With limitations in the availability and accessibility of surface water, attention is increasingly directed towards groundwater resources as the most reliable source of fresh water for different sectors. Accordingly, groundwater is over abstracted in many countries of the world. The overexploitation of groundwater renewable and non-renewable aquifers for both urban use and irrigation results in a drop of the water table and, frequently, in a reduction in groundwater quality. This study focuses on the use of groundwater for irrigation purposes in desert areas of the MENA region. The objective of this thesis is to contribute to conserving and sustaining the use of limited groundwater resources in desert agriculture, by analyzing the current unsustainable use of groundwater, focusing on groundwater policy on the one hand, and on the specificities of desert agriculture on the other, with a focus on Azraq basin in Jordan. This study consists of eight chapters, starting with an introduction, six core chapters, and ending with a synthesis chapter. The introduction chapter reviews the general context of the thesis, while chapter two briefly reviews the general features of groundwater-based agriculture in the MENA region and explores the management and policy options available to regulate this sector. We then document 'desert agriculture' in selected countries of the MENA region, examining in particular how farms access the key production factors of land, water, labor, capital. The physical and historical context of Azraq basin, our case study area, is then outlined in chapter three. Chapter four explores the Azraq Basin using spatial analysis GIS tools and all available data, providing a wider view of the windows of intervention for groundwater resource use and management. Chapter five, six and seven emphasizes the driving forces behind the development of desert agriculture in the Azraq basin: Chapter five focuses on the issues of land tenure in historical and present contexts, as access to land is as one of the prime factors fueling desert agriculture, either for profit or land speculation or both. Chapter six deals with water, another key production factor of farming in Azraq basin, and discusses policy measures and tools deployed to regulate use of this resource, law enforcement, and how farmers have responded to these policy and regulatory measures. The chapter then documents how, in response, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation has recently enacted a series of creative counter-measures, both direct and indirect, in an attempt to toughen law enforcement. Chapter seven is based on the results of farm surveys carried out in the two main agricultural areas of the Azraq basin (Azraq and Mafraq). The chapter outlines farm typologies, calculates the level of farm profitability, and discusses the availability and relative costs of production factors (land, water, energy, labor, inputs) in desert areas, as well as the constraints and challenges currently faced by farmers and future prospects. The final chapter of this thesis builds upon the research findings to answer the proposed research questions and zooms out to the MENA region to put the lessons learned in comparative perspective.
2018 - Groundwater-Based Agriculture in Arid Land: The Case of Azraq Basin, Jordan - Majd Al Naber