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Agricultural Water Management 208 (2018) 7-18 



ELSEVIER 


Contents lists available at ScienceDirect 

Agricultural Water Management 

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/agwat 


Agricultural 
Water Management 




Irrigation water management in Iran: Implications for water use efficiency 
improvement 

Bijan Nazari 3 ’*, Abdolmajid Liaghat b , Mohammad Reza Akbari', Marzieh Keshavarz 

a Department of Water Sciences and Engineering, Imam Khomeini International University, Qazvin, Iran 

b Department of Irrigation and Reclamation Engineering, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Tehran, Karaj, Iran 
c Department of Agricultural Extension and Education, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Tehran, Karaj, Iran 
fl Department of Agriculture, Payame Noor University, Tehran, Iran 


ARTICLE INFO 


ABSTRACT 


Keywords: 

Water crisis 
Water efficiency 
Agriculture sector 
Water management 
SWOT/PESTLE analysis 
TOWS matrix 
Bottleneck analysis 
Iran 


Water is the most essential resource for the production of agricultural goods and services. However, high levels 
of water stress and increased frequency and intensity of droughts, which are mainly driven by climate change 
dynamics, have reduced the stock of freshwater resources in arid and semi-arid regions, such as Iran. Despite the 
major reduction of freshwater resources, the efficiency of irrigation water use has remained very low in the 
country and performance of water management schemes is far from satisfactory. Using the strengths, weak¬ 
nesses, opportunities and threats/political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental (SWOT/ 
PESTLE) analysis, this paper explores 40 internal and external factors that influence irrigation water manage¬ 
ment in Iran and recognizes legal, social, technological and political dynamics as the major reasons for failure of 
irrigation water management in the country. A combination of the threats, opportunities, weaknesses and 
strengths (TOWS) matrix and bottleneck analysis was used to suggest irrigation water management strategies 
that rehabilitate the failed schemes and enhance water security in the agriculture sector. Rethinking the role of 
intensified agriculture in development along with raising the awareness and attitude of decision makers towards 
the risk of shortsighted water resource development plans, in addition to promoting agro-based industries and 
developing integrated plans to improve water efficiency are the strategies that can contribute to a more effective 
management of irrigation water in Iran. 


1. Introduction 

Water is considered as one of the most critical resources for human 
beings. It is vital not only for economic development, as water resources 
are important to the production of agricultural and industrial goods and 
services, but also it is the most essential component of the natural en¬ 
vironment (Chartzoulakis and Bertaki, 2015). Also, it has a significant 
influence on health and nature conservation. However, only 2.7% of 
global water is available as freshwater with an appropriate quality, out 
of which only 30% can be applied to answer human and livestock de¬ 
mands (Ertek and Yilmaz, 2014). 

Over the past 60 years, global demand for freshwater has increased 
for many reasons including rapid population and economic growth 
(Kaur et al., 2010), urbanization and industrialization (Biswas, 2010), 
land use change (Sophocleous, 2004), intensive agricultural practices 
(Tilman et al., 2002) and environmental degradation (Vorosmarty 
et al., 2000). Furthermore, changes in the frequency, duration and 


intensity of drought events have dramatically reduced the stocks of 
freshwater resources in several regions (Ronco et al., 2017), especially 
in the arid and semi-arid areas of Iran. For instance, the 2007-2014 
drought in Iran led to the complete dry up of many internationally 
renowned wetlands and lakes, significant reduction of river flows and 
depletion of groundwater resources (Keshavarz and Karami, 2016). 

On the other hand, by 2050, the world’s population is projected to 
rise to 9.8 billion people and more than half of this population will 
reside in urban areas (UN, 2017). As population and economic growth 
will continue, more food will be needed to be produced in the future. It 
means that water demand will grow more than 40% by 2050 (UN, 
2015). Therefore, water scarcity will turn out to be a great issue in the 
near future (Doungmanee, 2016). In parallel, climate change is ex¬ 
pected to deteriorate the situation through significant reduction of 
freshwater supplies and increase of frequency, intensity and duration of 
drought events (IPCC, 2014). While climate change has already affected 
the temporal and spatial variability of surface and ground water 


* Corresponding author at: Department of Water Sciences and Engineering, Imam Khomeini International University, Qazvin, 34148-96818, Iran. 

E-mail addresses: binazari@ut.ac.ir (B. Nazari), aliaghat@ut.ac.ir (A. Liaghat), mrakbari@ut.ac.ir (M.R. Akbari), keshavarzmarzieh@pnu.ac.ir (M. Keshavarz). 
1 Approximately 50% more food compared to the data for 1998 (FAO, 2010). 

https://doi.Org/10.1016/j.agwat.2018.06.003 

Received 2 January 2018; Received in revised form 13 May 2018; Accepted 1 June 2018 

Available online 20 July 2018 

0378-3774/ © 2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. 














B. Nazari et al 


Agricultural Water Management 208 (2018) 7-18 



Fig. 1. Research framework. 


availability (IPCC, 2014), it is predicted that approximately two-third 
of the world’s population will encounter water stress conditions in 2025 
(UN Water, 2010). As the available freshwater supply will become 
scarce, the demand for irrigation water will increase in the regions that 
their agricultural systems heavily depend on irrigation, such as Iran. 

Irrigated agriculture is currently the major user of water resources 
worldwide by consuming approximately 70% of the total withdrawn 
water (FAO, 2013). In developing countries, like Iran, whose rural 
economies mainly depend on agricultural products, intensive irrigated 
agriculture is responsible for over 90% of freshwater consumption 
(Samian et al., 2015) and will continue to be the main user of renew¬ 
able water resources (Rosegrant et al., 2009). 

Since water scarcity is a harsh reality of the agricultural sector in 
arid and semi-arid regions, proper management and efficient use of 
agricultural water are imperative to ensure global water safety. 
However, water use efficiency of agriculture in Iran is very low. The 
average efficiency of irrigation systems in this country is about 35% 
(Madani, 2014), which is far lower than 70-90% irrigation system ef¬ 
ficiency of the most developed countries (FAO, 2016). 

Therefore, conservation of water resources and affordable and sus¬ 
tainable use of irrigation water is required to mitigate the problem of 
water shortage, in Iran. As the reduction of irrigation water supply and 
demand will pose a great risk to national food security (Kang et al., 
2016) and will increase rural poverty and forced migration without 
diligent planning, a consistent policy of rational irrigation development 
is necessary. In this respect, improving the productivity of irrigated 
agriculture has been a priority for the government of Iran since 1960 
(Forouzani and Karami, 2010). Despite increasing institutional invest¬ 
ments in dam construction, provision of low-interest loans and im¬ 
plementation of various policy measures such as subsidized agricultural 
water and energy use, the performance of many water management 
schemes is far from satisfactory (Keshavarz et al., 2013; Madani, 2014; 
Moazedi et al., 2011). The efforts of Iran for managing irrigation water 
have been criticized due to the decades of disintegrated planning and 
management myopia (Madani, 2014). Also, the rapid investment and 
growth in the economy and infrastructure sectors without considering 
the dynamic relationships between these sectors and the water, en¬ 
vironment and ecosystem components have been discussed (Mirchi 
et al.. 2010). Moreover, the absence of an integrated view about the 
human-natural system relationship is evident in Iran, which means that 
the context, local realities or legitimacy are ignored during the im¬ 
plementation of water management practices (Hjorth and Madani, 
2014). Since continuation of the current irrigation water management 
trends will amplify the water crisis of Iran, it is imperative to assess site- 
specific irrigation water management challenges and ensure sustainable 
management of irrigation water. 

