Practice Details

Title of Practice: Aquifer Management : A Green Path to Sustainable Development of Marginal Drylands
Year: 2004
BPTag: Award Winner
Reference Number: IRN239
City / Town / Village: Shiraz
Region: Asia & Pacific
Country: Iran
Has this practice been submitted previously? No
Previous Title:
Address: Jihad-e-Keshavarzi Guest House,
Khakshenasi Ave. ,
P.O.Box: 71365-458,
Tel: +98 711 2296091(Office)
Tel: +98 711 6274506(Home)
Fax: +98 711 7205107
Email: kowsar@farsagres.ir

Name of Contact Person: Sayyed Ahang Kowsar,Ph.D.
Email of Contact Person:

Breaking the interfacing, vicious circles of poverty-ignorance-desertification on the one and, and drought-flood on the other, was the main objective of this initiative. The politically expedient and economically disastrous sedentarization of nomads in the Gareh Bygone Plain, I. R. Iran, a sandy desert with the mean annual precipitation and pan evaporation of 243 and 3200-mm, respectively, had wreaked havoc on the environment. Application of inappropriate technologies, mainly moldboard plows and pumps, in an area facing recurrent droughts, had desertified a scrubland, and made refugees out of the once prosperous nomads. The artificial recharge of groundwater (ARG) has rehabilitated 1365-ha of the plain and increased the irrigated farm field area 8-fold to 1193-ha during the 1983-1987 period. The recharged water has provided 250 occupations for the owner-operators and 95 positions for the hired hands.

The average annual forage yield has increased 5-fold to 445kg/ha. Deposition of fine- grained sediments in the systems has converted a loamy sand into sandy loam-loam, suitable for growing small grains. This, the establishment of 89-ha of river red gum forest and erection of 30-km of windbreaks of eucalypts and acacias have stabilized the moving sands and ameliorated the climate. The stem- and fuel wood yield of river red gum at the age of 18 has been 4701 and 813 kg/ha/yr, respectively. The above ground carbon sequestration of the same trees has been 2221 kg/ha/yr; therefore, our trees annually filter 220 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere. The flooding caused damages and fatalities have been materially eliminated. Disregarding the intangible benefits, and assuming the beneficial life of the systems to be 20 years, the benefit: cost ratio for this project has been 22:1.Capacity building is achieved through holding seminars and field trips for students, professors, teachers, technicians, and policy makers, and publishing in scientific journals.

Key Dates: 1. 29 Dec. 1982: Start of the floodwater spreading activities 2. 10 June 1983: The first high-yielding well became operational 3. 1 Nov. 1986: National recognition of the project 4. 5 Feb. 1997: The Kharazmi International Award for Applied Research, and the World Intellectual Property Organization’s gold medal was awarded to Sayyed Ahang Kowsar 5. 29 Nov. 2003: SUMAMAD workshop (UNESCO, UNU, ICARDA) was held at the site
Norminating Organization Details
Name of Organization:
Contact Person:
Type of Organization:

Name of OrganizationAddressContact PersonOrganisation TypeType of Support
Research Institute of Forests & RangelandsJihad-e-Keshavarzi Guest House,
Khakshenasi Ave. ,
P.O.Box: 71365-458, Shiraz,I.R.Iran,
Tel : +98 711 2296091(Office)
Tel: +98 711 6274506(Home)
Fax : +98 711 7205107
Email : kowsar@farsagres.ir
Sayyed Ahang KowsarAcademic/ResearchFinancial Support, Technical Support, Political Support, Administrative Support, Other
The City of Fasa MunicipalityPhase 4,Kargar Shomali Ave. ,
668 St. , No.38 ,
Postal Code : 746176 6974,
Tel: +98 731 3335574 (Home)
Tel: +98 731 3332116-9 (Office)
Fax: +98 731 3337413
.Mohammad Hossein SoleimanzadehLocal AuthorityFinancial Support, Political Support

Disaster and Emergency
Environmental Management
Poverty Reduction



Freshwater scarcity, a poor rangeland, and dust storms had caused out migration of some nomads-turned-farmers from the Gareh Bygone Plain. The remaining women and children had to trek 6-km a day to fetch water. This caused the back pain and miscarriages for the former, and the lower school attendance for the latter.


