The FINANCIAL -- How does the future of well-irrigated agriculture look like? Would it be a blasphemy to answer – paradise? In an imminently drier and hungrier future, this does seem like a plausible answer, with all due respect.
We will have to learn how to use the water we have with less waste if we want the humanity to go a long way. It seems illogical that Georgia abundant with mighty rivers would ever need to face irrigation hardships. The country of only 69,700 square kilometers has over 26 thousand rivers running through its territory, after all! Those rivers are said to have a total length of approximately 60 000 km. Georgians are safe. Not necessarily per se. If you look at the chart that depicts the water-supplied and drained areas in Georgia, you will be disappointed.
According to Georgian Amelioration under the Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia, during Soviet period gravity flow water-supplied agricultural land area amounted to 278 000 ha, while drainage covered 105 000 ha. The 2016 data no longer seems that much progressive after hearing this, right? The disinvestment in the sector and complete lack of attention towards irrigation for over decades led Georgia to the 2012 data points with having only 45 000 ha of area supplied with water and drainage systems covering 14 000 ha.
The intensive funding of amelioration sector from the state budget and obligatory rehabilitation of amelioration infrastructure all over the country was re-initiated in 2012 and we do see significant improvements – 2016 water-supplied agricultural land area has increased to 111 800 ha, and drainage coverage – to 34 400 ha. It should be mentioned here that the State company – Georgian Amelioration is the sole provider of irrigation and drainage services in the country. By 2020 they plan to get Georgia back to the 278 000 ha and 105 000 ha data points for water-supplied and drained areas respectively.
The Director and Founder of BAR LEV NET GROUP, Mr. Aharon Gagulashvili told Experto that “The main problem of this sector is the lack of innovative actors - high-tech farms, greenhouses and orchards in Georgia. There is no governmental support program for large-scale orchards to spring their formation. We need to implement programs, such as Plant the Future (limited to 20 ha per project) for much more intensive orchards with no scale restrictions”.
The BAR LEV NET GROUP is an official representative of Netafim in Georgia and Armenia. Netafim is the global leader in smart irrigation solutions for a sustainable future, with 30% of the world’s market share. The Company is present in over 120 countries besides Israel and has 16 manufacturing plants across the globe. Netafim delivers turnkey irrigation and greenhouse projects, supported by engineering, project management and financing services.
Mr. Gagulashvili elaborated that “by utilizing Netafim technologies, it is possible to cut back on energy resources, save up to 50%-60% on water, up to 20%-25% on fertilizers and other fillers; and what is most important – augment the quality harvest by 30%-300%!”.
The BAR LEV NET GROUP together with Netafim has implemented numerous successful projects in Georgia since 2014: “I would like to underline the 12.5ha greenhouse we have built together with STIMOR in Tsiashi, Zugdidi. The system uses thermal waters”, explained to Experto the Director and Founder of the Group. He further went on with excitement that the irrigation of the 320ha vineyard of Telavi Wine Cellar was also done by them – “The entire vineyard now utilizes a drip irrigation system that is uncontested in Georgia”. This irrigation system utilizes technology that has still no analogue in the region: “it is based on energy saving technologies, utilizing solar panels and is fully automatized. Netafim technologies allow the system that is spread over several hundreds of hectares to be remotely monitored and controlled with the help of a mobile app and internet”. In the near future the Group plans to build more high-tech sapling nurseries that comply with the EU standards: “the estimated investment for this amounts to USD 0.5 million. In addition to this we aim to cultivate super intense almond orchards with an estimated investment totaling USD 2.5 million” concluded Mr. Aharon Gagulashvili.
Let us take a step backwards and look at broader picture. According to the wider definition “Irrigation is the method in which a controlled amount of water is supplied to plants at regular intervals for agriculture. It is used to assist in the growing of agricultural crops, maintenance of landscapes, and revegetation of disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall”. The key word here is the controlled amount. Another reason why having many rivers is not a prerequisite of good irrigation per se is that successful irrigation systems entail determining the correct frequency and duration of watering based on a variety of criteria.
To learn more about innovative approaches in the industry, Experto spoke with Mr. Stephane Chabierski, Head of Agriculture Division of the SNF Group. Headquartered in France, SNF is the largest polyacrylamide manufacturer in the world. Among many other utilizations, these water-soluble polymers are used in agriculture. The SNF Group comprises subsidiaries and joint ventures in more than 30 countries, operates 23 production sites in Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas and has customers in over 130 countries. “SNF has developed a range of more than 1000 products that help preserve natural resources, encourage recycling and improve efficiencies of industrial processes. Our polymers have several complementary functionalities: flocculation, which enables solids to be separated from liquids, viscosification and friction reduction”, explained the Head of Agriculture Division to Experto.
“SNF has created polyacrylamides that optimize water management and reduce soil erosion. They are already used in the ornamental sector, in forestry, landscaping and golf courses and are now developed in agriculture” further elaborated Ms. Irina Gerdsmeier, General Manager of SNF Vostok.
Apparently, Polyacrylamide superabsorbents can absorb up to 400 times their weight in water. They are used for many applications such as reforestation, horticulture, landscaping and ornamentals. These products, increase the water holding capacity of soils for several years, while reducing irrigation time, water usage, and water and nutrients losses linked to leaching.
“SNF provides a solution to the major challenge: feeding 9 billion people by 2050”, concluded Mr. Chabierski.
In order for the players in the sector to succeed, they need to be innovative and responsive to change. The irrigation industry must adapt to the conditions of the future. Easier to say than do. Give way to the visionary!