Numerous studies have applied SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, 
Opportunities and Challenges) and/or PESTLE (political, economic, 
social, technological, legal and environmental) analysis to different 
fields of water management in both developed and developing coun¬ 
tries, e.g. Abdullaev et al., 2009; Bastiaanssen et al., 2007; Burt et al., 
2006; de Souza and Costa da Silva, 2014; Gallego-Ayala and Juizo, 
2011; Grigg, 2005; Jang et al., 2014; Martins et al., 2013; Michailidis 
et al., 2015; Molden and Oweis, 2007; Mugabi et al., 2007; Mylopoulos 
et al., 2008; Panigrahi and Mohanty, 2012; Srdjevic et al., 2012; Tekken 
and Kropp, 2015; Yavuz and Baycan, 2013. However, the factual status 
of irrigation water management is not well documented in Iran. 
Meanwhile, there is strong evidence that each country involves its 


unique internal, i.e. strengths and weaknesses, and external, i.e. op¬ 
portunities and threats, factors that reinforce or depreciate water 
management. As an outcome, conducting a research related to im¬ 
proving irrigation water management in the Iranian context can raise 
awareness of water sustainability challenges and help decision makers 
to rehabilitate the failed schemes of irrigation water security. There¬ 
fore, this study attempts to i) identify the strengths, weaknesses, op¬ 
portunities and threats of the Iranian water management practices and 
policies, ii) determine the most critical factors associated with sus¬ 
tainable management of irrigation water and iii) propose some water 
management strategies to ensure effective use of the limited water and 
alleviate irrigation water shortages, in the arid and semi-arid regions of 
Iran. 

2. Research method 

A four-phase decision making framework was designed to identify 
the critical internal and external factors that are associated with sus¬ 
tainable management of irrigation water resources in Iran and rank the 
water management strategies according to their importance (Fig. 1). 
The study framework is described with more details, in the subsequent 
sections. 

2.1. SWOT/PESTLE analysis 

SWOT/PESTLE was used to investigate the current status of irriga¬ 
tion water management in Iran. Generally, SWOT is a list of factors that 
can be used to describe present and future trends of both internal and 
external environments (Yavuz and Baycan, 2013). SWOT is a con¬ 
venient way of conducting a situational evaluation (Wickramasinghe 
and Takano, 2009) and categorizing the key internal and external fac¬ 
tors that are important for achieving sustainable water management. 

In order to identify the preliminary strengths, weaknesses, oppor¬ 
tunities and threats (SWOT) of sustainable management of Iran’s irri¬ 
gation water systems, the literature about irrigation water management 
in Iran was reviewed. In addition, three primary sources were used as a 
starting point including i) an expert group meeting, ii) a focus group 
discussion by policy makers, and iii) semi-structured interviews with 
the main irrigation water users i.e. farmers of the Moghan plain who 
hold the positions of opinion leadership (Table 1). The Moghan plain, 
northwest Iran, is one of the leading agricultural regions in Iran. 

The farmers, who participated in this study, were selected based on 

Table 1 

General characteristics of the participants. 

Characteristics Number Percentage of the total sample 


Participants 

Farmers 

16 

53.3 

Policy makers 

5 

16.7 

Experts 

9 

30.0 

Gender 

Male 

28 

93.3 

Female 

2 

6.7 

Education 

Ph.D. 

9 

30.0 

M.Sc. 

4 

13.3 

B.Sc. 

5 

16.7 

Diploma 

12 

40.0 


8 



















B. Nazari et al. 


Agricultural Water Management 208 (2018) 7-18 


their experiences in managing irrigation water systems and their fa¬ 
miliarity with irrigation water reality in Iran. Also, the scholars that 
were experts in the field of managing water resources and policy ma¬ 
kers (i.e. the local and national irrigation water managers) were se¬ 
lected based on their in-depth knowledge of managing irrigation water 
resources, professional experiences and skills, as well as individual re¬ 
putation in the water sector. 

The information obtained from the meeting, focus group discussion, 
semi-structured interviews and literature review was validated by the 
academic researchers and technical experts that participated in the 
meeting. Furthermore, the experts classified the SWOT factors across 
six PESTLE categories, i.e. the political, economic, social, technological, 
legal and environmental classes. The synergy between SWOT and 
PESTLE provides deep insight and accurate understanding about the 
current realities of complex irrigation water management processes in 
Iran. 

2.2. Weighting of SWOT/PESTLE factors and assessing status of irrigation 
water management 


Strengths Weaknesses 


SO 

(maxi-maxi) 

Strategies 

WO 

(mini-maxi) 

Strategies 

ST 

(maxi-mini) 

Strategies 

WT 

(mini-mini) 

Strategies 


Fig. 2. TOWS matrix. 


SWOT analysis is a useful tool for evaluating the current status of 
irrigation water management. However, one of its main drawbacks is 
that SWOT often fails to provide information about the relative im¬ 
portance of the identified factors. For this reason, recently SWOT 
analysis has been upgraded with the Multi-Criteria Decision Making 
(MCDM) methods that prioritize SWOT factors by assigning some cor¬ 
responding weights to them. Assigning weights to the SWOT factors 
forces the respondents to analyze the situation more precisely and 
deeper than the case of standard SWOT (Yavuz and Baycan, 2013). 

Using the identified SWOT/PESTLE factors, a questionnaire was 
designed for the experts and policy makers in order to determine the 
weights of the SWOT/ PESTLE factors. The relative importance of each 
factor was determined using a 1-5 scale, where the score of 1 represents 
very low importance and 5 stands for very high importance. A total of 
14 questionnaires were completed by the experts and decision makers 
to derive the weights of SWOT/PESTLE factors. 

After determining the local weight of each SWOT factor, Eq. (1) was 
developed to assess the value of each PESTLE factor and explain the 
status of irrigation water management in Iran. 

PESTEL values = f ((^ WiSiSWfactors) . w t SiOT factors)) q ) 

where Wi is the weight of SWOT factor i. Si is the score of SWOT factor i 
and SW and OT are the internal (strengths and weaknesses) and ex¬ 
ternal (opportunities and threats) factors, respectively. The score of 
each SWOT factor was determined by a panel of experts using a 1-4 
scale, where a score of 1 represents failure of irrigation water man¬ 
agement efforts to minimize the internal weaknesses or external threats, 
a score of 2 refers to desirable reduction or elimination of the internal 
weaknesses or external threats, a score of 3 indicates poor utilization of 
the internal strengths or external opportunities, and finally, a score of 4 
relates to proper water managers efforts for reinforcing the internal 
strengths and achieving the external opportunities (for more informa¬ 
tion about the SWOT analysis see Sarsby, 2016). 

