Following dry winter, farmers foresee a difficult season

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AMMAN — Jordan received an estimated 5,185.8 million cubic meters of rainwater this season, representing only 63.3 percent of the kingdom’s annual average rainfall, according to Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammad Najjar. اضافة اعلان

“Jordan faced limited rainfall during the 2021 season, bearing in mind that we are one of the most water scarce countries in the world,” the minister told Jordan News.

As the winter season nears its end, dams across the Kingdom are holding around 146 million cubic meters of water, representing 43.4 percent of their total capacity. This relatively dry winter is expected to add strain on the Kingdom’s water sector and impact agricultural production.

Rain, a lifeline for agriculture

Dominated by arid weather, Jordan contains limited arable land and water resources, with a share of water per capita below 100 cubic meters per year according to the Ministry of Water and Irrigation.

A significant portion of Jordanian agriculture is rainfed, meaning it relies on rainfall as opposed to irrigation, which draws water from other nearby sources, making the rainy winter months a determining factor for the volume and quality of Jordan’s harvest.

“Rainfed agriculture is more common in the north of Jordan,” said Majd Al-Naber and Reem Alhaddadin, two researchers at the West Asia-North Africa Institute (WANA Institute) a non-profit policy think tank based in Amman.

However, rainfall levels also significantly impact other parts of Jordan, notably the Jordan Valley — the country’s agricultural breadbasket — through indirect impact on water available for irrigation.

The Jordan Valley receives irrigation water from the some 10 artificial dams built to ensure a stable supply of water for agricultural and industrial uses. This water supply is managed by the Jordan Valley Authority, which distributes the water to users through the spring and summer seasons.

“Even if the irrigation water comes from the dams,” Naher added, “the dams are a catchment area for rainwater.” This year’s low water levels will decrease the quantity of irrigation water available for farmers, who remain the top water users in the country.

Impact of dry and warm winter

Jordan News spoke with several farmers in different parts of Jordan to understand how they view the past winter and its potential impact on their crops.

“There was not much water this year and its distribution over the season was very bad,” Basil Al-Wir, a farmer from the Zarqa River Valley, told Jordan News.

However, Wir still hopes that late rain may improve the season, at least in the west of Jordan where humidity is higher. “The month of March is very important in terms of rainfall because this is the time when the plants begin to grow. If we get good rain in March, the season can be saved,” according to Wir.

“It rained well this season in terms of quantity, but the distribution of rainfall in the season was poor,” said Elham Abbadi, a community mobilizer in the agricultural sector and founder of Albalqa Innovation Institute. “This winter, it rained only two or three times in large quantities, while what is ideal is to have smaller quantities of rain falling more frequently, which gives time to the soil to absorb the water.”

Another issue flagged by farmers was the warm temperature this past winter, which can foster the development of insects, diseases, and affect the growth of plants. “The cold provides the chilling requirements for certain fruit trees,” Wir said. “This winter was very warm, which may lead to issues with what we call ‘stone fruit’ trees. For example, apricot trees did not flower in time. “

“In January we had warm weather for two weeks, which led to a disorder in the growth of some crops sprouting too early in the season,” Abbadi also noted.

If the ground has not absorbed enough water, farmers may need to irrigate more than in the previous season. But this could be challenging: “Irrigation is expensive, especially in the middle of this pandemic and given the prevalent shortage of money,” Abbadi, who farms around Salt, highlighted.

Shadow of climate change

“Farmers are used to inconsistent rainfall patterns” Wir said, arguing that farmers can manage with this year’s rainfall if next winter is better. However, decreasing rainfall could be a source of great concern in the broader context of climate change, whose impact on Jordan is still uncertain.

“The effect of climate change is not something we can notice or measure over a one-year period,” Naher explained. However, based on field research with farmers in Jordan, “farmers are noticing the effect of climate change and the accumulated effect of drought seasons, which are more frequent, as well as frost seasons.”

At the same time, global warming is likely to take a toll on Jordan’s water resources, which are already overstretched. “Climate change is exacerbating (water scarcity in Jordan), linked to a decrease of 20 percent in annual precipitation over the last few decades and severe water shortages,” according to the minister of water and irrigation.