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Irrigation HistoryIrrigation in Ancient Times

Water is the most important input required for plant growth for agriculture production. Irrigation can be defined as replenishment of soilwater storage in plant root zone through methods other than natural precipitation. Irrigationis seen to have found its roots in the history of mankind since earliest beginning.It helps reduce the uncertainties, particularly the climatic uncertainties in agriculture practices.

Archaeological investigation has identified evidence of irrigation where the natural rainfall was insufficient to support crops.

  • Perennial irrigation was practised in the Mesopotamian plain by coaxing water through a matrix of small channels formed in the field.
  • Ancient Egyptians practiced Basin irrigation using the looding of the Nile to inundate land plots which had been surrounded by dykes.
  • The Ancient Nubians developed a form of irrigation by using a waterwheel-like device called a sakia.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa irrigation reached the Niger River region cultures and civilizations by the first or second millennium BCE and was based on wet season flooding and water harvesting.
  • The Qanats, developed in ancient Persiain about 800 BCE, are among the oldest known irrigation methods still in use today.
  • The irrigation works of ancient Sri Lanka, the earliest dating from about 300 BCE, in the reign of King Pandukabhaya and under continuous development for the next thousand years, were one of the most complex irrigation systems of the ancient world.
  • In the Szechwan region belonging to the State of Qin of ancient China, the Dujiangyan Irrigation System was built in 256 BCE to irrigate an enormous area of farmland that today still supplies water.
  • The floodplain of the Santa Cruz River was extensively farmed during the Early Agricultural period, circa 1200 BC to AD 150.
  • Terrace irrigationis evidenced in pre-Columbian America, early Syria, India and China.

History, it is said is the greatest teacher of the mankind. Study of the history of irrigation, development of irrigation technology, sustainability of the old irrigation systems provides an insight into the factors that have sustained the outcomes over the generations.

ICID in pursuit of its mission, in addition to advocating the use of latest technology for development of irrigation encourages making use of ancient wisdom. Working Group on “History of Irrigation, Drainage and Flood Control” started the work of chronicling the development of irrigation around the world. The Working Groupwith the support of a number of National Committees has compiled the History of Irrigation, Drainage and Flood Management in different river valleys, regions, and countries.

Click here for the list of publications on History of Irrigation, Drainage and Flood Management.




FAO publication - How Design, Management and Policy Affect the Performance of Irrigation Projects - Emerging Modernization Procedures and Design Standards, Hervé Plusquellec, 2002




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