The modernization of irrigation in Mediterranean countries has boosted irrigated agriculture. This process has been possible not only through technological developments, but also with top-down public policies and, in some areas where the mild climate allows growing high value crops, the exportation market as main drivers of change. Undoubtedly, this transformation has increased performance levels. However, new compelling challenges have arisen:
- (i) the irrigation performance gap remains much greater than expected;
- (ii) irrigation intensification and expansion are at the root of pollution of valuable ecosystems and overdraft of non-renewable water resources;
- (iii) water savings are not as foreseen due to unexpected rebound effects of irrigation efficiency improvements;
- (iv) modern energy-eager pressurized systems are costly and environmentally questionable.
Furthermore, it is now clear that climate change and its foreseen variability will accentuate the vulnerability of agriculture and ecosystems, under the combined effect of increased temperature and reduced precipitation in areas already coping with water scarcity.
The hypothesis underpinning the project is that bridging the actual irrigation performance gap requires a substantial paradigm shift, from the top-down approach that has driven irrigation modernization in the last decades to a bottom-up interdisciplinary approach making use of emerging low-cost technologies.