Improvement of water and nutrient retention and use efficiency in arablefarming systems from field to catchment scale in Europe and North Africa (WaterFARMING)

Project Website

Bhim Bahadur Ghaley 

Coordinator: Bhim Bahadur Ghaley


Projects  Partner and Institution:
Bhim Bahadur Ghaley, University of Copenhagen (UCPH), Denmark
Seifeddine Jomaa, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Germany
Abd-Alla Gad Abd-AllaGad (NARSS), Egypt
Marco Lauteri, Institute for Agro-environmental and Forest Biology (CNR), Italy
Niels Anten, Pytrik Reidsma, Martin van Ittersum, Centre for Crop Systems Analysis, Wageningen University (WU)
Cristina Máguas, Fundação da Faculdade de Ciências (FFCUL), Portugal
Makram Anane, Centre of Water Research and Technologies, (CERTE),Tunisia

Key words: Soil and water conservation, field-catchment scale modelling, SMART indicators, network of production systems, water quality monitoring, nutrient load estimates, effect of agricultural measures, hydrological modeling, remote sensing, GIS, stable isotopes, resources use efficiency, land use, participatory approach.


The aim of WATERFARMING is to improve water and nutrient retention capacity and enhance the use efficiency in a network of production systems across Europe and North Africa. The goal is to reduce soil and water pollution to ensure sustainable management of water resources. The specific objectives are as follows:

  • a) To quantify the potential to enhance retention and use efficiencies of water and nutrient at field, farm and catchment scale through water and soil conserving practices in a selected network of production systems.
  • b) Identify and use environmental, economic and social indicators to evaluate the production systems.
  • c) Design innovative practices and sustainable water and nutrient use production systems.
  • d) Develop a web-based decision support tool for informed-decision making by farmers, advisory services and policy-makers.

A network of production systems, relevant to specific country, were identified in the consortium countries and includes continuous arable systems, mixed farming rotation of cereals with grass, and agroforestry systems with annual crops or grasses. The network of production systems were described in details and stakeholder platforms were formed around these production systems, who are the different stakeholders within the value chain of these production systems.

Two crop models viz. DAISY and WOFOST, were identified for simulations of these systems and data needs were communicated for data collection by the partners for assessment of water-use efficiency (WUE) and nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE) in the network of production systems.

Data from Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, were collected for the crop simulation exercise. To evaluate the network of production systems, a total of 322 SMART (Specific, Measurable in qualitative or quantitative terms, Achievable in terms of available resources, Relevant for the issue at hand and Time-bound) indicators were identified for environmental, economic and social performance. Different management measures were identified for water and nutrient retention and evaluated with the stakeholder platforms for soil, water and nutrient retention and improved use efficiency. Knowledge sharing, Communication and Impact Maximization (KCIM) plans were prepared for each partner country to reach out to stakeholders and create awareness of the project outputs. Project partners developed a close working relationship with monthly skype meeting and annual project coordination meetings held in Italy, Egypt, Portugal and Tunisia, and one common kick-off meeting was attended by the project coordinator in Stockholm.

The project has identified gaps in the network of production systems by exploiting crop models and SMART indicators, which can result in improvement of water, nutrient and soil conserving practices, to reduce the detrimental environmental impacts of agriculture, such as water pollution, and reduce loss of soil and nutrients into water resources causing downstream adverse impacts (e.g. algal bloom and eutrophication). In addition, the consortium has communicated and disseminated research methods, tools and approaches among the consortium partners to increase the knowledge and exploitation of best practices on network of production systems across Europe and North Africa.


The project website is available at:

Project structure: WaterFARMING will adopt an innovative case-study approach by bringing together a network of locally relevant production systems representative of the diverse pedo-climatic conditions and socio-economic settings in Europe and N. Africa. Key stakeholders (e.g., farmers, farmer networks and advisory services) will be actively involved from the start of the project to co-generate shared knowledge, from local to regional scales. The consortium will work with their own prioritized issues of water and soil pollution relevant to the local production systems by use of innovative methods and tools from field to catchment scale to identify gaps.
(WP2). The identified interventions will be evaluated through on-farm trials followed by productivity and economic assessments.
(WP4). The expected outputs are i) a list of water and nutrient use efficiency gaps in relevant production systems, ii) a set of widely applicable environmental, economic and social indicators iii) innovative practices to improve the network of production systems and iv) a decision support tool for informed decision making by stakeholders.

