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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Soil water retention technology to improve vegetable production among highly permeable soils under water scarcity and dry climate conditions In Iraq

PI: Mahdi Aoda (Baghdad University)
U.S. Partners: G. Phillip Robertson and Alvin J.M. Smucker (Michigan State University)
Project Dates: August 2013 to July 2016
The primary purpose of this project is to use a proven technology to double food production with a goal of reducing irrigation by 50% in arid regions of Iraq. Since water is the most limiting input to agricultural production, and its resources are declining, new approaches beyond additional irrigation are needed to retain more water in the root zones of plants. Water scarcity is becoming more acute in Iraq, primarily due to the high evapo-transpiration rates and the fact that previous international water sources are being retained in large dams and canal systems in Syria and Turkey. Surface flooding and canal irrigation continue to result in the lose of more water, promoting soil salinity. Therefore, new approaches for conserving irrigation water must be designed to minimize water losses during surface additions of water and increase soil water holding capacity in the root zone. The rapidly expanding utilization of subsurface water and nutrient retaining membranes, combined with surface and subsurface drip irrigation tapes, minimize surface water losses and deep leaching losses of water and nutrients below the root zone.
Therefore, the main goals for this project are to conserve up to 60% of the irrigation water required to produce healthy vegetables locally and to consolidate and expand the research collaboration and student training activities involving Michigan State University and universities in Iraq. Water-saving and drought avoidance technologies have been highly successful with cucumbers, green peppers, and corn in Michigan, grass in Turkey, and cotton in Texas. Statistics show the 15-19% of Iraqi soils are sandy, often exposed to shifting sand dunes. Utilizing soil water retention technology in Iraq is essential for rehabilitating sandy soils for use in growing agricultural products, many of which are currently imported. The introduction and demonstration of these techniques to strategic sites across Iraq will contribute to long-term sustainable production with minimum irrigation water, which could help to improve the Iraqi economy.
Summary of Recent Activities
Dr. Aoda and his group began their project in September 2013 by conducting preliminary investigations in select experimental field sites. Soil samples were subsequently collected in Baghdad and in Najaf Governorate (about 180 km southeast of Baghdad). Greenhouse construction was completed at each location, and supplies were ordered, including soil moisture probes and tomato seedlings. Outreach seminars were presented at the University of Kufa, Najaf and at the University of Baghdad. Two more lectures at the University of Baghdad were targeted at PhD students and fourth-year undergraduate students. The purpose of these meetings was to explain the PEER program as well as the process of using subsurface water retention technology in coarse-textured soils to save water and fertilizers and increase yields. The PI also held meetings with government officials to brief them on this new technology being transferred to Iraq and to discuss ways of promoting it among vegetable farmers.  

  Indonesia Partnership Picture B Field visits were done to take samples of this very sandy soil for lab analysis (Photo courtesy Mahdi Aoda).

  Indonesia Partnership Picture C Arrangements were made with the Ministry of Agriculture to run the Najaf experiment in one of their research stations and use one of their plastic houses (Photo courtesy Mahdi Aoda). 

Future plans include site visits in March and April 2014 for students and farmers at both the Baghdad and the Najaf locations. Participants will be trained on how to use and take readings of the soil probes and how to plant with the polyethylene membrane to retain moisture and nutrients. They will also view slide show on how the project will influence crop growth and production. Exchange visits are being arranged between the research team and the U.S. partner’s group. Two Iraqi PhD students will take a summer course on SALUS (System Approach to Land Use Sustainability) at Michigan State University.

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