2.3. Water management strategy formulation 

In order to propose water management strategies to ensure sus¬ 
tainable management of irrigation water in Iran, a TOWS matrix 
(Weihrich, 1982) was employed by a panel of experts and policy makers 
(Fig. 2). TOWS matrix develops alternative strategies based on logical 
combinations of i) the internal strengths and the external opportunities 
and threats and ii) the internal weaknesses and the external opportu¬ 
nities and threats (Trainer, 2004). The matrix determines four con¬ 
ceptually distinct groups to provide alternative strategies including i) 
Strength-Opportunity (SO) strategies, when irrigation water managers 


and practitioners utilize and reinforce internal strengths to access the 
opportunities that are available in the external environment; ii) 
Weaknesses-Opportunity (WO) strategies, when irrigation water man¬ 
agers reduce the internal weaknesses that can prevent implementation 
of external opportunities; iii) Strength-Threats (ST) strategies, when 
irrigation water managers and practitioners utilize internal strengths to 
minimize the external factors that threaten efficient use of irrigation 
water; and iv) Weaknesses-Threats (WT) strategies, when irrigation 
water managers eliminate or minimize internal weaknesses to avoid 
prevalence of external threats (for more information about the TOWS 
analysis see Sarsby, 2016). 

2.4. Identifying most important water management strategies 

In order to create a deep understanding of the sequence and re¬ 
levance of the TOWS strategies, a process map was designed. In the first 
step, primacy and recency of the irrigation water management strate¬ 
gies were discussed by a panel of experts and policy makers. In this 
respect, the respondents were asked to determine the prerequisites of 
each strategy. After that, a hierarchical network of strategies was de¬ 
vised to model and interpret the relationships between the water 
management strategies. With this regard, three types of strategies were 
identified by the experts and policy makers; i) initiation strategies; ii) 
mediation strategies; and iii) termination strategies. The yEd Graph 
Editor software was used to create the process map while adding a 
hierarchical linking structure. Accuracy of the process map was vali¬ 
dated by a panel of experts and policy makers. 

E-I index, which was formulated by Krackhardt and Stern (1988), 
was used to measure the ratios of the internal and external ties and 
standardize them into a commensurate value within the range of — 1.0 
to +1.0. The E-I index was calculated as: 

. , Number of external ties—Number of internal ties 

Total number of ties (2) 

An E-I index of —1.0 indicates only initiation orientation of strategies 
whereas an E-I index of +1.0 signifies alternative termination strate¬ 
gies. Also, E-I measures between — 1 and +1 indicate the mediation 
role of the strategies. 

Furthermore, bottleneck analysis was carried out by the participants 
to identify the most important initiation, mediation and termination 
strategies for transformation of the current irrigation water manage¬ 
ment systems into more reliable and efficient systems. This analytical 
method distinguishes the most critical strategies that prevent achieve¬ 
ment of the desired level of sustainability by an irrigation water man¬ 
agement system. The relative importance of the strategies was de¬ 
termined based on four principal criteria within a 0-10 scale that was 


9 



B. Nazari et al. 


Agricultural Water Management 208 (2018) 7-18 


Table 2 

Priority scores and raking of the SWOT factors. 


SWOT 

Priority score and 
rank 

SWOT factors 

Local weight 

Overall weight 

Overall ranking 

Strengths 

0.12364 

SI: Planning for development of resilient water management system 

0.19841 

0.02453 

29 


(4th) 

S2: Contribution of agriculture sector to 23% of employment 

0.19395 

0.02398 

30 



S3: Considering food security as a national priority 

0.21081 

0.02607 

20 



S4: Diversification of agricultural products and incomes 

0.22569 

0.02791 

6 



S5: Contribution of agriculture sector to 13% of GDP 

0.17113 

0.02116 

33 

Weakness 

0.40822 

Wl: Weak inter-institutional communications and inadequate dissemination of 

0.06551 

0.02674 

12 


(1st) 

information to farmers 

W2: Low effectiveness of extension services for improving information about irrigation 

0.06881 

0.02809 

3 



water management 

W3: Weak regulation and monitoring of water uses 

0.06415 

0.02619 

18 



W4: Presumption of regional homogeneity and overlooking relative advantages of each 

0.06415 

0.02619 

19 



region for development 

W5: Insufficient funding and regulation for implementation of land consolidation 

0.06385 

0.02607 

21 



projects 

W6: Inadequate implementation of the current regulatory framework 

0.06505 

0.02656 

14 



W7: Leave no incentives for farmers to increase efficiency of irrigation water use 

0.06881 

0.02809 

4 



W8: Weak empowerment of farmers for sustainable use of irrigation water 

0.06761 

0.02760 

8 



W9: Inadequate water tariffs 

0.06686 

0.02729 

10 



W10: Lack of strong water consumption adjustment programs 

0.06505 

0.02656 

15 



Wl 1: Mismatch of crop pattern with regional water availability conditions 

0.06641 

0.02711 

11 



W12: Unavailability of reliable data and information 

0.06505 

0.02656 

16 



Wl 3: Failure to meter water use 

0.06881 

0.02809 

5 



W14: Failure to establish regional cooperative water management institutions 

0.07016 

0.02864 

1 



W15: Poor social capital 

0.06971 

0.02846 

2 

Opportunities 

0.20570 

Ol: Increasing awareness about the crucial role of investment in developing resilient 

0.08676 

0.01785 

40 


(3rd) 

irrigation water management systems 

02: Restriction of water use in plains that are under critical conditions 

0.09839 

0.02024 

35 



03: Improvement of regional and global water markets 

0.10584 

0.02177 

32 



04: Decentralization of water management 

0.10286 

0.02116 

34 



05: Increasing use of outgoing surface flows 

0.09243 

0.01901 

38 



06: Learning from advanced and successful water management projects 

0.09481 

0.01950 

37 



07: Adequate technical knowledge about extracting, transferring and distributing 
irrigation water 

0.09243 

0.01901 

39 



08: Funding opportunities from national investors 

0.09541 

0.01963 

36 



09: Improving rural tourism 

0.10942 

0.02251 

31 



O10: Promotion of agro-based industries 

0.12165 

0.02502 

28 

Threats 

0.26243 

Tl: Declining surface and ground water resources, and land subsidence 

0.10189 

0.02674 

13 


(2nd) 

T2: Increasing water use tension and competition between agricultural and non- 
agricultural sectors 

0.10119 

0.02656 

17 



T3: Agro-based rural economy that impose extensive pressure on water resources 

0.09745 

0.02557 

26 



T4: Limited control over groundwater abstraction 

0.10633 

0.02791 

7 



T5: Increasing competition over transboundary water systems 

0.09769 

0.02564 

23 



T6: Deteriorating water quality 

0.09769 

0.02564 

24 



17: Populist actions of decision makers and paying less attention to experts’ 
recommendations 

0.10516 

0.02760 

9 



T8: Absence of an integrated view about sustainable agriculture and planning 
shortsighted development projects 

0.09558 

0.02508 

27 



T9: Aggressive use of irrigation water 

0.09769 

0.02564 

25 



T10: Instability of water governance structure and uncoordinated development of the 
agriculture sector 

0.09932 

0.02607 

22 


consistently considered by the panel of experts. The principal criteria 
included the ability of each strategy to i) stimulate healthy economic 
productivity and profitability (EP); ii) increase physical productivity 
(PP); iii) increase employment opportunities (EO); and iv) provide 
sustainable water resources management (SWM). The weights of in¬ 
itiation, mediation and termination strategies were calculated using the 
following formula: 


EP 1 + PP, + EO, + SWM, 

Vj = WX— ---) 


(3) 


where Vj is the relative importance of strategy j and Elj is the number of 
the internal and external ties that are related to the j* strategy. 


