In South East Turkey, The Coca-Cola Foundation and LifePlus Foundation have educated and trained farmers on efficient irrigation techniques. These farmers, who mainly grow cotton and corn, have become eligible for support from Turkey's Ministry of Agriculture. Here, renowned Turkish soil scientist Erhan Akça shares his thoughts on the program.

I am a child of this land. My family has been farming in Anatolia for many generations. They grow cotton, olives and lemons. My father still doesn’t put too much stock in my recommendations, because it’s been 63 years since he started to learn the language of the land while I’ve been an agriculture specialist and academician for only 23 years. But my mother does pay heed to what I say, because she is a teacher.

Since 1992, I have studied and sampled soil from thousands of hectares of land across Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Georgia, Syria, Cyprus and Azerbaijan to examine the climate and environmental patterns of the past in order to identify today’s problems.

The most important step that aimed to address the water problem in Şanlıurfa, Harran, was taken with the Southeastern Anatolia Project — one of the foremost irrigation projects of the world that became operational in 1995, putting an end to the water shortage that plagued the Harran Plain for millennia thanks to 24 km-long tunnels. However, we also realized that plenty of water would not yield plenty of production.

Speaking to the farmers at a meeting in another project we carried out with Nature Conservation Centre (DKM), we asked ourselves, “Why don’t we use the knowledge accumulated throughout thousands of years,” and took a look at the traditional irrigation methods of different regions. For the last two decades, I have been studying the methods of land use developed by the Anatolian people to deal with the harshest draughts and most extreme slopes. During our research, we saw terraces and cisterns built as part of the traditional irrigation methods. And in Harran, where temperatures climb as high as 45oC, the solution was night irrigation.

In 2013, we made our night irrigation proposal to the farmers of the Cullap Irrigation Union with DKM. We gathered at the village chamber, and the farmers immediately agreed to the night irrigation technique since it is their own tradition. When asked about how the project would be implemented, we told them about the support of Coca-Cola Life Plus Foundation, explained how sensitive and meticulous The Coca-Cola Company is when it comes to water in its operations and social projects, and told them about its projects. The farmers were highly satisfied with what they heard.

Preparations started in June 2014; we provided the full data set including soil analyses, irrigation programs and water potential. Harran is all about cotton, and cotton needs water. When the surface irrigation method was used, the soil was given water for 12-14 hours, which was repeated 8 to 10 times in every irrigation season. Accordingly, we wanted to depend on actual measurements rather than our gut feeling to determine the amount of water given, employing a tensiometer, which measures the amount of humidity in the soil. This was both easy to figure out and economic to use for the farmers. 

We started night irrigation in July 2014. Farmers reported that irrigation took shorter as they checked the tensiometer. Irrigation now took 10 hours and the irrigation frequency had been reduced. In August, farmers noticed something else; crops that had been irrigated at night developed in a different way. Our measurements showed us that crops irrigated during day developed less than those irrigated at night. Night irrigation had shown its effect.

The issue that everyone most wondered about was productivity. The length of irrigation had been shortened while the frequency of irrigation had been reduced, and as a result, a whopping 1 billion liters of water was saved on an area of 5,000 decares. What a great joy that was! Having improved water conservation by employing conservation agriculture in several projects with Coca-Cola Life Plus Foundation and Nature Conservation Centre, we were now using night irrigation to save water.

By September 2014, farmers’ happiness and trust in the project were bolstered as they observed an increase in productivity. A comparison of the day and night irrigated lands showed up to 20% productivity increase. This was a figure that was impossible to attain by more fertilization and similar methods in lands that were already productive, and it brought no extra cost.

Regarding the project, an old farmer says, “We could hardly get 2 tons of wheat from our 1 hectare non-irrigated field. Now that there is water, we receive 6 tons of wheat and 13 tons of corn. We no longer have to go to other cities to work.”

It was a win-win for everyone. Farmers had used less water and were not harmed by the hot weather during day. Thanks to the Coca-Cola Life Plus Foundation and Nature Conservation Centre, farmers embraced the project and productivity was increased. However, the most important reason for the farmers to embrace the project was that the night irrigation was a technique that had its roots in their traditions.