Dr Ragab Ragab, right, of CEH is pictured receiving the Best Paper Award from International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage president Felix Reinders  Picture: ICID & CANCID

A two-year study showing that using drainage for irrigation is not only a sustainable use of water but also increases wheat production and farmers’ incomes has won an international award.

Dr Ramadan Abdelraouf, of the National Research Centre in Egypt, and Dr Ragab Ragab, of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, investigated the suitability and benefits of using drainage water of fish farms instead of canal fresh water for wheat irrigation.

They concluded that, because of nutrients in the drainage water, this method could help achieve higher wheat yields and reduced use of chemical fertilizers, meaning a higher income for farmers. An additional benefit was less pollution in the environment due to the reduction in fertilizers used, as well as a reduced drainage water volume, while less fresh water overall was needed for irrigation.

The scientists' paper was published in the Irrigation and Drainage journal last November. The International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID), which publishes the journal, has now given The Benefit to Using Drainage Water of Fish Farms for Irrigation: Field and Modelling Study Using SALTMED its Best Paper Award.

Dr Ragab was presented with the award at the ICID annual international conference in Saskatoon, Canada, this month by the organisation’s president, Felix Reinders.

Dr Ragab said the study was "an eye-opener" regarding the non-conventional water resources that can be used to produce food.

He explained: "Globally, irrigation consumes 70% of total fresh water resources. The growing population will require doubling of food production by 2050 which is a challenge given the limited water resources. This, combined with the frequent drought events worldwide, make it difficult to increase the current food production.

"Non-conventional water resources present an attractive solution. Treated waste water, drainage water, mining and agri-food industry waste water, breweries waste water, sugar industry waste water, rainfall harvesting etc can all be used for irrigation to produce food and feed.

"Fish farming uses a large amount of fresh water and produces an equal amount of drainage water. It is a common practice worldwide and the fish farming industry can benefit from the findings of this research."

The study involved both field experiments at the National Research Centre, Egypt, in 2014 and 2015 as well as modelling. The SALTMED mathematical model predicts soil moisture, salinity, nitrogen, final yield and total dry matter of crops irrigated with different water qualities, bringing together data on water, crop, soil, nitrogen-based fertilizers and field management to provide management guidelines for farmers for efficient use of resources.

Dr Abdelraouf spent six months at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology’s site in Wallingford, thanks to a grant from the British Council in Cairo, to carry out the SALTMED modelling work with Dr Ragab.

The scientists are producing a series of four papers on sustainable and efficient water management.

Paper information

The Benefit to Using Drainage Water of Fish Farms for Irrigation: Field and Modelling Study Using SALTMED. Ramadan Abdelraouf, Dr Ragab Ragab. Irrigation and Drainage. 2017. DOI: 10.1002/ird.2180

Other papers:

Abdelraouf, R.E., Ragab, R. 2018. Effect of fertigation frequency and duration on yield and water productivity of wheat: field and modelling study using SALTMED model. Irrigation and Drainage. DOI:10.1002/ird.2232

Abdelraouf, R.E., Ragab, R. 2018. Applying Partial Root Drying drip irrigation in presence of organic mulching. Is that the best irrigation practice for arid regions?: Field and Modelling Study Using SALTMED modelIrrigation and Drainage. DOI: 10.1002/ird.2249

Abdelraouf, R.E., Ragab, R. 2018. Is the partial root drying irrigation method suitable for sandy soils? Field experiment and modelling using SALTMED model. Irrigation and Drainage. DOI. 10.1002/ird.2271

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