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A whole systems approach for land restoration and water resource management leveraging agricultural and environmental sustainability.



As the world nears the 8 billion mark, many cities around the Least Developed Countries face the challenges of climate change, population growth, extreme weather patterns and food insecurity. These and more are linked with ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss. Climate change is projected to exacerbate the process of ecosystem degradation through the intensification of extreme weather events (Tal, 2019). Deforestation and low annual rainfall are the number one problems exacerbating the degradation of landscapes in dry areas. The issue isn’t that it’s not warm enough to grow crops; it’s that it’s too dry.

This project therefore looks to address this issue in selected areas in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso via the treatment and use of waste water from domestic sources using the drip pipe system, and the use of a mobile application (app) technology to lock and un-lock water supply to the root zone. This holds the potential to turn vast areas of dry land to lush green hectares season after season, year after year. Furthermore, planting selected trees that will provide for carbon sequestration by trapping atmospheric carbon (IV) oxide will also improve climate resilience. As a result, crop production can be improved by 500% within 3-5 years in selected areas. It has therefore become imperative to clearly assess the situation and establish a probable future evolution especially for land locked LDCs. A review by Tal (2019), confirms the dramatic advantages of drip irrigation over time, relative to flood, furrow and sprinkler, and its significance as a central component in agricultural production, especially under arid conditions. In addition, this proposal has the potential to meet a number of the Sustainable Development Goals: SDG1-no poverty; SDG2-zero hunger; SDG8–decent work and economic growth; SDG12–responsible production and consumption; and SDG13–climate action. Reaching one target should not be at the expense of achieving another (UN General Assembly, 2014).

Is this proposal for a practice or a project?


What actions do you propose?

1.0 Introduction

Few countries in the world surpass Ethiopia and Burkina Faso in terms of famine and starvation. Ironically, these countries are agrarian and densely populated relative to its fragile natural resource base. Ethiopia especially appears to be a modern embodiment of the Malthusian prediction that unchecked fertility rates amid fixed land and water resource will lead to periodic famines (Malthus, 1798).

Even though interest in desertification has differed in time, there is a renewed concern about the evolution of dryland ecosystems because " of the significant fraction of existing drylands already suffering from miscellaneous degradation processes and the desertification processes themselves may amplify local or regional climatic changes” (Verstraete & Schwartz, 1991).

The use of waste water for the watering and fertilization of agricultural lands in the global South has not been widely utilized and the disposal of waste water and sewage is a problem in most countries (Higa, T. and Okuda A.,1996). The local situation in these countries hold potential benefits to farmers as they avoid some of the costs of pumping groundwater, while the nutrient present in the wastewater could save some of the expense of fertilizer. This proposal will look to address the use of waste water (after treatment) for irrigation purposes. This has become more apt not just for the LDCs but for land locked LDCs. Ethiopia and Burkina Faso are both land locked countries without water bodies a long distance off. “In Ethiopia for instance, agriculture is the basic economic sector in which the country relies for its social and economic development. Its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employment, and foreign exchange earnings of the country is about 46.3%, 83% and 90%, respectively, making it as the incontestable sector in the country’s development prospect” (Adem et al., 2018). It therefore goes that agricultural intensification through precision agriculture and the channeling of waste water to agricultural lands would greatly improve farm family income, increase crops for export, create even more jobs and contribute to the country’s GDP.

2.0 Objectives

  1. To re-use and channel wastewater resources for agricultural productivity for natural land restoration and rejuvenation using cover crops during off-seasons;
  2. To efficiently use drip-pipes to channel water to the root zone of crops;
  3. Actively use mobile application (app) technology to lock and un-lock water supply to the root zone while monitoring soil moisture content at ideal levels.
  4. Potential for agro-ecology for carbon sequestration from the atmosphere to the soil.