3. Results and discussion 

3.1. Identifying SWOTs of irrigation water management in Iran 

The results of the SWOT analysis allowed identification of 40 critical 


factors that influence irrigation water management in Iran (Table 2). 
These factors form the internal and external environment of irrigation 
water management and can be divided into the four groups of strengths 
(5 factors), weaknesses (15 factors), opportunities (10 factors) and 
threats (10 factors). As Table 2 indicates, the panel of experts and policy 
makers assigned the highest priorities to the weaknesses (40.82%) and 
threats (26.24%). Meanwhile, the opportunities (20.57%) and strengths 
(12.37%) were ranked the third and fourth with respect to the sig¬ 
nificant of their effects on determining irrigation water management in 
Iran (Table 2). This implies that the weaknesses of the irrigation water 
management system existing in Iran dominate its strengths and the 
threats determine the water management system of Iran rather than the 
opportunities. 

According to the weaknesses group of factors, ‘failure to establish 
cooperative water management institutions’ (W14, 0.0286), ‘poor social 
capital’ (W15, 0.0285) and Tow effectiveness of extension services’ 
(W2, 0.0281) represent the highest priorities (Table 2). This finding 
reflects the importance of considering the social and institutional 


to 







B. Nazari et al. 


Agricultural Water Management 208 (2018) 7-18 


determinants of irrigation water management. The other eight key 
factors that are outlined in Table 2 include Tack of incentives’ (W7, 
0.0281), ‘failure to meter water use’ (W13, 0.0281), ‘weak empower¬ 
ment of farmers’ (W8, 0.0276), ‘inadequate water tariffs’ (W9, 0.0273), 
‘mismatch of crop pattern with water availability conditions’ CW11, 
0.0271), ‘weak inter-institutional communications’ (Wl, 0.0267), ‘in¬ 
adequate implementation of the regulatory framework’ (W6, 0.0266) 
and Tack of strong water use adjustment programs’ (W10, 0.0266). 

In the case of the threats group of factors, the experts and policy 
makers perceived that ‘limited control over groundwater abstraction’ 
(T4, 0.0279) should be considered as one of the key factors of in¬ 
efficient irrigation water management in Iran (Table 2), followed by 
‘populist actions of decision makers’ (T7, 0.0276), ‘declining water re¬ 
sources and land subsidence’ (Tl, 0.0267), ‘increasing water use tension 
and competition’ (T2, 0.0266) and ‘instability of water governance 
structure’ (T10, 0.0261). 

Among the ten factors identified as the opportunities for improving 
irrigation water management, ‘promotion of agro-based industries’ 
(O10, 0.0250) represents the highest priority (Table 2), followed by 
‘improving rural tourism’ (09, 0.0225), ‘improvement of water markets’ 
(03, 0.0218) and ‘decentralization of water management’ (04, 0.0212). 
Finally, ‘diversification of agricultural products and incomes’ (S4, 
0.0279) is the strength factor with the highest priority, followed by 
‘considering food security as a national priority’ (S3, 0.0261) and 
‘planning for development of resilient water management system’ (SI, 
0.0245). 

3.2. Current status of irrigation water management in Iran: PESTLE 
analysis 

PESTLE analysis was used to investigate the current status of irri¬ 
gation water management in Iran (Table 3). In this respect, the SWOT 
factors were divided into the six groups of political (6 internal and 9 
external factors), economic (7 internal and 6 external factors), social 
(11 internal and 3 external factors), technological (4 internal and 1 
external factors), legal (2 internal and 1 external factors) and en¬ 
vironmental (1 internal and 7 external factors), which are explained in 
the following subsections. 

3.2.1. Political factors 

As it is displayed in Fig. 3, the experts and policy makers ac¬ 
knowledged the fact that political factors are the major drivers of the 
current inefficient irrigation water management in Iran. The experts 
and policy makers perceived some major political reasons for the irri¬ 
gation water crisis of Iran, i.e. dried up surface water resources and 
declined groundwater tables. They believed that the national desire for 
self-sufficiency in wheat production, planning to achieve food security 
through rapid investment in constructing dams and centralization of 
water management have imposed extra pressure on water resources. 
Furthermore, instability of water governance structure, inadequate 
implementation of the regulatory framework, lack of adequate mon¬ 
itoring data and poor irrigation water allocation and distribution sys¬ 
tems have intensified the irrigation water crisis in Iran. It is worth 
noting that 277 out of the 609 plains of Iran are under critical condi¬ 
tions (Forootan et al., 2014) and extensive over-drafting of ground- 
water from the confined and semi-confined aquifers has led to a major 
land subsidence in many plains (Dehghani et al., 2013). 

Also, the literature review showed that over-irrigation happened 
during the 30-years period that Iran was experiencing its most extensive 
and severe drought. It is while metering irrigation water use to control 
water balance and productivity remains overlooked and farmers were 
not found to be eager to improve their traditional water management 
strategies. This is mainly because decision makers are more interested 
in populist development agendas that produce immediate economic 
impacts (Madani, 2014). As an outcome of over-irrigation, over- 
exploitation of aquifers and inadequate access to drinking water. 


irrigation water has been diverted from the agricultural sector to 
drinking supplies (Mousavi, 2005), especially in the central and 
southern parts of the country. This compulsory turn is normally the 
product of nonexistent water resource management plans and man¬ 
agerial myopia. Furthermore, the absence of an integrated water 
management view and implementing short-sighted water policies, such 
as adjustment of water management boundaries from watershed to 
political (provincial) boundaries, have exacerbated competitions be¬ 
tween the provinces to increase their gains from the shared watersheds 
(Zarezadeh et al., 2013). Moreover, Iran’s efforts to increase its use of 
the outgoing surface flows and transboundary aquifers, such as the 
Sarakhs, Astara and Nakhichevan aquifers, can increase international 
conflicts with the neighboring countries (Madani, 2014). 

3.2.2. Economic factors 

As Fig. 3 exhibits, the participants perceived that the current status 
of irrigation water management is at a moderate level, based on both 
internal and external economic factors. Currently, agriculture, as the 
dominant sector in the Iranian rural economy, accounts for almost 23% 
of employment, 13% of GDP, 20% of non-oil exports and 85% of raw 
materials used in food processing industries (Islamic Republic News 
Agency, IRNA, 2017). In order to achieve food security and increase 
non-oil revenues, Iran’s government has tried to invest sufficiently in 
the development of agricultural systems. However, the economic effi¬ 
ciency of this sector has significantly reduced due to the negative im¬ 
pacts of droughts and climate change. While diversification of agri¬ 
cultural products and incomes can reduce the risks of water scarcity, 
most Iranian farm families have no job rather than farming. Therefore, 
they deepen their wells continuously or dig new wells to withdraw 
groundwater from depleting aquifers. Aggressive use of water resources 
without adequate vision on irrigation water management can lead to 
unsustainable agricultural production in arid and semi-arid regions of 
Iran. 