WaterFARMING is a 3-year project (March, 2017- February, 2020) consisting of six interconnected work packages. The network of production systems (WP1) will be assessed for quantification of water and nutrient use efficiency gaps, (WP2) by using mix of crop models and Kaya-Porter Identity. Environmental, economic and social indicators will then be developed to assess the performance of the production systems from farm to catchment scale. (WP3). Based on the gaps identified in WP2, SMART indicators are identified (WP3) and innovative interventions, relevant to the local production systems will be identified in consultation with the local stakeholder platforms. (WP4). The outputs from WPs 1, 2, 3 and 4 will be communicated through stakeholder-oriented dissemination materials and communication strategies developed in WP5. WP6 is project coordination for administrative and scientific project management.

WaterFARMING project outputs have multiple value additions to the water RDI. Agricultural land in Europe (EU27) accounts for 40% of total land area of which 61% is under arable crops. Agriculture accounts for 44% of the water use in Europe and 80% in countries like Tunisia. Adoption of water and soil conserving practices in Europe and N. Africa will contribute to retention of water and nutrient at source and enhance the use efficiency producing more with the same input. This will release vital water resources for other uses (e.g., the forestry and freshwater aquaculture sectors). Adoption of water and nutrient efficient production systems will also reduce the outflow of contaminated water, and thus reduce water pollution. The consortium will facilitate exchange of research methods, tools and approaches and best practices among the partner countries with geographical spread from N. Europe to N. Africa and this will add significant value in exchange of knowledge beyond the project life cycle. The network of production systems and catchments will be a binding force to connect the partners for future research collaboration to take the research into next level of excellence. Our participatory approach working with the end user beneficiaries to resolve the issues at field-catchment scale is a unique approach to co-generate solutions in active consultation with stakeholders. The wider impacts will be enhanced water and nutrient productivity, biodiversity, carbon sequestration and reducedGHG emission to mitigate climate change impacts.

References coordinator and  leaders of  each WP: 
WP 1 lead: Marco Lauteri
WP 2 lead: Niels Anten
WP 3 lead: Makram Anane
WP 4 lead: Seifeddine Jomaa
WP 5 lead: Abd-Alla Gad Abd-AllaGad
WP 6 lead: Bhim Bahadur Ghaley

Main outputs

  • Ghaley, B.B.; Kehli, N.; Mentler, A. 2018. Energy synthesis of conventional fodder maize (Zea mays L.) production in Denmark. Ecological Indicators, 87:144-151.
  • Ghaley, B.B.; Rusu, T.; Sandén, T.; Spiegel, H.; Menta, C.; Visioli, G.; O’Sullivan, L.; Gattin, I.T.; Delgado,A.; Liebig, M.; Vrebos, D.; Szegi, T.; Michéli, E.;Cacovean, H.; Henriksen, C.B. 2018. Assessment of 21 benefits of conservation agroculture on soil functions in arable production systems in Europe. Sustainability, 10 (794).
  • Ghaley, B.B; Wösten, H.; Olesen, J.E.; Schelde, K.; Baby,S.; Karki, Y.K.; Børgesen, C.D.; Smith, P.; Yeluripati, J.; Ferrise, R.; Bindi, M.; Kuikman, P.; Lesschen, J.-P-.; Porter, J.R. 2018. Simulation of soil organic carbon effects on long-term winter wheat (triticum aestivum) production under varying fertilizer inputs. Frontiers in Plant Science (Open access), 9 (1158).
  • Jomaa, S.; Aboud, I.; Dupas, R.; Yang, X.; Rozemeijer, J.; Rode, M. 2018. Improving nitrate load estimates in an agricultural catchment using Event Response Reconstruction, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 190(6), 330.

More results on the project: Data and resources

Contact Point for  Communication/Dissemination activities:
Abd-Alla Gad (NARSS),
Niels Anten & Joao Silva (WU)

Contact Point for Open Data/Open Access activities:
Abd-Alla Gad (NARSS)

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published on 2017/03/23 10:00:00 GMT+1 last modified 2022-05-13T15:29:38+01:00