3.0 Actionable plans for the SDGs

Pursuing an environmentally sustainable intensification and computation of agriculture addresses the central challenge of sustainable agriculture and food security. Agricultural intensification is the precursor for economic development (Sachs, J.D., 2015). Food production is often environmentally destructive, causing groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution from fertilizers and pesticides, loss of habitat, and declining biodiversity. We address these challenges by pursuing an environmentally sustainable intensification of agriculture – particularly among smallholder farmers and encourage governments to buy out of crops through the reinstatement of cooperatives to ensure food price stability SDG 2. 

4.0 Model Israel

Israel’s sustainable agriculture’s success story can be emulated. The unique characteristics of the water strategy of Israel is defined in terms of water demand management and conservation, a major shift of paradigm from the conventional supply management of water to the management of the demand side. The astonishing surge in agricultural productivity has been part and parcel of the country's land management policies and its ambitious and innovative new irrigation strategies. The two central components of this strategy are: wide utilization of drip irrigation technologies and a complete commitment to “marginal” irrigation water sources, in particular recycled wastewater with initial results hailed as extraordinarily impressive (Tal, 2019). “However, empirical findings increasingly report damage to soil and to crops from salinity caused by irrigation with effluents. To be environmentally and agriculturally sustainable over time, wastewater reuse programs must ensure extremely high quality treated effluents and ultimately seek the desalinization of recycled sewage” (Tal, 2019).

The tracking and measurement of daily soil moisture requirements shall greatly enhance the water use efficiency. Sustainable groundwater use requires systematic quantification not only of groundwater fluxes but also of groundwater storage (Gleeson et al., 2015). To obtain high yields and economic use of water as the plants needs, it is a must to know how soil and water affect plant growth and development, the interaction between ground-water and plant (Adela et al., 2010).

The Prototype: Arava Desert farm land, Israel (4,500 ha)

Accessed from

5.0 Proposed actions

The objective of this practice is the production of additional quantities of water for the needs of the people, through the creation of virtual quantities of water, whether by conservation policies, the treatment, re-use of human waste. This will consist of the establishment of a Municipal Sewage Reuse Project – oxidation ponds or mechanical systems for medium treatments respectively, a reservoir that stores the treated effluent, and an agricultural area that consumes the water all year round. The best treatment plant processes for unrestricted non-potable reuse are primary and secondary treatment consisting of flocculation, sand filtration and disinfection to ensure the effluent is free from pathogens (viruses, bacteria, and parasites) and can then be used for agricultural irrigation of crops consumed raw or brought raw into the kitchen (Bouwer, 2000).  Secondary treatment of sewage effluent is recognized to remove the majority of hormones and chemicals from the effluent (Staples 1998, Wang et al. 2003). The low concentrations of hormones, contraceptive pills, heavy metals and other endocrine disrupting chemicals EDCs in secondary level treated recycled water and the potential short environmental half lives of these compounds means that there is virtually no risk for EDC relating to using recycled water for crop irrigation.

The drip irrigation is mainly advantageous. It is environmentally friendly through reduced leaching and run-off of water, giving the possibility of application of small amounts of water more frequently, which increase the crop yields and economical profits, allowing a better weed and fertilizer control. However, the challenge of drip irrigation is the expensive costs.This method applies water slowly to the roots of plants, by depositing the water either on the soil surface or directly to the root zone, through a system of valves and pipes thereby maximizing water use. This ensures that the leaves of crops are not wet with water and the development of fungal diseases is averted. The component systems will comprise of sensors, soil moisture probes, flow meters, rain gauges and software products to provide a remote and automated irrigation management system to reduce water use and labour while improving crop quality and quantity. These products interact with each other to provide advanced control and feedback, and they enable scheduling of irrigation actions (Masseroni et al., 2019).