To manage irrigation water demands in a sustainable way, water 
prices and tariffs require to be determined based on the scarcity of 
water resources. However, irrigation water prices and tariffs are not 
high enough to be prohibitive, in Iran. Also, water markets are in¬ 
creasingly proposed as an efficient approach to reallocate irrigation 
water under water scarcity and promote economic development in rural 
communities (Bjornlund, 2003). However, Iran has much to do to de¬ 
velop water market mechanisms and there is an inconsistency between 
irrigation water supply and demand. The inconsistency leads to the use 
of the brackish and saline drainage water in irrigation. Furthermore, 
while most policies have focused on matching crop patterns with re¬ 
gional water delivery capacities, crop pattern is not suitable and follows 
traditional crop choices, in some arid and semi-arid regions. Lack of 
knowledge and information about advanced crop management systems 
that require less irrigation water implies absence or ineffectiveness of 
extension programs in most parts of the country. 

3.2.3. Social factors 

As discussed by the participants, low level of social factors is a key 
weakness of irrigation water management in Iran (Fig. 3). While only 
15% of the Iran’s area is arable, the agriculture sector consumes over 
90% of freshwater in the country (Samian et al., 2015). The country is 
now suffering from inadequate vision on irrigation water management 
due to limited control over groundwater abstraction, weak monitoring 
of water usage and lack of strong water use adjustment plans. More¬ 
over, lack of effective coordination among authorities of the water 
sector with authorities of other institutes and ministries has intensified 
water crisis in arid and semi-arid regions of Iran. While this country is 
experiencing a serious water crisis, some authorities outside the water 
sector are trying to protect farmers against agricultural water allocation 
policies that lessen irrigation water shares to conserve the environment 
(Madani, 2014). Inter-institutional coordination can be improved by 
partial decentralization of water resource management. However, the 


ll 


B. Nazari et al. 


Agricultural Water Management 208 (2018) 7-18 


Table 3 

Weights and scores of PESTLE factors. 


PESTLE 


Internal factors 



External factors 




SWOT factors Weight 

Score 

Overall value 

SWOT factors 

Weight 

Score 

Overall value 

Political 


SI 

0.15528 

4 

0.62112 

02 

0.09280 

4 

0.37120 



S3 

0.16498 

3 

0.49495 

04 

0.09702 

3 

0.29106 



W4 

0.16576 

1 

0.16576 

05 

0.08718 

3 

0.26153 



W6 

0.16809 

1 

0.16809 

T1 

0.12261 

1 

0.12261 



W12 

0.16809 

1 

0.16809 

T2 

0.12177 

1 

0.12177 



W13 

0.17780 

1 

0.17780 

T5 

0.11755 

1 

0.11755 







T7 

0.12655 

1 

0.12655 







T8 

0.11502 

1 

0.11502 







T10 

0.11952 

1 

0.11952 

Economic 

S2 

0.13020 

4 

0.52081 

01 

0.13079 

3 

0.39236 



S4 

0.15152 

3 

0.45456 

03 

0.15955 

3 

0.47865 



S5 

0.11489 

3 

0.34466 

08 

0.14382 

3 

0.43146 



W2 

0.15251 

1 

0.15251 

O10 

0.18337 

3 

0.55011 



W9 

0.14819 

1 

0.14819 

T2 

0.19461 

1 

0.19461 



Wll 

0.14719 

2 

0.29437 

T9 

0.18787 

1 

0.18787 



W14 

0.15551 

1 

0.15551 





Social 


W1 

0.08956 

1 

0.08956 

T3 

0.32326 

1 

0.32326 



W3 

0.08772 

1 

0.08772 

T4 

0.35271 

1 

0.35271 



W5 

0.08730 

2 

0.17461 

T9 

0.32403 

1 

0.32403 



W6 

0.08895 

1 

0.08895 







W7 

0.09408 

1 

0.09408 







W8 

0.09244 

1 

0.09244 







W10 

0.08895 

1 

0.08895 







Wll 

0.09080 

2 

0.18159 







W12 

0.08895 

1 

0.08895 







W14 

0.09593 

1 

0.09593 







W15 

0.09532 

1 

0.09532 





Technological 

W1 

0.24731 

1 

0.24731 

T9 

1.0000 

1 

1.0000 



W3 

0.24220 

1 

0.24220 







Wll 

0.25071 

2 

0.50142 







W13 

0.25978 

1 

0.25978 





Legal 


W5 

0.49534 

2 

0.99068 

T8 

1.0000 

1 

1.0000 



W6 

0.50466 

1 

0.50466 





Environmental 

S4 

1.0000 

3 

3.0000 

06 

0.11848 

3 

0.35544 







07 

0.11550 

3 

0.34650 







09 

0.13674 

3 

0.41021 







T1 

0.16244 

1 

0.16244 







T3 

0.15537 

1 

0.15537 







T5 

0.15574 

1 

0.15574 







T6 

0.15574 

1 

0.15574 

4 

High 




empowerment of farmers 

(W8) has been never 

designed in Iran. 






Moreover, the government has never considered adequate economic 

3.5 





and non-economic incentives for efficient water use. To support agri- 






cultural producers, decision makers have significantly subsidized agri- 






cultural water and energy 

use. Substantial subsidization of water and 

U 3 

O 

Medium 




energy has not provided any motivation for increasing water efficiency 

«J 
.55 





in the agriculture sector. 




« 2-5 



Ec 







La 

O 

* 7 



• 


3.2.4. Technological factors 




U 2 

Low 

PESTLE 


As perceived by the experts and policy makers and demonstrated in 



• • 

* En 

Fig. 3, 

low adoption of agricultural technologies is 

one of the weak- 

1.5 





nesses 

of agricultural water resource management 

in Iran. The re- 


S T » 




spondents believed that aggressive use 

of irrigation water by using 


L 

Weak 

Moderate j 


Strong groundwater pumping technologies has significantly increased in most 


1.5 2 2.5 3 

Internal factors 


3.5 


Fig. 3. Current status of irrigation water management in Iran. ‘P, ‘Ec’, ‘S’, T, ‘L’ 
and ‘En’ stand for ‘political’, ‘economic’, ‘social’, ‘technological’, ‘legal’ and 
‘environmental’ factors, respectively. 

government has failed to establish regional cooperative institutes of 
water management and clarify the management roles of these institutes 
in irrigation projects. 

Also, a comprehensive plan for prioritization of social capitals and 


parts of the country. Moreover, government’s failure to meter water use 
through installation of smart groundwater monitoring devices has ex¬ 
acerbated water crisis in the agriculture sector. While adoption of 
specific water saving technologies can increase water efficiency in the 
agriculture sector, the low economic capacity of most farm families (i.e. 
low income and insurance and poor access to credit or loans) has pre¬ 
vented them from application of these technologies (Keshavarz, 2016). 
As a result, only 5% of the total irrigated land is under pressured irri¬ 
gation (FAO, 2008). Beside adoption of pressured irrigation, different 
water conservation practices, such as land leveling and improving 
water transfer system, can help farmers to distribute water properly 


12 













B. Nazari et al. 


Agricultural Water Management 208 (2018) 7-18 


throughout their cropping fields and increase water efficiency. How¬ 
ever, participants perceived that adoption of these measures is directly 
tied to the financial support provided by the government. 

