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July 05, 2010

Libya makes effective use of pivot irrigation in the desert

Libyan pivot irrigation at Al KHufrah Oasis: These are not crop circles or part of an Alien movie plot!

by Maurice Picow

Libya is a country that is not exactly known for having ample quantities of fresh water let alone enough water to be used to any extent in agriculture. Yet this North African desert country has been involved for years in growing crops by a method known as pivot irrigation.


Center pivot irrigation piping: the water comes from here.

It is designed to minimize water loss through evaporation, by utilizing a combination of sprinkler and drip irrigation methods that feeds water from a pivot point within a circle.

The water being fed to the crops is measured and dispersed from a series of circular pipes that are rotated on wheeled platforms the gradually moved out from the center of the circle; the place where the water originated from. By using this circular rotation method, less water is wasted and the crops inside the circular agricultural plot are able to receive the maximum amount of water available.

Although used in a number a number of countries, including India and desert regions of the USA, the use of this method to grow crops is so unique in Libya, that the circular pivot irrigation fields are often photographed by both orbiting satellites and NASA space shuttles passing overhead.

In a country like Libya, where more than 95% of the country consists of the near-waterless Sahara, this type of agriculture is not cheap, and is only possible by being able to tap underground fossil water deposits from a large underground aquifer like they’ve done in the Great Man Made River project. Each circular plot is about 1 km in diameter, and is able to grow a number of different crops including grains, fruits and vegetables, and crops for animal fodder.

Pivot irrigation in Jordan. Image via Manufactured Landscapes blog, a site that looks at man-made structures on earth using Google maps.

Libya is not the only Middle Eastern country trying to “green the desert” through the use of irrigation. Jordan is also practicing pivot irrigation (see above image); Israel has been irrigating for years via its patented “drip irrigation” methods through companies like Plastro and Netafim are now being used in arid regions all over the world, even in arch enemy countries like Syria, and other regional countries, including Qatar in the Persian Gulf region which is teaming up with Syria on agriculture projects intended to “green the desert.”

But none of these countries, except for Libya, have these circular pivot irrigated fields which can actually be seen from above by orbiting astronauts. No one really knows how much Libyai has spent on these projects, which are probably costing a lot more than simply importing the crops the country needs. But when one is sitting on what is still one of the world’s largest oil reserves (at least 10% of the world’s oil) then anything is possible – as long as the oil holds out.

Green Prophet

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