6.0 The mobile application (Agri- H20) - Design and workability.  

The mobile app. proposed as Agri-H20 shall be of simple design and shall be adapted from an already existing mobile application used in North America for Agricultural efficiency, weed detection, field and biomass mapping and disease detection in-field. While the already existing mobile application detects precise areas that require fungicide application, Agri-H20 shall detect land and soil areas that have fallen below the optimal soil – water levels. From their mobile phones, farmers are able to map out their fields using the GPS leveraging telecommunications providers to assess the soil- water levels on their agricultural lands. According to Mekala et al., (2008), optimal soil moisture range from 10% to 45%, but can be higher. Once soil-water levels falls below optimal levels, signals are sent to the mobile phones which further activates sensors on the pipes so water pipes are turned on to irrigate these land specific areas, eliminating manual labour.

A technology company shall be commissioned to handle the design of the mobile app. The mobile app shall in the medium to long term pay for itself. There shall be an initial 50 hectares of free downloadable farmland hectares by the farmers. In time, there shall be a token of $0.5 per hectare charge beyond the initial 50 hectares. As popularity for the use of the app widen and spread across other LDCs in Africa into middle income countries, the app shall fully pay for itself and deployed to other climes. Proceeds from the use of the app shall further be ploughed into the building of other wastewater reuse plants and channels for increased food productivity in communities of other countries most in need.

The patent for the mobile app shall rest with Climate coLab, the author shall simply play the role of coordination between the design of the mobile app and deployment to the mobile app store for download.

6.1 Current Landscapes in Ethiopia

The image above shows current status in Ethiopia with a US$ 500 million support from the World Food Program

6.2 Part of Precision agriculture: Thermal imaging exposes differences in water status of plants which cannot be detected by our eyes

Source: Agriculture in Israel (2017). The image above shows moisture effect on a digital camera for water use efficiency and water savings on agricultural lands.

7.0 Social factors militating against wastewater reuse scheme and opportunities for removal of these barriers and its acceptability.  

Public perception is the main barrier for a reuse scheme implementation (Miller, 2006.) Without the public acceptance, it would be complicated for any utility to locate, finance, develop and operate any reclamation plant for the purpose of water reuse.The “yuck” factor or disgust in psychological terms is the emotional discomfort generated from close contact with certain unpleasant stimuli (Angyal, 1941; Hartley, 2006). According to Miller (2006), humans are generally in tune with natural things, so if treated wastewater is disposed into a river and withdrawn downstream mixed with freshwater, the perception is that this water is more “natural” than it would be with direct wastewater reuse. In order to eliminate the negative social perceptions of wastewater reuse, the practice aims to engage the locales with education and social awareness, i.e. the education and training tools used to increase knowledge and skills on the safe use of wastewater in agriculture, as well as advocacy and communication campaigns used to impact public perception and awareness.

8.0 Present day perceptions and waste water reuse in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso: Recently, the reuse of wastewater for small scale agricultural production has received a positive and widespread acceptance.  According to Woldetsadik et al., (2018), the use of wastewater to produce food crops particularly vegetables is very prevalent in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They studied and evaluated farmers’ perceptions on irrigation water quality, health risks and health risk mitigation measures in four wastewater-irrigated urban vegetable farming sites in Addis Ababa and determined that farmers appear to have a positive perception toward the water quality with females being more aware. In Burkina Faso, there already exists waste water treatments for agriculture.

Who will take these actions?

An integrated landscape management will involve medium to long term collaboration and negotiation among different groups of stakeholders to achieve the multiple objectives within the landscape:

  • Government: Government ownership in state owned lands will enhance the workability, providing the policy support for project implementation. Initial capital outlay shall also be borne by these governments in collaboration with Inter-governmental NGOs. A re-assessment and up-scaling of already existing waste water facility shall also be considered.
  • (Inter-governmental) Non-Governmental Organizations: Such as the Department for International Development, the World Bank etc., shall provide the institutional support framework required, including funding support both for the design and deployment of the mobile app and initial cost of facility construction. 
  • Private sector: Sell to private companies an opportunity to improve their brand identity by supporting and having a stake in these projects. The positive brand image expected through Cooperate Social Responsibility can and will drive large companies to support the irrigation, land reclamation and re-afforestation process.
  • Local farmers: It is intended that local farmers form farming relationships by linking neighboring farms into one or more larger plots. These larger plots can boost productivity and farm efficiency, where growers amicably share farm proceeds thus breaking the age long effect of lower farm incomes associated with land fragmentation.
  • The author: Acting as the coordinating machinery between government, private sector, local farmers and individuals.

