In the Southern Mediterranean, as well as in many other arid and semi-arid
contexts, agriculture is one of the major economic driving forces
contributing to more than 50% of the gross income of the region.
Agriculture represents the main activity for a large part of the rural
population and constitutes the tissue of social relationships.
Nevertheless, due to unfavourable climatic conditions, agriculture is
widely relied on irrigation and water withdrawal for agricultural use
accounts for more than 80% of total freshwater abstraction. Most of the
renewable water resources in water scarce regions, and particularly in the
Mediterranean, are already fully exploited (or even over exploited in
certain areas) and funds to build important infrastructures are shrinking.
Past experience and initiatives have often proved the non-sustainability
of agricultural water management based only on infrastructure-supply
strategy. Hence, water demand management has been affirmed as the most
appropriate long-term vision strategy to cope with the dynamics of supply-
demand imbalance. Certainly, agriculture is the main sector in which water
saving opportunities can be pursued and achieved since the agricultural
water losses are estimated at more than 50% of sectorial water withdrawal.
The contribution of agriculture to a more sustainable development is
increasingly pursued at European level (through the integration of
sustainability principles of Lisbon Process in both the EU Water Framework
Directive and the Common Agricultural Policy) as a strategy that could be
wisely developed across the Euro-Mediterranean region. In view of that,
the European Commission has been very active in the promotion of relevant
research initiatives in the water sector in third countries through the
International Cooperation dimension of the RTD Framework Programme as well
the launch of the EU Water Initiative specifically addressed to meet the
Millennium Development Goals.