3.2.5. Legal factors 

As Fig. 3 exhibits, one of the main factors that threatens the sus¬ 
tainability of irrigation water management is weakness in legal factors. 
Some laws, regulations and programs have been developed to address 
water problems and improve water resource management. While they 
cover most important aspects of water management, the current im¬ 
plementation of these laws and regulations is inadequate. It is perceived 
that water management is heavily relies on a ‘crisis management 
paradigm’. It means that policy makers continue the separation of de¬ 
velopment from environmental issues in the search for short-term 
economic benefits, hoping that no serious problem would interrupt 
their agenda (Madani, 2014). If any problem arises from their short¬ 
sighted development plans, i.e. increasing water crisis, further effort 
would be devoted to solving the problem’s symptoms to alleviate the 
situation up to a semi-normal level. 

3.2.6. Environmental factors 

According to the external factors, the current performance of the 
irrigation water management system is environmentally unsustainable 
(Fig. 3). Iran has used most groundwater reservoirs and is currently 
among the top groundwater users in the world (Doll et al., 2014). 
Moreover, increased levels of nutrients and salinity have deteriorated 
water quality of both surface and groundwater resources of the country 
(Table 2). Poor quality of irrigation water (i.e. the presence of large 
quantities of soluble salts), coupled with limited precipitation and high 
evaporation, have significantly reduced the soil quality and affected the 
sustainability of crop production (Jalali and Merrikhpour, 2008). Since 
the rural economy of Iran depends on agricultural and agro-based in¬ 
dustries, soil and water degradations have created substantial chal¬ 
lenges for farm families and have seriously reduced their incomes. 
Failure to diversify income resources has also increased a tendency 
towards abandoning farming and out-migration, in some water scarce 
regions. 

In order to mitigate long-term negative consequences of farming 
practices on natural water resources, learning from successful water 
management projects and enhancing technical knowledge and in¬ 
formation about advanced methods of extracting, transferring and 
distributing irrigation water are imperative (Keshavarz, 2016). How¬ 
ever, farmers have failed to learn from advanced water management 
experiences and efficiency of irrigation water is still low. 

3.3. Strategies for securing sustainable management of irrigation water in 
Iran 

3.3.1. Looking for solution strategies 

PESTLE analysis revealed that irrigation water management is not 
efficient, in Iran (Fig. 3) and the present strategies are inadequate to 
solve irrigation water problems. As pressure on irrigation water re¬ 
sources is increasing, there is a growing need for new strategies to solve 
the present problems of the water and agriculture sectors. In order to 
propose new solutions, TOWS matrix was used by the panel of experts 
and policy makers. It permitted determination of 30 strategies for mi¬ 
tigation of irrigation water problems (Table 4). These strategies were 
classified as Strength-Opportunity (SO: 10 strategies), Weaknesses-Op- 
portunity (WO: 12 strategies), Strength-Threats (ST: 5 strategies) and 
Weaknesses-Threats (WT: 3 strategies) groups (Table 4). 

Furthermore, causal relationships among irrigation water manage¬ 
ment strategies were determined by the panel of experts (Fig. 4). Ac¬ 
cording to Fig. 4, it is apparent that improving irrigation water man¬ 
agement in Iran requires implementation of a complex web of 
strategies. 

After setting up the causal diagram, TOWS strategies were 


categorized as initiation (5), mediation (20) and termination (5) stra¬ 
tegies using E-I index (Table 5). Finally, the prominent strategies were 
evaluated based on Eq. (3) (Table 5). These strategies are briefly de¬ 
scribed in the following sections. 

3.3.2. Prominent strategies for improving irrigation water management in 
Iran 

3.3.2.1. Initiation strategies. As indicated in Fig. 5, ‘rethinking the role 
of intensified agriculture on national development of Iran’ (WOl) is the 
first and most important strategy for ensuring sustainable management 
of irrigation water in Iran. 

Since the Islamic Revolution of Iran, the agriculture sector has re¬ 
ceived many supports from the government in order to ensure food 
supply, increase non-oil production revenues and alleviate poverty in 
rural areas. However, contribution of agriculture to overall growth has 
reduced from over 33% to 13% (Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA, 
2017). While the agriculture sector is under extra pressure to be an 
effective engine for economic growth of rural Iran, continuous agri¬ 
cultural growth will be difficult due to groundwater depletion, soil 
degradation and drought. Moreover, climate change is projected to 
increase pressure on water resources and reduce agricultural produc¬ 
tion (IPCC, 2014). In order to ensure sustainable management of water 
resources, rethinking the role of intensive agriculture on national de¬ 
velopment is imperative. Although the climate change impacts on the 
arid and semi-arid regions cannot be prevented, there is still a great 
room for managing the tradeoffs of agricultural intensification by 
considering more sustainable production systems, e.g. multifunctional 
agriculture (Moon, 2015) and reinforcing non-farm economy, to ensure 
food security and poverty eradication (Keshavarz et al., 2017). 

Also, as indicated in Fig. 5, to protect water resources from de¬ 
structive actions of farmers, priority should be given to enhancing so¬ 
cial capital (WOll). Most governmental support mechanisms fail to 
equip farmers with appropriate knowledge and information or em¬ 
power them to involve in water management projects. This is while 
adaptive co-management of water resources, i.e. cooperation of various 
stakeholders and institutions, is required to cope with the increasing 
water crisis in Iran. Facilitating participation of farmers in water 
management projects and providing opportunities for them to com¬ 
municate with other stakeholders and higher authorities can increase 
the productivity of agriculture. Empowerment of farmers can be done 
by providing training about water resource management issues and 
provisioning incentives for formation of local cooperative water man¬ 
agement institutions or rehabilitation of traditional water user asso¬ 
ciations, i.e. the Ab-baran. 

Based on the experts’ viewpoints, failure in modeling climate 
system, deficiency of accurate weather forecasts or lack of effective 
early warning systems can obstruct sustainable management of water 
resources. Therefore, improving climate modeling and facilitating ac¬ 
cess to reliable data and information is imperative (Fig. 5; W04). Im¬ 
proved access to climatic data and information can contribute to sus¬ 
tainable water management through several pathways. First, it 
persuades making better decisions about farming systems and water 
resources, i.e. schedule irrigation, to minimize the potential damages 
and stabilize income. Secondly, availability of climate predictions 
provides opportunities for research centers to introduce new and more 
adaptive crop types for various regions and allows diversification of 
high-value products. Third, it can contribute to developing the methods 
that promote crop and livestock production, in the case of climatic 
conditions that are beyond the range of recent experiences. 

3.3.2.2. Mediation strategies. According to Fig. 5, in order to ensure 
sustainable use of irrigation water clarification of current status and 
future challenges of water and agriculture sectors is needed (ST4). Iran 
is one of the world’s water-scarce regions and its per capita freshwater 
availability is about 2000 m 3 per year. However, it is projected that it 
will reduce to 1500 m 3 per capita per year by 2030 (Yang et al., 2003). 


13 


B. Nazari et al. 


Agricultural Water Management 208 (2018) 7-18 


Table 4 

TOWS matrix for mitigation of irrigation water management problems. 