Revenue Strategies:-  A paradigm shift from conventional sanitation (treating for disposal) to treating for reuse can create opportunities for revenue generation with some market analysis. The revenues can come from water fees; sales of biosolids as soil conditioner and fertilizer; sales of biogas from sludge digestion wastewater discharge. Furthermore, instruments such as fees for wastewater services can be attached to the water bill. This has been implemented with success in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries as an effective tool to recover the cost of wastewater services (Proceedings of the UN Water project, (2013). This can be implemented however, considering the capacity and willingness of poor urban dwellers to pay. Charges for wastewater services could contribute to recovering the capital and operation and maintenance costs of wastewater collection and treatment over time.

Where will these actions be taken?

According to Wikipedia, Ethiopia's agriculture is plagued by periodic drought and soil degradation caused by deforestation, high levels of taxation and poor infrastructure. Yet agriculture is the country's most promising resource. A potential exists for self-sufficiency in grains and for export development in grains, vegetables, and fruits. As many as 4.6 million people need food assistance annually (Adem et al., 2018). Increased agricultural productivity through sourced irrigation via the conversion of waste water holds the potential to increase productivity, feed the population and generate foreign exchange earnings.

Source: Google maps (2019). Map of Ethiopia highlands showing possible areas for land restoration and agricultural productivity improvements. 

Ethiopia is located on Latitude 9.1450° N, Longitude 40.4897° E.

Wastewater treatment plants will be located in proximity to small and medium farmlands producing staple foods and vegetables all year round for for the communities substituting the predominant rain fed subsistence farming. With Agriculture constituting 80% of exports, major crops produced in Ethiopia include coffee, beans, oilseeds, cereals, potatoes, sugarcane, and vegetables. The country's exports are almost entirely agricultural commodities, and coffee is the largest foreign exchange earner, including being Africa's second biggest maize producer.. Actions will take place across major areas and locations in Ethiopia - the highlands that support agriculture. 

According to Wikipedia, Ethiopia's agriculture is plagued by periodic drought and soil degradation caused by deforestation, high levels of taxation and poor infrastructure. Yet agriculture is the country's most promising resource. A potential exists for self-sufficiency in grains and for export development in grains, vegetables, and fruits. As many as 4.6 million people need food assistance annually (Adem et al., 2018). Increased agricultural productivity through sourced irrigation via the conversion of waste water holds the potential to increase productivity, feed the population and generate foreign exchange earnings.


According to Wikipedia’s Agriculture in Ethiopia, the plains and low foothills west of the highlands have sandy and gray-to-black clay soils. Where the topography permits, they are suitable for farming. The soils of rift valley often are conducive to agriculture if water is available for irrigation. With intensive agricultural production, livestock could be kept in barns while harvested hay is used for feeding.

2. Burkina Faso: Burkina is located on Latitude12° 14' 22.20'' N, Longitude -1°33'30.27" W. Actions will take place across major farming locations in Burkina Faso 

Source: Google maps (2019). Map of Burkina Faso lowlands showing possible areas for land restoration and agricultural productivity improvements.

Existing drip irrigation in Burkina Faso from the already stressed water resources paving the way for waste water reuse

In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.


Country 2

Burkina Faso

Country 3

No country selected

Country 4

No country selected

Country 5

No country selected


What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?

Specific impacts on green house gas emission boarder on:

  • Reduces release of gases to atmosphere due to imprecise fertilizer usage
  • Carbon sequestration by humus accumulating agriculture
  • Mitigation of greenhouse gases (GHG) by sustainable land use systems (agro forestry)
  • Participation in the trade in carbon credits from sustainable land use systems.

