Oct 23, 2014

Jordan Valley farmer Sameeh Freij treats his crops like his babies, nurturing them as he watches them grow.

Every day at dawn, Freij abandons the comfort of his bed and heads to his small farm in the heart of the Jordan Valley, the Kingdom’s fruit and vegetable basket.

As Freij strolls amongst his crops nestled in stunning surroundings, he examines them for possible pest infestations while observing their growth.

This year, Freij is happy; there are no infestations in his crops and the yield looks promising. But it is inevitable that when the produce is ready for picking, Freij’s heart pounds with anxiety.

“Small farmers in Jordan always worry about their products until they are in the market. Prices are fluctuating constantly,” he explains “Each season is like participating in a lottery.”

Like hundreds of other farmers, Freij has been forced to cope with precarious conditions that plague farming in Jordan, one of the most water impoverished nations in the world.

Once a flourishing sector, farming’s contribution to the national income has been declining: While some farmers are forced to scale down their production, others abandon their farms or lease them to expatriates, according to the report.

It’s not easy to cope with an increased demand for agricultural products and reduced availability of natural resources, but small farmers in the Jordan Valley hope to see their life improve soon thanks to an innovative irrigation technology that promises to make a positive impact on their farming methods, while preserving natural resources for future generations.

The Cross Border
ENSIAP (Improving the Environmental Sustainability of Irrigated Agricultural Production) project — supported by two partners from the north, Italy and Spain, and two from the south, Jordan and Lebanon — allows for water savings due to the introduction of drip irrigation. At the same time, it promotes soil conservation using a fertilisation process directly through the irrigation water known as “fertigation”.


“Farming in Jordan is in grave danger; we need help to save it from uncertain destiny,” Freij adds as he checks his new drip irrigation system, installed free of charge as part of the ENSIAP project to improve the conditions of farmers in Jordan and Lebanon, countries where agriculture has a significant impact on the environment due to the increased pressure on environmental resources.

Freij is not technology-savvy, but thanks to training courses and workshops, he is able to operate and maintain the new system, which aims at achieving efficient irrigation while maximising use of fertilisers without harming the environment.

The technology — which tackles the cost and scarcity of water resources — has been offered to Freij and 19 other farmers in both countries.

A simple photovoltaic solution, which consists of a solar panel, completes the system by providing the required energy for irrigation water pumping purposes.

Positive impact on environment

The 2 million euro project seeks to mitigate the environmental impact of irrigation on underground and surface water bodies, at the same time reducing pollution levels of agricultural fertilisers.

Programme supervisors emphasise the project’s positive impact on the environment, offering solutions to overuse of natural resources and allowing for propagation of the use of renewable energies.

The cross-border impact of the project is also significant: Two partners from the north (the Italian ICU and the Spanish CRES), and two from the Southern Mediterranean (the Jordanian NCARE and the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture), are cooperating in the implementation of project activities; the know-how is shared among all partners, and so are skills and experiences.

Intensive training courses are conducted in Greece and in Jordan, which in turn allow further potential development. This is particularly true for technical solutions related to photovoltaic energy and irrigation systems that are installed and tested in the field: All parties involved are ready to draw lessons and move forward.

“The project intends to contribute to the promotion of environmental sustainability at the Mediterranean Basin level and climate change,” says Berardo Da Schio the general agronomist of ENSIAP.

One of the most significant aspects of the initiative is its sustainability for future generations, explains Da Schio.

“Fundamentally, the project will contribute to help farmers cope with increased demands of agricultural products and reduced availability of natural resources… in order to allow future generations to meet their own needs.”

The project targets up to 960 farmers for training on best agricultural practices, and further collaboration is expected to increase knowledge exchange through an international network, according to Da Schio.

Nabeel Bani Hani, the director of the DeirAlla centre and coordinator of the project, says the programme is a success story.

“We have selected farmers to implement the project based on a specific survey, and results have been great… I expect this pilot project to usher [in] the use of this technology on a larger scale across the Kingdom and the region,” he adds.

Fertilisation costs cut

On another farm in the Jordan Valley, Abdel Ghanem Thuneibat runs a similar programme and has been impressed by the significant reduction in production costs.

“Fertilising my farm used to cost around JD400, now the cost has dropped to JD200. This is much better than what I expected. I am glad to have made the step and joined the programme,” he says.

Thuneibat is confident the new project will be a hit among Jordanian farmers and across the Mediterranean region.

“Once other farmers realise how important this technology is to their operation, they will jump at the chance of taking advantage of facilities provided, including solar panels, that make their lives much easier,” adds Thuneibat, who is eagerly awaiting implementation of new phases of the programme.

Ideally, organisers hope the programme will be scaled up at the Mediterranean Basin level, following completion and evaluation of results later this year.

The EU Neighbourhood Info Centre contributed this report to The Jordan Times.