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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

2-455 Baghdad Crop Greenhouse

Indonesia Partnership Picture C

Crops are being grown in the Baghdad location under a variety of conditions (Photo courtesy Mahdi Aoda).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 greenhouses (Photo courtesy Mahdi Aoda).
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
2-455_Y1Q3_Plants at production stage2-455 Najaf Field Trip
Tomato plants at production stage (Photo courtesy Mahdi Aoda).Students and faculty visit the Najaf greenhouse as part of a field trip. (Photo courtesy Mahdi Aoda).
During the third quarter of 2015, plans and preparations were completed for the production of corn in sandy soils under hot and dry climate at two different locations in Iraq- Baghdad and Najaf. This will be the first time corn is grown in Iraq using SWRT and the team predicts it will produce yields far greater than typical farming techniques. The principal investigator also visited the US partner at MSU in East Lansing, MI to learn of the latest developments in SWRT research and the development and manufacturing of the mechanical barrier installation device (BID) for installing the polyethylene membrane below the root zone. Dr. Aoda presented three scientific seminars during his visit in the US at NAS, USAID, and KSU in which he demonstrated the results of two years experimentation with SWRT. Additionally, Dr. Aoda was interviewed by the Al- Jamieyiah Satellite Channel which is broadcast to all Iraqi Universities.

Two scientific articles are under preparation to be published in two important scientific journals which will show the results of two years’ work with SWRT in Iraq. The team also finished data analysis for all plant growth and production parameters. Two PhD dissertations are close to completion and two undergraduate students graduated using SWRT research as their graduation project.

In the last quarter of 2015, the team plans to continue monitoring the corn crop is considering purchasing additional soil moisture measurement equipment. Two papers will be submitted and the project’s two PhD students will graduate and defend their dissertations.

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