SO (maxi-maxi) strategies WO (mini-maxi) strategies 


SOI: Prohibiting further water abstraction from plains that are under critical 
conditions 

S02: Implementation of an efficient water market 

S03: Developing low water consuming industries 

S04: Sustainable development of rural tourism 

S05: Promotion of agro-based industries 

S06: Diversification of agricultural products and incomes 

S07: Implementing water projects with the support of international agencies 

S08: Increasing adoption of water-efficient technologies 
S09: Reaching an agreement over sharing of the transboundary aquifers 
SO10: Formation of regional cooperative agricultural water management 
institutions 


WOl: Rethinking the role of intensified agriculture on national development of Iran 
W02: Ensuring reasonable food production 

W03: Analysis of knowledge and information about water-saving agricultural practices 
W04: Improving climate predictions and access to reliable water resources data 
W05: Offering specific official training opportunities about efficient use of water resources 
W06: Outreach of extension services and increasing effectiveness of extension programs 
W07: Appointment of water authorities with high levels of technical and professional 
competencies 

W08: Human resource development planning in the water supply sector 
W09: Technical and vocational training of experts and change agents 
WOIO: Marketing of agricultural products 

WOll: Enriching social capital 

WOl2: Using public media to share information and educate public about sustainable 
water management 


ST (maxi-mini) strategies 


WT (mini-mini) strategies 


ST1: Promoting participatory water management and preventing populist development actions 
ST2: Development of integrated plans to improve water efficiency 

ST3: Raising managers’ awareness and attitude toward the risk of water resource development 
plans 

ST4: Clarification of the current status and future challenges of water and agriculture sectors 
ST5: Modification of water management boundaries from provincial to watershed boundaries and 
conflict resolution among stakeholders in the watershed boundaries 


WT1: Metering water use in agriculture and industries 

WT2: Reducing cultivation of high water requirement crops and developing 

entrepreneurship in the rural environment 

WT3: Modification of inappropriate crop patterns with respect to regional 
resource availability conditions 


Therefore, climate change has important implications for the 
agriculture sector, as the major water consumer. Climate change is 
expected to limit crop production, increase irrigation water 
requirement, deteriorate farm families’ income and reduce 
agricultural employment (Karimi et al., 2017). In order to enhance 
resilience against climate change and maintain water security, it is 


imperative for governors to appreciate the complexity of human- 
natural systems. So that, raising their awareness and attitude toward 
risks of water resource development plans is required (Fig. 5; ST3). 
Without risk awareness, it will be very difficult to address real water 
problems and promote a behavior change towards non-populist 
development actions. 



Fig. 4. Mapping relevancy of the TOWS strategies. 


14 


























































































































































































































































B. Nazari et al. 


Agricultural Water Management 208 (2018) 7-18 


Table 5 

Relative importance of strategies.® 


Type 

Strategy 

E-I index 

EP a score 

PP b score 

EO c score 

SWM d score 

El score 

Importance score 

Initiation 

WOl 

-1.00 

10 

10 

10 

10 

7 

7.00 


won 

-1.00 

6 

8 

8 

10 

8 

6.40 


W04 

-1.00 

10 

8 

8 

10 

6 

5.40 


WO10 

-1.00 

8 

10 

10 

10 

2 

1.90 


ST5 

-1.00 

5 

8 

10 

10 

1 

0.83 

Mediation 

ST3 

-0.71 

10 

10 

10 

10 

14 

14.0 


ST4 

-0.33 

10 

10 

10 

10 

9 

9.00 


WT2 

0.40 

10 

8 

10 

8 

10 

9.00 


S08 

0.56 

10 

8 

5 

10 

9 

7.47 


W06 

-0.14 

10 

10 

10 

10 

7 

7.00 


W02 

0.00 

10 

8 

8 

10 

8 

6.80 


WOl 2 

0.25 

8 

8 

8 

10 

8 

6.80 


WT3 

0.43 

10 

10 

8 

10 

7 

6.65 


S06 

0.00 

10 

10 

8 

10 

6 

5.70 


W03 

-0.20 

8 

10 

10 

10 

5 

4.75 


SO10 

0.50 

8 

10 

10 

10 

4 

3.80 


W05 

0.20 

8 

6 

6 

8 

5 

3.75 


ST1 

-0.33 

8 

10 

10 

10 

3 

2.85 


WT1 

-0.33 

10 

10 

8 

10 

3 

2.85 


W07 

0.50 

4 

6 

8 

10 

4 

2.80 


S03 

0.50 

5 

8 

10 

5 

4 

2.80 


SOI 

-0.50 

0 

0 

0 

10 

8 

2.00 


S09 

-0.33 

2 

8 

8 

8 

3 

1.95 


W08 

0.00 

4 

6 

8 

10 

2 

1.40 


S07 

0.00 

5 

5 

5 

5 

2 

1.00 

Termination 

S05 

1.00 

6 

8 

10 

8 

5 

4.00 


ST2 

1.00 

10 

10 

10 

10 

4 

4.00 


S02 

1.00 

6 

8 

4 

8 

4 

2.60 


S04 

1.00 

2 

5 

10 

10 

3 

2.04 


W09 

1.00 

8 

8 

6 

10 

2 

1.60 


a Economic productivity and profitability. 
b Physical productivity. 
c Employment opportunities. 
d Sustainable water resources management. 

e See Section 2.4 for description of the principal criteria and measurement of the importance score. 


As it is shown in Fig. 5, the issue of irrigation water scarcity can be 
partially solved through adopting water-efficient technologies (S08). 
As discussed by Wang et al. (2002), an integrated system should be 
considered that supports the three components of rational utilization of 
agricultural water resources, water-saving irrigation and agronomic 
water-saving techniques (Wang et al., 2002). Though there are various 
traditional water-saving technologies, e.g. border irrigation, furrow ir¬ 
rigation and land leveling, household-based water-saving technologies, 
e.g. ground pipes, plastic film cover, stubble retention and growing 
drought-resistant varieties, and community-based technologies, e.g. 
pressured irrigation and anti-seepage channel, overall adoption level is 
low in Iran. Adoption of water-efficient technologies is determined by a 
complex set of factors, among which scarcity of water resources and 
policy interventions are the main determinants (Keshavarz and Karami, 
2014). Therefore, enhancing adoption of water-saving technologies, 
extension of water-saving technologies (Fig. 5; S08) and subsidizing 
community-based water-efficient technologies are effective policy tools. 
Agricultural extension services can play great roles in promoting the 
ability of farmers to manage water resources. In this way, farmers that 
have more contacts with extension agents would show a higher like¬ 
lihood to implement water-efficient technologies. 

Nowadays, severe water scarcity, mismanagement of available 
water resources and inappropriate crop patterns have led to increased 
food imports (FAOSTAT, 2013). Increasing food imports may pose 
serious economic and political challenges for Iran. Participants per¬ 
ceived that filling the food associated gaps and ensuring reasonable 
food production (Fig. 5; W02), requires some adjustments with respect 
to the food security priorities and regional water availability condi¬ 
tions. Also, there is a crucial need of revisiting inappropriate policies 
that encourage groundwater mining, such as cultivation of high water 


requirement crops (Fig. 5; WT3), in arid and semi-arid regions of Iran. 
Promoting low water requirement crops and providing long-term in¬ 
centives for water resource management through fostering en¬ 
trepreneurship in the rural environment of arid and semi-arid regions 
are offered by the respondents. Also, it is necessary to make public 
media more responsive to the significance of water resource problems 
of Iran (Fig. 5; W012). Like many other developing countries, Iranian 
people do not properly value the ecosystem services and cannot fully 
understand the trade-offs between rapid shortsighted development 
plans and their long-term environmental consequences (Madani, 2014). 
Public media is a great platform to share information and educate 
people about values of ecosystem services and sustainable management 
of water resources. 

