Jordan Table of Contents
Government agricultural project using underground water in Khawr Ramm Desert, southern Jordan
Hothouse in the Jordan River valley
Observers expected food imports to remain necessary into the indefinite future. Much of Jordan's soil was not arable even if water were available; by several estimates, between 6 percent and 7 percent of Jordan's territory was arable, a figure that was being revised slowly upward as dry-land farming techniques became more sophisticated. In 1989 the scarcity of water, the lack of irrigation, and economic problems--rather than the lack of arable land--set a ceiling on agricultural potential (see Water , this ch.). Only about 20 percent of Jordan's geographic area received more than 200 millimeters of rainfall per year, the minimum required for rain-fed agriculture. Much of this land was otherwise unsuitable for agriculture. Moreover, rainfall varied greatly from year to year, so crops were prone to be ruined by periodic drought.
In 1986 only about 5.5 percent (about 500,000 hectares), of the East Bank's (see Glossary) 9.2 million hectares were under cultivation. Fewer than 40,000 hectares were irrigated, almost all in the Jordan River valley. Because arable, rain-fed land was exploited extensively, future growth of agricultural production depended on increased irrigation. Estimates of the additional area that could be irrigated were Jordan to maximize its water resources ranged between 65,000 and 100,000 hectares.
Most agricultural activity was concentrated in two areas. In rain-fed northern and central areas of higher elevation, wheat, barley, and other field crops such as tobacco, lentils, barley, and chick-peas were cultivated; olives also were produced in these regions. Because of periodic drought and limited area, the rain-fed uplands did not support sufficient output of cereal crops to meet domestic demand (see table 11, Appendix).
In the more fertile Jordan River valley, fruits and vegetables including cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, melons, bananas, and citrus crops often were produced in surplus amounts. The Jordan River Valley received little rain, and the main source of irrigation water was the East Ghor Canal, which was built in 1963 with United States aid.
Although the country's ultimate agricultural potential was small, economic factors apparently limited production more than environmental constraints, as reflected by up to 100,000 hectares of potentially arable land that lay fallow in the late 1980s. The government has expressed considerable concern about its "food security" and its high food import bill, and it was implementing plans to increase crop production in the 1990s. Growth in agricultural output was only about 4 percent during the 1980-85 Five-Year Plan, despite investment of approximately JD80 million during the period, indicating the slow pace of progress.
In the late 1980s, Jordan was implementing a two-pronged agricultural development policy. The long-term strategy was to increase the total area under cultivation by better harnessing water resources to increase irrigation of arid desert areas for the cultivation of cereal crops, the country's most pressing need. In the short term, the government was attempting to maximize the efficiency of agricultural production in the Jordan River valley through rationalization or use of resources to produce those items in which the country had a relative advantage.
Rationalization started with a controversial 1985 government decision to regulate cropping and production, primarily in the Jordan River valley. Farmers there had repeatedly produced surpluses of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, and squashes because they were reliable and traditional crops. At the same time, underproduction of crops such as potatoes, onions, broccoli, celery, garlic, and spices led to unnecessary imports. The government offered incentives to farmers to experiment with new crops and cut subsidy payments to those who continued to produce surplus crops. In 1986 cucumber production dropped by 25 percent to about 50,000 tons and tomato harvests dropped by more than 33 percent to 160,000 tons, while self-sufficiency was achieved in potatoes and onions.
Production of wheat and other cereals fluctuated greatly from year to year, but never came close to meeting demand. In 1986, a drought year, Jordan produced about 22,000 tons of wheat, down from 63,000 tons in 1985. In 1987 Jordan harvested about 130,000 tons, a record amount. Because even a bumper crop did not meet domestic demand, expansion of dry-land cereal farming in the southeast of the country was a major agricultural development goal of the 1990s. One plan called for the irrigation of a 7,500-hectare area east of Khawr Ramm (known as Wadi Rum) using 100 million cubic meters per year of water pumped from a large underground aquifer. Another plan envisioned a 7,500-hectare cultivated area in the Wadi al Arabah region south of the Jordan River valley using desalinated water from the Red Sea for irrigation.
Data as of December 1989
Jordan Table of Contents