Water resources development was the first priority established by the village elders and regional authorities who were responsible for providing services for the refugees, and maintaining security in the overcrowded cities. Improved animal husbandry was the second priority. Dust storms were another complaint of the residents of the plain, and those who lived downwind from it. Sayyed Ahang Kowsar of the Research Institute for Forests and Rangelands (RIFOR), and Mohammad Hosein Soleiman-zadeh, the ex-mayor of Fasa, provided the leadership. At the beginning, the women were not involved in decision making; however, they are consulted now for the expansion of the project.


Desertification control through floodwater spreading for the artificial recharge of groundwater was the main objective of this project.  Planting of shade trees and fodder bushes as live windbreaks would help the livestock owners. Deposition of the suspended load onto the moving sand would ameliorate the environment. Provision of fuelwood would discourage people from cutting trees and removing bushes on the watersheds, thus helping soil and water conservation. All of these activities, along with hiring of laborers and watchmen, would reverse the tide of out migration, thus help the cities. These were outlined by S.A.Kowsar and approved by the concerned authorities.


Five broken down, out of service bulldozers and loaders were acquired from the RIFOR, the Municipality of Shiraz, and the Fars Province Governor General’s Office. They were repaired by the bulldozer operators and local mechanics. Many parts unavailable on the market were manufactured at local machine shops. The Ministry of Jihad-e Agriculture, Fars Governor General, the Municipality of Fasa, and local Good Samaritans, who also contributed food, fuel, and labor, provided meager funds. The RIFOR provided the surveying instruments, tree and bush seedlings, tents, mobile homes, water and fuel tankers, vehicles and some technical assistance. The Fars Water Organization provided some hydrological data.

The Fars Office of Rangeland Improvement planted the fodder bushes.  Local masons built the chutes and drops. The Tarbiat Modarres University cooperated in executing 4 research projects, the University of Shiraz helped in performing 2 studies, and the University of Tehran took part in implementing one study. The United Nations University financed one project. The RIFOR was in charge of implementing various research projects and overall management of the facilities. Poverty and uncertainty about the results prevented the inhabitants of the four villages that were the future beneficiaries of the project from contributing funds or labor.


Complete lack of data on flush floods forced us to use empirical formulas, and design the systems with caution. A large flood indicated that we had under designed the systems by a factor of 2.5. Severe erosion of gaps left in banks to drain the surplus water had not been foreseen; installation of masonry chutes in gaps remedied the problem. Undermining of chutes by tree roots caused their collapse; a 10-m spacing is now left between the chutes and the closest tree.

Clogging of the conveyor-spreader channel with sand put the systems out of order; construction of sedimentation basins upstream of the systems solved the problem.  These basins are planted with date palms.Uncontrolled grazing made determination of the carrying capacity impractical. Furthermore, sand removal from the channels was expensive. Collection of grazing fees, and their expenditure for channel cleaning, solved both problems.

Clogging of soil pores by illuviated clay makes the vadose zone impermeable. Planting of deep-rooted trees have encouraged preferential flow towards the aquifer. Moreover, invasion of sowbugs (Hemilepistus shirazi Schuttz), which burrow holes as deep as 180-cm, has substantially increased infiltration rate. Over-exploitation of groundwater is a serious problem. We plan to install meters on all well heads.

The Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Jihad, the Governor General of Fars province, the Mayor of Fasa, and the 4 village elders were involved in decision making. Traditions barred men from contacting women to seek their cooperation. Now that the situation has somewhat eased, we have appointed a nomad young lady as our contact with the women.

Economic performance of the project 10 years after its initiation has been studied in 4 villages surrounding the site. Disregarding the intangible benefits, and assuming the beneficial life of the systems to be 20 years, the benefit: cost ratio for this project has been 22:1.

We annually measure the forage yield. We have also measured the wood yield after 8 and 18 years, and carbon sequestration of the same trees after 18 years. Our results are used by the planners and technicians who establish the ARG systems, and the professors who teach such techniques. The universities of Shiraz, Tehran, Tarbiat Modarres, Ghent (Belgium), Putra (Malasia), and ITC (Holland) have encouraged their graduate students to do their thesis research at our station. So far, nine M.S. theses have been produced, 2 are under preparation, and 4 Ph.D. theses are presently being written.