 Strategies for adaptation and interactions with mitigation for attainment of the SDGs

Vulnerability Assessment: It will be important to carry out a vulnerability assessment for the following reason. Vulnerability research provides essential information for adaptation decision-making by identifying and characterizing who and what are vulnerable to climate change, to what risks, why, and over what time scales.

A. Co-benefits, no-regrets, synergies and trade-offs.

B. Context-specific adaptation.

C. Transformational and Incremental adaptation.

D. Complementary actions.

E. Leadership/champion for reforestation and climate resilience.

F. Limits to adaptation

Greenhouse gas emissions reductions

From a modification of the Ehrlich and Holdren I=PAT.

[CO2 Emissions] (t, x) = Population (t, x) x [GDP/capita] (t, x) x [Energy/GDP] (t, x) x [Carbon/Energy] (t, x). (Schneider, 2006).

Current Greenhouse Gas Emission Levels

2012 figure ~ 474 MtCO2e (CAIT Climate Data Explorer, 2015).

2006 values emissions stood at 463 MtCo2e with land use).

Considering the future

Using The Special Report Emission Scenarios (SRES): (Schneider, 2006)

A1F1: fossil intensive (A1FI)

A1T:non-fossil energy sources

A1B: balance across all sources

A2: self-reliance and preservation of local identities

B1: rich, happy, sustainable world

B2: emphasis is on local solutions to economic and environmental sustainability

Type 1 Vs Type 2 Errors

Decision I Forecast proves false I Forecast proves true

Accept forecast I Type 1 error I Correct decision

Reject forecast I Correct decision I Type 2 Error.

The proposal looks to avoid a type- 2 error, when we reject the forecast and it's true.

What are other key benefits?

Implementation of the WHO guidelines for the safe use of wastewater and excreta in agriculture will protect public health the most when it is integrated into a comprehensive public health programme that includes other sanitary measures including personal and domestic hygiene education/behavior change. For example, it may be possible to link health education and hygiene promotion to agricultural extension activities or other health programs (Science & Mara, 2015). Public and private investments of labour and financial resources in proven land and water management practices can provide scalable practices amongst other key benefits such as:

  • Build strong frameworks for institutional and policy reforms including strengthening property rights.
  • Strong investments in improved land and water management to serve as catalyses for the adoption of these practices as a component of food security and climate change adaptation.
  • This technology can slow down migration to the cities; a process accompanied with poverty and increased social unrest.
  • Use of marginal land for agriculture purposes.
  • Stop desertification.
  • Increase communication and amplify the voices of champions while leveraging engagement with farmers.
  • Water saving: improving irrigation practices, preventing leaks, public education.
  • Agriculture systems strengthening, access / knowledge management.
  • Provide increased support for integrated landscape management
  • Results in less weeding
  • Conserves water
  • Saves money

The triple dividend of wastewater reuse has potential environmental benefits, reducing the pollution of wastewater downstream and allowing the assimilation of its nutrients into plants. This triple dividend include benefits to urban users, farmers and the environment. As well as being a constant source of water, many waters suitable for reuse are produced in large volumes, which if not used would be merely discharged into the environment. It is well known that discharge of effluents, treated or non-treated, into the environment, particularly natural water bodies such as lakes, rivers and the coastal marine environments can cause severe degradation of these water ways. The degradation is often related to the presence of organic and inorganic nutrients which can cause problems such as eutrophication and algal blooms. Reusing these discharged effluents can have a significant impact on reducing or completely removing the impact of these effluents from receiving environments. In addition, the reuse of waste waters for purposes such as agricultural irrigation reduces the amount of water that needs to be extracted from environmental water sources (Gregory 2000, USEPA 1992). 

Table 1: Integrated landscape approaches highlighting importance of ecosystem services in managing agricultural landscapes.

Source: Adapted from Nicole et al., Water Smart Agriculture in East Africa (2015); as cited from Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005); Wood, Sebastian and Scherr (2000).


