The Stream, October 11, 2023: Moroccan Farmers Employ New Irrigation Techniques to Bolster Yields in Drought

The Himalayan foothills in Himachal Pradesh. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue


  • Flash floods have overflowed a glacial lake in the Indian Himalayas, killing dozens in the river valleys below. 
  • Environmental and cultural concerns abound regarding the construction of a dam in Laos on the Mekong River.
  • The Nüümü (Paiute) are seeking rights to their traditional land and waters, which are currently being used by the city of Los Angeles to provide for its 4 million residents.
  • In Morocco, massive loans and efficient irrigation techniques are helping farmers to bolster crop yields, though the effects of climate change still loom.

Some U.S. farmers are cautiously utilizing a California-based generative AI platform to inform their growing. 

“AI will benefit all farmers, small and large, but it is likely to benefit larger farmers a lot more, exaggerating existing inequalities.” — Polina Levontin, an environmental policy researcher at Imperial College London.

The use of generative artificial intelligence models in agriculture remains new and relatively unproven, though some farmers are “tentatively embracing” emerging technologies to assist their operations, Modern Farmer reports

Norm, a platform “built on OpenAI’s GPT-3.5 mode,” is trained to answer questions about “animal health, crop protection, and product usage.” Weather reports, soil data, and other public databases also help inform Norm’s answers. Another app, Farmer.CHAT, is a multilingual chatbot, currently active in India and Africa, Modern Farmer reports. More tools are likely in development around the world. 

But experts, and some farmers, are wary of the technology — not only for its potential to “hallucinate” or provide growers with misinformation, but for the environmental toll. “Training and deploying AI models is computationally intensive, and that has implications for embodied carbon in data center hardware, electricity usage, water for cooling, e-waste, and so on,” Joseph Walton, a research fellow at the Sussex Digital Humanities Lab, told Modern Farmer. “Tech impacts climate and climate impacts agriculture,” he said.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

Recent WaterNews from Circle of Blue

The Lead

Farmers in Morocco are engaging in a $158 million irrigation project to increase yields amid hot, dry growing seasons — and so far, it’s working, DW reports

Beginning in 2009, the World Bank has funded the effort in the Doukkala region, a fertile coastal territory in Morocco’s northwest. Despite ongoing drought, drip irrigation techniques — which, using machinery, distribute water more efficiently to the plant roots — have proven effective, boosting yields. 

Across the world, DW reports, 20 percent of farmland is artificially irrigated — this land accounts for 40 percent of the world’s food. 

But the technology is expensive. To maintain drip irrigation across Northern Africa and the Middle East, $17 billion dollars annually must be raised.

This overwhelming cost leads some to believe that widespread drip irrigation, without continued international loans, is unsustainable. Some activists are also urging growers to focus only on native crops that require less water and can be sold locally, as opposed to growing thirsty non-native plants for export. For them, regional food security and water rations are at the top of mind. 

Others say that the introduction of drip irrigation has been important culturally — persuading older generations to stay in the region and continue their craft, while influencing young people’s aspirations to become farmers themselves.

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers


Approximate number of hydroelectric power plants built along the Mekong River and its tributaries since the 2000s, France24 reports. The latest, a megaproject near Laos’ former royal capital Luang Prabang — currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site — will come at the cost of an entire village, whose residents will be forced to move to higher ground as the project reshapes part of the river. Local fishers and Buddhist monks have also expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the construction. Already, “their nets come up empty,” they say. Around 240 additional hydroelectric projects, France24 reports, are scheduled for the “coming years.”



Number of acre-feet per year of water (one acre-foot is roughly equal to a football field covered in one foot of water) that the city of Los Angeles draws from Owens Valley, the stolen traditional homelands of the Nüümü (Paiute), Sierra Magazine reports. Currently reliant on federal aid and water rationed from their historic home, the Nüümü are working on a variety of ways to obtain “a legal right to Owens Valley water,” including negotiating for their water rights, obtaining “first use” rights, and putting the matter to a citywide vote. Meanwhile, the city of Los Angeles continues to pursue wastewater reuse projects — including Operation NEXT, which aims “to recycle 100 percent of the city’s wastewater by 2035” — and draw water from more local sources.

On the Radar

A dam was damaged and villages were overrun with water in the Indian state of Sikkim, where torrential rain overflowed a glacial lake in the Himalayas. The flash floods have been responsible for the deaths of at least 74 people, while more than 100 remain missing, Reuters reports. Road connectivity and evacuations are now the top priority for local officials — more than 6,800 people have been relocated to 28 relief camps. Those still stranded are the focus of air lift efforts, including some 2,000 tourists who have been reported safe. 

In context: Unstable Slopes

More Water News

Insurance: Many U.S. schools are not physically or financially prepared for climate-induced disasters — including extreme heat and flooding — the New York Times reports

Traditional Foods — First Nations tribes continue to work to overcome the effects of human pollution and development to bring imperiled freshwater species — including salmon and mussels — to abundance for subsistence users, The Narwhal reports.

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