Wednesday, November 28, 2012

AC4D Brief Overview

Without food, all other aspects of social justice are meaningless. 
--Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize Winner 1970
Learning from farmers is a key component of effective AgDevelopment.
The Agricultural Cooperation for Development (AC4D) program is designed to increase food production on small farms in the Jordan Valley. AC4D will provide capacity building trainings in water management through local agricultural water user associations (WUA).  We do this through a consultation process with farmers and local agricultural authorities to determine the needed outcomes of the trainings. 

The Jordan Valley has traditionally been a significant food production area but in recent years, and even more so in the future due to planned changes, water scarcity and degradation in water quality are lowering soil fertility and reducing yields.  This is leading to increased poverty, malnutrition and poor educational opportunities for children.  These challenges require that farmers obtain new capacity in soil remediation, irrigation systems and their maintenance, alternative cropping strategies and irrigation timing.  Agriculture is the livelihood for 75% of the world's poor and produces approximately 70% of all food globally.  Smallholders ability to feed a nation and provide a living wage for the most vulnerable is contingent on a number of factors, all of which are changing dramatically in out time.  To meet those goals farmers need an ever-expanding set of skills to navigate the demands of changing water and land availability.  That set of skills is precisely what AC4D will provide.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Jordan Valley Water User Associations

Farmers working together for mutual benefit is a powerful and effective tool for agricultural development.  Currently in the Jordan Valley there are 25 water user associations (WUAs) working in conjunction with the Jordan Valley Authority (JVA).  In 2002 the JVA, in cooperation with the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) began forming WUAs with two objectives:  1) to increase the effectiveness of irrigation in the JV on both the water distribution network and on-farm levels  2) to groom WUAs to manage their own canal to field water distribution infrastructure.  Both of these goals have been met in 13 out of the 25 WUAs providing farmers with a high level of responsibility and autonomy.

Greenhouses like these in the Jordan Valley are typically used for growing vegetables and high value crops like herbs.  Their extensive use is a physical reminder of the water stressed conditions under which all agriculture in this country takes place.  

According to both the JVA and representatives of GIZ one of the main needs in the Jordan Valley agricultural areas, also known as "the Ghor", is in the area of extension services for water management.  These responsibilities would typically fall within the purview of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) but the capacity of the MoA is limited by significant shortfalls in budgeting. 

Water quality for the highly sensitive citrus areas is expected to worsen significantly in the near future as blended water (water whose source is both fresh water from the Yarmouk River as well as treated waste water from the King Talal Dam) becomes a part of the irrigation equation.  This is a major need gap that AC4D is interested in filling.  Providing extension services in the area of on-field application under conditions of degrading water quality is exactly what we are about.  We anticipate that the excellent work that GIZ and the JVA have done in establishing and developing the capacity of WUAs will serve as excellent means for disseminating information to farmers as well as collecting feedback from farmers regarding which areas of expertise and what kinds of information would be of greatest benefit to them. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"If you want to save water, grow fish."

I need to set the scene a bit for this blog post or it's importance would be easy to miss or misconstrue.

Jordanians utilize, on average, 1/10th of the amount of water used per capita in the United States. Between 70 and 75% of that water is used in agriculture for food production.  Traditional food production requires a lot of water because of substantial evaporation and seepage losses in transportation and field application.  It is reliably estimated that globally producing a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of chicken requires 4 cubic meters (m3 , 1m3 = 265 gallons) of water, a kilogram of corn requires about 1m3 of water and producing a kg of beef requires 115m3 of water.*    Some of the biggest challenges in agricultural water management are to reduce evaporation and delivery losses and to maintain natural in-stream processes for water filtration. 

*I note sources for these estimates at the bottom of the post.

What if that natural in-stream process for water filtration could be utilized with dramatically reduced seepage and evaporation losses through an on site system of reuse that had the capacity to produce significantly more food per unit of water than even modern high yield irrigation methods?  
How aquaponics works
Water is cycled from a holding tank to a fish tank where talapia are grown and the water is enriched with nitrogen and organic carbon from fish refuse.  From the fish tank water is cycled through to a garden box where a variety of vegetables and even tropical fruits can be grown year round, all housed in a polytunnel.  Fruit and vegetable root systems are supported by pumice and the abundance of highly enriched water is utilized by the plant root systems for exceptionally fast growth.  In this environment the water goes through a process called denitrification, the same process used by waste water treatment plants to clean water before releasing it into natural waterways.

