Watering the Seeds of Peace

WSU Agrometerologist Works with International Team to Teach Conservation of Shared Resource

Georgia, in orange, lies on the eastern coast of the Black Sea; Russia is its northern neighbor and its southern neighbors include Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Georgia, in orange, lies on the eastern coast of the Black Sea; Russia is its northern neighbor and its southern neighbors include Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Washington State University’s world-renowned agrometeorologist Gerrit Hoogenboom is not waiting for water to be worth its weight in gold before taking action. Hoogenboom is the leader of an international NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) team working in the former Soviet republic of Georgia to teach peace – and water conservation – through agriculture. The team consists of scientists from not only Georgia, but also Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“The SPS project basically works with irrigation and improved management practices to increase crop yield,” said Hoogenboom. “The ultimate goal is to provide more income for farmers to improve their quality of life.”
Georgia became an independent republic in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, Georgians have lived in a near-constant state of violence over many issues, not least of which are rights to land and water. Even after a cease fire, Georgia is on uneasy terms with its neighbors, Armenia and Azerbaijan, in part due to the need to share water sources.
“Rivers don’t really understand political boundaries and in many cases rivers will start in one country and end in another. So there is a big issue of who gets to the water first,” said Hoogenboom. “So there is a high likelihood that future wars will be fought over water and not over territories and boundary lines.”
In Azerbaijan, over two-thirds of the available water is strictly used for agriculture, leaving little for the public to survive upon. The political strain of competing for water in the region takes a toll on the people there and leaves them with constant feelings of anxiety. This, combined with the poor management of water resulting in major shortages throughout the region, inspired an international project to reform irrigation methods used in the area.

Georgia’s climate is excellent for wine-grape growing; there are dozens of varieties of wine made in Georgia.
Georgia’s climate is excellent for wine-grape growing; there are dozens of varieties of wine made in Georgia.

The battle for water has lead Hoogenboom and his NATO colleagues to investigate new ways to maximize crop production while minimizing water use. The scientists of the SPS team argue that the efficient management of water makes not only economic and environmental sense: it can also reduce the possibility of future conflicts.

A cattle farmer on a recently privatized farm outside Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
A cattle farmer on a recently privatized farm outside Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

So far, the project has managed to increase harvests by tenfold and reduce water use by 1500 percent. David Ebanodze, a Georgian farmer who has volunteered use of a portion of his land for research, has seen 16 harvests instead of one with the drip irrigation that Hoogenboom and his NATO colleagues have been researching.
The knock-on effect of the NATO project is a move toward that most elusive and desirable of states: peace. The scientists have seen a dramatic uptick in exchange of information As Ebanoidze and other farmers spread the new knowledge they have learned. Regardless of nationality, the farmers are happy to share, motivated by the fact that good management practices mean there is enough of the precious shared resource for all concerned.

The peace effect is seen in markets in the region. Farmers can now travel as much as 300 kilometers to sell goods with significantly reduced concern of violence or cultural discrimination. The SPS wants the results of this research to spread to other parts of Georgia where 100,000 hectares are underutilized due to lack of water and to Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“Learning from other cultures and getting to understand their unique histories is the best part of being involved with a project like this,” Hoogenboom said. “Sharing my expertise to create real impact is what I hope to accomplish.”

By Victoria Marsh, WSU CAHNRS MNEC intern,
with additional reporting by Brian Clark

For More Information

Check out this Euro News video featuring Hoogenboom, his colleagues, and local farmers talking about the NATO Science for Peace and Security project.
Hoogenboom is director of WSU’s AgWeatherNet. With 135 weather stations located throughout Washington, AgWeatherNet is the largest agricultural weather network in the United States. Learn more about AgWeatherNet »
Watch the short video below to learn more about WSU’s AgWeatherNet
An interview with AgWeatherNet Director Gerrit Hoogenboom

How many varieties of wheat has WSU developed?

Correct!

Incorrect

Sentence or two with more info about the subject.