Sprinkler irrigation experience in the large irrigation districts of Morocco
In the early 1970s, Morocco introduced sprinkler irrigation to accelerate the pace of irrigation development, improve irrigation efficiency, and facilitate irrigation for farmers. Installed on 151700 ha, mainly in large-scale irrigation schemes, sprinkler irrigation has not had the expected success. The objective of this article is to learn lessons from the implementation of sprinkler irrigation and to question its future in Morocco in a context of conversion to drip irrigation. The study was carried out by analyzing the debates of professionals regarding the implementation of sprinkler irrigation in Morocco since the end of the 1960s, linked with field observations of recent developments in the C3 irrigation district of the Gharb large-scale irrigation scheme. This district is in the process of being converted from sprinkler irrigation to drip irrigation since 2011. The study shows that the main difficulties encountered in the implementation and management of sprinkler irrigation in Morocco concern: (i) the technical design choices, in particular, the collective use of mobile irrigation equipment (MIE); (ii) the dysfunctioning of the network due to the difficulties of implementing irrigation on demand; (iii) flat-rate collective billing and farmers' debts due to the lack of individual water meters; (iv) the high cost of energy; (v) the continuous fragmentation of agricultural plots, even after land consolidation; and (vi) the low water productivity. Faced with these problems, the irrigation authority, as well as the farmers, have introduced a great number of adjustments, for example by individualizing the MIE and by renewing hydrants. In the C3 district, the new drip irrigation project has provided further solutions, in particular by individualizing the outlets and by introducing water meters allowing personalized invoicing. While expressing their satisfaction for the resolution of these problems and despite the lack of interest from public authorities and research for this technique, farmers continue to use sprinkler irrigation, especially for field crops, while experimenting drip irrigation. The experience of sprinkler irrigation thus shows the importance of an adjustment period so that users and technicians can gradually improve the design and use of the technique to best meet user requirements, irrigation efficiency and agro-economic productivity. The contemporary implementation of drip irrigation in large-scale irrigation schemes can be usefully inspired by the incremental improvement of sprinkler irrigation, by capitalizing on 50 years of experience in sprinkler irrigation.
Keywords: irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, modernization, drip irrigation, Gharb.