The average annual harnessing of 8 million cubic meters of floodwater, containing 50000 tons of sediment, has provided ample freshwater, fuelwood, and employment opportunities, fixed the moving sand, stemmed the out migration and encouraged some of the environmental refugees to return home. Women and children no longer walk long distances to fetch water; school attendance has drastically improved. The irrigated area has increased from 147-ha to 1193-ha; this has provided income for 250 owner-operators, and 95 hired laborers. Moreover, extra employment has been provided due to the annual production of 10 tons of honey. We have stabilized 1300-ha of the moving sand, established 89-ha of fodder, fruit and industrial plantations and 30-km of windbreaks. On average, each ha of 18-year eucalyptus plantation annually produces 4701-kg of stemwood, 813-kg of fuelwood, and sequesters 2221-kg of carbon. A 10-year average of forage yield of the spreaders has been 445 kg/ha as opposed to 92 kg/ha for the control.   

The Ministry of Jihad-e Agriculture and the Ministry of the Interior now pay more attention to flood mitigation and the ARG to solve some of their water-related problems. Aquifer management has been accepted as a Government policy and annual appropriation is made for it in the national budget..Our success has shown the potentials of annually harnessing upwards of 50 cubic kilometers of wasted floodwaters for controlling desertification on 14 million ha, supplying water for irrigation of 6 million ha, and providing jobs for 4 million persons.


No loan was involved. A few Good Samaritans contributed some of our basic needs at the initiation of the project. This was a research activity with many aspects. The villagers reaped the benefits, the researchers achieved their objectives, and the local, provincial, and national governments were relieved of a headache! Grazing fees, and sale of industrial and fuelwood, provide some funds for the upkeep of our station. However, we shall borrow low interest loans in the future expansion of the project, and start paying them back as our products become marketable. As graduate students implement some of our research projects for their theses, the universities that confer degrees on them provide the funds, particularly for the laboratory analyses. Volunteers, particularly students, take part in tree planting.

As the household income is shared equitably, both women and men benefit from the project. More girls are attending school now. Equal number of men and women will form a new, green cooperative based on aquifer management. Each member will be assigned 4-ha of irrigated field, 4-ha of improved pasture to graze 10 heads of livestock, and 0.4-ha of woodlot.  All members have equal say in decision making. As we provided the most basic needs of nomads-turned-farmers free of charge, they became friendlier and respected the rules regarding grazing rights of the floodwater spreading sites. We contacted only patriarchs to inform them of our different aspects of the project and sought their views. As we supply water, reclaim the degraded land, and provide fuelwood for the inhabitants of the plain, their dependence on the flood-producing watersheds has decreased. This leads to rehabilitation of the overexploited land. Some graziers have become farmers, and they keep as many livestock as their produced stubble, hay, and barley fields can sustain.    


Desertification control through floodwater spreading is the most important lesson learned; flood is a blessing in disguise, not a proverbial curse!  We have learned that the existing, empty aquifers shall replace man-made reservoirs in deserts. We have learned that water is the best adhesive that can glue a dryland farmer to his field.  We have also shown that this project is a low technology scheme that is environmentally sound, economically feasible, politically prudent, and socially acceptable.           

We are going to establish an Aquitopia, a utopia based on aquifer management, in a desert. Forty young couples and their children, and 30 researchers and technicians will construct a 500-ha ARG system that will supply irrigation water for 440-ha, domestic water and fuelwood for 500 persons, and forage for 1100 livestock. We will show the green path to a better living. We have benefited from the experience of Australians, mainly J.C.Newman and J.A.Quilty in designing and constructing our floodwater spreading systems.

Our previous works had shown that the level conveyor-spreader channels spread the water unevenly on the surface. Surveying of the watermark in 2 such channels revealed that the water surface had acquired a 0.0003 slope. Therefore, the first such channel in this project was laid down at that slope. Eureka, it worked! The results of species trials performed by the RIFOR were used in selecting tree species for the windbreaks erected at the site. The Fars Office of Rangeland Improvement helped us on planting Atriplex lentiformis on the site and how to manage them.     The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran recommended implementation of our ideas under the title of the Kowsar Plan in its 2 Nov.1988 session. Moreover, President Rafsenjani ordered the establishment of 20 aquifer management stations totaling 200000-ha in area on 26 Mar. 1996. 


