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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 October 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.

2-455 Site Visit

2-455 Plant Measurments

2-455 Corn Harvesting
The project team conducted multiple site visits to the corn fields near Baghdad.The team has expanded its scope of work to include corn based on the extraordinary results from other crops(Photos courtesy Mahdi Aoda).

Summary of Recent Activities

Corn was planted during the spring season of 2016 at both experimental locations, Baghdad and Najaf. All growth and production data on the corn was collected for both locations and are currently under analysis by the project team. Five manuscripts were accepted for publication in the local Iraqi Journal of Soil Sciences and one manuscript is under preparation and will be submitted for publication soon to Agronomy Journal (USA). Two additional manuscripts were written and submitted for the Desertification Conference which is arranged by Kufa University and will be held this fall.

Two PhD dissertations from this PEER project were finished and the defense exams were completed in mid-July. Two graduate students (PhD and MSc) were admitted during the spring semester of 2016 and now work on the corn SWRT project. Several field trips were made for graduate and undergraduate students and staff members for both Baghdad and Kufa Universities.

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