The practitioners that we spoke to, Mr. Kenneth Betts and his son, estimated that in this environment growing periods for their produce would take 70% of the normal amount of time they they would normally take to mature.  Once cycled through the fruit and vegetable growing boxes the water is cycled back into a holding tank to be oxygenated and used again in the fish tanks.   

The basic math of the aquaponics operation that OpMercy's Assistant Director, Ethan Graham, and I visited near Irbid is as follows:

Annual Inputs                                     Annual Outputs
water:  100-150 m3                          800kg of fish (talapia)   
fish food:  1.5 tons                            5 Tons (4,500kg) of vegetables & tropical fruit
seeds                                                 A small amount of nitrate rich fertilizer

The numbers outlined above describe a system that is designed to produce 5kg of fish + 30kg of produce per m3 of water lost to the system.  This is a significant improvement from the global average.

Hindrances to outscaling of this technology in Jordan
The level of detail involved in maintaining this delicately balanced system is prohibitive.  It requires very consistent testing and maintenance to ensure that the system is operating at peak performance for maximum financial return. 

High initial startup costs would mean that this technology would have to be coupled with small business loans to extend opportunities to smallholder farmers who typically lack significant capital and the financial staying power needed to set up a high quality aquaponics system. 

A high level of specialized knowledge is required to set up and maintain such a system.  Water chemistry, pH, temperature, flow rate and a myriad of other technical factors heavily influence system output.  If left alone or mismanaged for even a week an entire seasons work could be lost.  Setup is highly technical requiring a strong working knowledge of everything from masonry to electronics to complex plumbing.  

Aquaponics offers very significant efficiencies in food production and income generation that Jordan could greatly benefit from.  It will be a major challenge of the farming and agricultural research community in the Middle East to integrate, on some level, these kinds of radical efficiencies as it seeks to compete in a diverse and competitive global agricultural market.   

Sources for further inquiry into aquaponics:

Sources for the global water efficiency estimates noted above:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Excellent meeting with the Department of Statistics

Today the AC4D Project Manager met with several members of the Jordanian Department of Statistics (DoS) to discuss farmer survey sampling.  The DoS is being extremely helpful in allowing us access to up to date agricultural survey data as well as helping us to choose a representative sample for our own surveying efforts through the Jordan Valley Agricultural Cooperatives.

Sampling is important because:
1)  A sample that is not representative will not reflect the views of the people that it is intended to understand and serve.

2)  A sample that is not broad enough risks reflecting the views of only a minority of people that it is intended to represent.

The Assistant Director General Ms. Ikhlas Aranki of the Jordan Ministry of Statistics
Since we want to gather information from farmers about their water needs in a way that is reflective of the real views of the majority of the people to be served by our efforts, smallholder farmers using irrigation to produce their crops, we need to get a representative sample.  The DoS has extensive experience in meeting those goals.  We look forward to a significant and mutually beneficial relationship with these excellent public servants.

We will be meeting tomorrow with a representative of the Jordan Valley Agricultural Water Users Association at the DoS to discuss details of how we can work together to gather data to inform AC4D activities. 


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Operation Mercy Representatives meet with the Millennium Challenge Corporation

The Director of Operation Mercy Jordan, Robert Cole, and the Agricultural Projects Manager, Brian Howard, met with representatives of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) regarding cooperation in the area of farmer surveying in the Northern Jordan Valley and Highlands.  Both parties are interested in investigating potential farmer responses to imminent changes in the quality and quantity of water delivered to farmers for irrigation.   The MCC is tasked with increasing the supply of water available to households and businesses and to help improve the efficiency of water delivery, waste water collection and waste water treatment in Jordan. 

One of Operation Mercy's AC4D distinctives is to be proactive in preparing the farming community for changes in water availability, quality and price so that the negative impacts of reduced water supply, water quality degradation, and increasing prices on productivity and income can be minimized.   

The MCC  has three ongoing mega-projects in Jordan:
The Al Samra waste water treatment plant expansion project
The Wastewater Treatment Network reinforcement and expansion project
The Water network restructuring and rehabilitation project

The Al Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant (Picture courtesy of MCC)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Location of AC4D Operations

Area of Operations (in black) for the AC4D Project within the Middle East North Africa Region

Area of Operations (in black) for the AC4D Project within Northwest Jordan