What are the proposal’s projected costs?

Proposal's practice costs:- The costs of the reuse option could include the installation or upgrade of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to produce effluent of the desired standard, any addition or modification to the infrastructure for water and reclaimed water distribution, the extra recurrent costs of treatment, and the cost of any produce restrictions imposed by the use of reclaimed water in irrigation. The climatic and geographical features in these countries support low-cost treatment of wastewater through the use of stabilisation ponds. The net cost of treatment may also be reduced through the reuse of biogas for energy and power in the intensive treatment processes, or potentially through the sale of carbon offsets. 

Estimated Capital Cost of Nanofiltration Plant of 216 Thousand GPD

Adapted from: Attah - Asiamah, E., (2010). Estimation of the cost of building a water treatment plant. Unpublished project.

2.0 Estimating the internal costs and external trade-offs.

Step 1. Selecting and evaluating the wastewater reuse plan: First, the configuration of a wastewater reuse scheme, based on natural water body augmentation and indirect wastewater reuse, has to be supported. 

 Step 2. Estimating the internal costs of the project: In this step all the information related to the internal costs of the project is collected (capital and operating and maintenance costs).

Step 3. Estimating the external trade-offs: At this point, the external costs and benefits should be identified and valuated to be included in the cost-benefit analysis including benefits and management issues ,and a series of external costs and benefits.

3.0 Challenges to process implementation:-

1. The inadequate estimation of operating cost, energy cost and the transmission line based on the local situations and decisions.

2. Huge initial capital outlay which require that resident government provide a majority or all of these funds to support the process and implementation of the project and foresee a future where degraded landscapes will be restored and several communities become more climate resilient.


The PILOT SCHEME practice will be implemented in 2.5 years, and rolled out to larger areas through a 4-year period.

Phase 1: Interaction/proposal submission to the ministries of Agriculture and Environment – 2 months

Phase 2: Consolidation of small / large scale grower data base - 3 months

Phase 3: Advocacy/involvement of private sector and NGOs – 4 months

Phase 4: Construction (if non-existent) / reconstruction (adaptive for crop tolerance) of sewage treatment plant – 12 months (+/- 6months)

Phase 5: Laying of drip pipes for the pilot scheme on selected crop land - 3 – 6 months.

Phase 6: Rolling out on other farm lands on an on-going basis - 18 months

Phase 7: Evaluation based on increase in crop production; economic impact; perennial trees established; soil rejuvenation; and possible carbon capture effects versus previous Business As Usual (BAU) scenarios.

Ghant chart and excel showing pictorial timeline below:

About the author(s)

Valentine is the budding founder of Partners in Sustainability, a not-for-profit looking to focus on taking climate action and adaptation strategies and tackling the Sustainability problem to raise the quality of life of citizens. He currently works as Agriculture Technical Advisor in the Greater Toronto Area, Canada. As an agriculturist and environmental scientist, he is a member of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation. He interned and worked with the National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services and the Ministry of Agriculture in Nigeria. He Bagged a Bachelor's Degree in Agriculture (Hons.) from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, an M.Sc in Environmental Toxicology and Pollution Management from the University of Lagos, Nigeria, and a further Masters degree in Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. His recent research focuses on the role of citizen science for ecological data gathering in policy decision making. His work to reduce climate action was bolstered when he got the opportunity to participate in the UN Sustainability Development Goals Youth Leadership Training Seminar (Model UN) at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. In 2016, he was awarded a certificate for the successful completion of "Understanding Climate Change" by the Young African Leaders Initiative. In 2012, he bagged a diploma in "The Challenges of Global Poverty" from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MITx.

His community service spans Earth Hour Nigeria which symbolizes what we can do when the world acts together to deal with climate change, communities and cities, businesses and families, sports clubs and schools working together to showcase climate solutions.

He is solely involved in the authorship and implementation of the proposal.

Related Proposals


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