The manual that I have written on this subject is used in workshops in Iran. Professor M.J. Meijrink of the ITC, the Netherlands, uses our results as a case study in his teaching the ARG in different countries. We are going to initiate a project with the cooperation of UNESCO and the United Nations University (UNU). We will involve both researchers and rural volunteers in building, running, and maintaining the ARG systems. By so doing, we build the capacity so that replication of our experience would go smoothly. The individuals who become a cooperative member have to share expenses and profits. This policy shall encourage them to follow the rules agreed upon by the elected council, as they are part owners of the systems. This will also teach them the stewardship of the environment.

As a member of the Steering Committee of the UNU on the Sustainable Management of the Marginal Drylands (SUMAMAD) I have presented papers at workshops held in Iran, Tunisia, Syria, Japan, and Uzbekistan. As a guest professor, I have transferred my knowledge, expertise and experience to graduate and under-graduate students at the University of Shiraz, Technical University of Isfahan, and the University of Tarbiat Modarres that trains faculty for other universities. As a major advisor and/or co-promoter of M.S. and Ph.D. students I familiarize them with my line of work and philosophy. Therefore, they may teach and /or implement what I have taught them.     

Upwards of 100 projects of this nature have been implemented in Iran, some with spectacular success. The Ministry of Jihad-e Agriculture implements these projects. If I were to help others to replicate my experience, I would involve as many future beneficiaries of the project as possible in decision-making, financing, and execution of the actual work.  I would only help them to help themselves.

  1. Clay translocation in the artificial recharge of a groundwater system in the southern Zagros Ranges:
  2. Mehrdad Mohammadnia and Sayyed Ahang Kowsar, Mountain Research and Development, 23/1,2003, pp.55-55.
  3. 2. Reclamation of a sandy desert through floodwater spreading: I. Sediment-induced changes in selected soil       chemical and physical properties:
  4. A .A. Naderi, S.A.Kowsar, and A.A.Sarafraz, Journal of Agricultural Science and Technology (I.R. Iran),   2/1,2000,pp.9-20.
  5. 3.  Reclamation of a sandy desert through floodwater spreading: II. Characterization of clay minerals in the       watershed      and the freshly-laid sediment:
  6. S.K.Mirnia and S.A.Kowsar, Journal of Agricultural Science and Technology (I.R. Iran), 2/3,2000,pp.197-206.
  7. Aquifer management: A prelude to rehabilitation of salinized soils:
  8. Abdolhasan Pooladian and Sayyed Ahang Kowsar, Desertification Control Bulletin (UNEP), 36,2000, pp.78-82.
  9. A system performance evaluation of the Gooyom floodwater spreading project:
  10. E.Raeisi and A.Kowsar, Iranian Journal of Science and Technology, 22/2, Transaction A, 1998, pp.169-184.
  11. Aquifer management: A key to food security in the deserts of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
  12. Sayyed Ahang Kowsar, Desertification Control Bulletin (UNEP), 33,1998, pp.24-28.
  13. Floodwater-- the softest hardware:
  14. Sayyed Ahang Kowsar, Tiempo,28,1998, pp.17-21, [www.cru.uea.ac.uk/tiempo/floorO/archive/issue28/t28a4.htm].
  15. Eight-year performance of Eucalyptus camaldulensis in waterspreaders in a sandy desert:
  16. Ahang Kowsar, Sayyed Mortaza Mortazavi, and Mansur Niazi-Ardekani, Desertification Control Bulletin           (UNEP),       29,1996, pp.35-41.
  17. Desertification control through floodwater spreading in Iran:
  18. A.Kowsar, Unasylva (FAO), 43/1,1992, pp.27-30.
  19. Floodwater spreading for desertification control: An integrated approach:Ahang Kowsar, Desertification Control Bulletin (UNEP), 19,1991, pp.3-18. 

Supporting Material:
There are no supporting materials