The lack of suitable quality water for agriculture imposes a major limiting factor to the socio­economic development of rural areas in Middle Eastern countries, where the agricultural sectors must compete with the domestic and industrial sectors for what little water there is. This process only serves to widen the income gaps between rural and urbanized areas [1, 2], and the forecast for climatic change in the region is expected to worsen the water crisis. The past reliance on groundwater irrigation in the Middle East has led to over-pumping, falling groundwater tables in aquifers with low recharge, and deteriorating groundwater quality. [1]
Despite the regional scarcity of freshwater, however, several Middle Eastern countries possess brackish groundwater resources of considerable areal extent: for example, the transboundary aquifers between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories in the West Bank [3,4] in the Jordan and Arava Valleys. Such strategic resources are however currently misused through the practice of saline-brackish water irrigation of crops. Highly inadequate, this practice limits the variety of crops that can be cultivated, requires large amounts of water to avoid soil salinization, and reduces crop yields.
In its investigation of the technical feasibility and economic viability of the solar-powered desalination of brackish groundwater, AGRISOL addresses not only the issue of water scarcity, but it also aims to reduce agriculture's current environmental footprint by reducing the groundwater volumes extracted for crop irrigation. Likewise, another project goal is to increase crop productivity and crop range, such that farmers can grow cash crops with higher profitability. Such improvements will contribute to the development of poor rural areas.
The focus of the AGRISOL projectsmall-scale desalination unitsis specifically meant to benefit the individual farmer who installs the desalination system. The proposed activities include a detailed plan to disseminate the results of the project and promote the use of water-saving technologies among the farming communities in Israel, The Palestinian Authority and Jordan. Disseminative activities are directed toward raising regional awareness about the new technology and involving its end-users in workshops and onsite demonstrations. In the short-and medium-terms, project success will be measured in the number of desalination units eventually installed in Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel. It is hoped that in the long-term, the technology diffuses outside the borders of the host countries to achieve wider application in the MENA region.