3.3.2.3. Termination strategies. Based on Fig. 5, promotion of agro- 
based industries (S05) and development of integrated plans to improve 
water efficiency (ST2) are two key termination strategies for ensuring 
sustainable management of irrigation water. Generally, agro-based 
industries are small or medium sized enterprises that add value to 
agricultural products through processing them into edible or non-edible 
products. Agro-based industries can offer employment opportunities, 
enhance income and profitability within local communities (Epstein 
and Jezeph, 2001) and reduce extra pressures on water resources by 
comprising vertical integration towards the market. However, agro- 
based industries have remained rudimentary and have received 
inadequate support from the government. 

Furthermore, the ability of farmers to contribute effectively to the 
growth process depends on addressing the complexity and uncertainties 
of the irrigation water system and improving irrigation water effi¬ 
ciency. To reach these goals, exploitation and use of non-conventional 


15 





B. Nazari et al. 


Agricultural Water Management 208 (2018) 7-18 


II, ] .4] 


[I, 6.4J VVOl I 


(I, 7J = B 


a 


|M, 5.71 


11, 5.41 


| IV' I, 4.75| 


[INI. ‘1. 7:51 

t 


1 vi, (>.sj 


f 




|M, 9| 


|IV1^2.85| 


|M, L 41 


1 V 


IT. 1.6] 




IM, 2.8| 




IT. 2.6| 


|M,£.85| 


IT, 4| 


[I, 0.83| 


IM, 1.951 




liM, 7|| 

▼ ▼ s 


WO 12 | i\f, 6.81 


| Al, 7.47| 


|M.2| 


m 


IM, 3.8] 


ll 


|M, 3.75| 


|M, 2.81 




[AI, 91 


r' 


II. I-»l 


> r y 



S04 

|T, 2.041 

SOS 


IT. 4] 


Fig. 5. Hierarchy of the policy strategies. ‘I, ‘M’ and ‘T’ stand for ‘initiation’, ‘mediation’ and ‘termination’ strategies. The prominent strategies are highlighted as 
colored cells. 


water resources (i.e. reclaimed water and desalinated brackish and 
seawater) can be considered in water scarce regions (Mousavi, 2005; 
Sheidaei et al., 2016). However, application of non-conventional water 
sources should be feasible from the financial, environmental, social and 
political points of view. Moreover, great public involvement and sub¬ 
stantial changes in the current water management pathway are re¬ 
quired. Irrigation water management should consider long-term 


management perspectives and integrated water management plans in 
order to reduce water crisis, in Iran. An integrated management should 
recognize multiple objectives of different stakeholders, interrelated 
dynamics of the agriculture sector with the other sectors and regional to 
global scales, variability of natural and social boundary conditions and 
benefits from various nonstructural and structural solutions. It is ob¬ 
vious that such an integrated management needs collaboration of 


16 






























































































































































































































































































B. Nazari et al. 


Agricultural Water Management 208 (2018) 7-18 


experts from many disciplines, development of new institutional ar¬ 
rangements between the public and private sectors, revision of the 
current water governance structure and consideration of new water 
resources (e.g. recycled and non-conventional water resources). 

Also, a fundamental shift in water policy paradigm from command 
and control to market-driven policies is needed (Fig. 5; S02). Water 
market is an essential instrument to reallocate water between com¬ 
peting users under water stress. The experts and policy makers believed 
that development of water right market and full-cost recovery pricing 
policy can encourage the farmers to increase the economic efficiency of 
water use and force those historical holders of water rights that are 
unable to make necessary adjustments to stop irrigation and transfer 
water to other users. The implementation of reliable water market calls 
for continuous regulation and monitoring of water use as well as the 
development of price-setting mechanisms to support water trades and 
ensure that this reallocation process takes places efficiently. 

4. Conclusion 

Efficiency of water use is very low in the agriculture sector of Iran 
and performance of many water management schemes is far from sa¬ 
tisfactory. This study presented an approach to identify the numerous 
internal and external factors that affect planning, designing and im¬ 
plementing water management agendas and provide a set of strategies 
to solve the present problems of the irrigation water sector. 

A combination of the SWOT and PESTLE analyses was used to de¬ 
scribe the current status of irrigation water management in Iran. The 
SWOT analysis demonstrated 40 critical factors that reinforced or de¬ 
preciated irrigation water management. An in-depth analysis of these 
factors suggested that irrigation water management should mainly 
concentrate on eliminating the major weaknesses, as well as mitigating 
the threats. In this respect, the decision makers should perform different 
activities to overcome the main weaknesses and threats identified by 
the analysis. Furthermore, to take into account all aspects of the in¬ 
efficient use of irrigation water in Iran, the SWOT factors were grouped 
as the political, economic, social, technological, legal and environ¬ 
mental factors. Findings indicated that the problems that are faced in 
irrigation water management are complex and multi-faceted. Legal, 
social, technological and political challenges were identified as the key 
factors for failure of irrigation water management and it was found out 
that the government has achieved a limited success in preventing the 
serious irrigation water problems. It seems that the SWOT/PESTLE 
analysis is a very promising approach for managing water resources and 
provides a deeper and more precise understanding of the current rea¬ 
lities of water management, compared with the standard SWOT. 

According to the findings, the government should revisit its ap¬ 
proach in order to solve the present problems of the water and agri¬ 
culture sectors. In this respect, the most common challenge is making 
decision about which solution strategies should be considered for en¬ 
suring sustainable management of irrigation water in Iran. To make 
such important decision, the TOWS matrix was applied based on a 
combination of the external and internal factors that influence the 
planned actions within the irrigation water system. Also, bottleneck 
analysis was used to identify the prominent initiation, mediation and 
termination strategies that satisfy the principal criteria. ‘Rethinking the 
role of intensified agriculture in national development’, ‘raising the 
managers’ awareness and attitude toward the risk of water resource 
development plans’, ‘promotion of agro-based industries’ and ‘devel¬ 
opment of integrated plans to improve water efficiency’ were dis¬ 
tinguished as the most important strategies for improving the irrigation 
water efficiency in Iran. This finding implies that the government 
should avoid populist and shortsighted actions and focus on funda¬ 
mental solutions that have more noticeable impacts to manage irriga¬ 
tion water efficiently. Since Iran is water scarce country, these findings 
provide useful prospects for optimizing the use of limited water re¬ 
sources. Also, the hierarchy of strategies, which is determined in this 


research, can be applied as a road-map to enhance the resilience of 
irrigation water resources under the condition of water scarcity. 

Acknowledgments 

This research was supported by the Ministry of Energy of Iran, 
deputy of Water Demand Management and Water Productivity 
Improvement. The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of 
Dr. Mojtaba Razavi Nabavi, Dr. Seyed Hamid Musavi, Mr. Mojtaba 
Akram, Dr. Amir Alambaigi, Dr. Teymour Sohrabi, and Dr. Mahdi 
Mohammadi Ghaleney in this work. 

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