have stable access to high quality crops as well as better drinking water supplies."

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Hortimed research taking place in a greenhouse at the University of Thessaly, Greece (Photo courtesy University of Thessaly)
The Hortimed project has been prompted by the need to preserve fresh water for use in Mediterranean towns and cities, and the rising discharge of domestic effluents for which agriculture can provide safe means of disposal.

Using advanced technology, researchers are exploring means of reducing crop dependency upon fresh water, without compromising the quality of the crop yield. This includes exploring climate control to lower transpiration rates in greenhouses and maximizing the potential for recycling water.

On the other hand, researchers intend to make the best possible use of low quality water by increasing the crops' saline tolerance with fertilizers and nutrients.

The project seeks "fertigation recipes," climate control operations, crop and crop mixture rotations that improve yield and quality under constraints of marginal water use.

Experiments have been conducted to examine the effect of irrigation on crop development and yield. An additional objective of the project is to define strategies to maximize use of lower quality water with particular emphasis on the problems derived from salinity.

Partners studied the response of tomatoes to fluctuating electrical conductivity. They completed the salt accumulation model when the irrigation solution was recirculated.

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Researcher in a Palestinian greenhouse (Photo courtesy Cooperative Development Unit)
Researchers also extended the study of yield response of tomatoes to salinity when fogging systems operate due to high vapor pressure deficit. In particular, they looked into the effect of controlled humidity increase using a wet pad and fan system.

These results are being integrated in a decision support system to help in the irrigation of protected horticultural crops with low quality water. This system, combined with greenhouse control systems, are intended to ensure better management of available water resources at each specific instant along the crop cycle, the European Commission said.

The project "demonstrates that scientific cooperation can cross sensitive cultural and political boundaries," the Commission said in a statement. "It has provided an opportunity to develop new professional and personal ties between Israeli, Egyptian and Palestinian experts."

Research efforts will be integrated with a newly launched common database for the use of all partners. Twice a year, all participating scientists unite to share their experiences and to analyze and debate the data presented by each research group.

Managed by the Department of Land Reclamation and Agricultural Engineering at the Agricultural University of Athens, the 42 month long project will conclude at the end of August.