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Irrigation of World Agricultural Lands: Evolution through the Millennia

HAO-Demeter, Agricultural Research Institution of Crete, 71300 Iraklion and Union of Hellenic Water Supply and Sewerage Operators, 41222 Larissa, Greece
Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources, University of California, California, CA 95064, USA
School of Culture and Society, Department of History and Classical Studies, Aarhus University, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark
Soil Science Unit, Facultat de Farmàcia, Universitat de Barcelona, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
Formerly at Land and Water Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations-FAO, 00153 Rome, Italy
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Catania, 2 I-95131 Catania, Italy
The Comisión Nacional del Agua in Mexico City, Del. Coyoacán, México 04340, Mexico
Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi 110016, India
Department of Water Conservancy History, China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research, Beijing 100048, China
Izmir Institute of Technology, Engineering Faculty, Department of Civil Engineering, Urla/İzmir 35430, Turkey
Independent Scholar, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, LA 70802, USA
Food Water Waste Research Group, The University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK
IAS-CSIC and University of Cordoba, 14004 Córdoba, Spain
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Water 2020, 12(5), 1285;
Received: 28 March 2020 / Revised: 23 April 2020 / Accepted: 24 April 2020 / Published: 1 May 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Water Supply and Water Scarcity)
Many agricultural production areas worldwide are characterized by high variability of water supply conditions, or simply lack of water, creating a dependence on irrigation since Neolithic times. The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the evolution of irrigation of agricultural lands worldwide, based on bibliographical research focusing on ancient water management techniques and ingenious irrigation practices and their associated land management practices. In ancient Egypt, regular flooding by the Nile River meant that early agriculture probably consisted of planting seeds in soils that had been recently covered and fertilized with floodwater and silt deposits. On the other hand, in arid and semi-arid regions farmers made use of perennial springs and seasonal runoff under circumstances altogether different from the river civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and early dynasties in China. We review irrigation practices in all major irrigation regions through the centuries. Emphasis is given to the Bronze Age civilizations (Minoans, Egyptians, and Indus valley), pre-Columbian, civilizations from the historic times (e.g., Chinese, Hellenic, and Roman), late-Columbians (e.g., Aztecs and Incas) and Byzantines, as well as to Ottomans and Arabs. The implications and impacts of irrigation techniques on modern management of water resources, as well as on irrigated agriculture, are also considered and discussed. Finally, some current major agricultural water management challenges are outlined, concluding that ancient practices could be adapted to cope with present challenges in irrigated agriculture for increasing productivity and sustainability. View Full-Text
Keywords: irrigation practices; Aztecs; bronze age; Byzantine times; Chinese dynasties; Egyptians; Harappans; Hellenic civilizations; Incas; medieval times; Mayas; Mesopotamia; Minoans; modern times; Ottoman times; Romans irrigation practices; Aztecs; bronze age; Byzantine times; Chinese dynasties; Egyptians; Harappans; Hellenic civilizations; Incas; medieval times; Mayas; Mesopotamia; Minoans; modern times; Ottoman times; Romans
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Angelakιs, A.N.; Zaccaria, D.; Krasilnikoff, J.; Salgot, M.; Bazza, M.; Roccaro, P.; Jimenez, B.; Kumar, A.; Yinghua, W.; Baba, A.; Harrison, J.A.; Garduno-Jimenez, A.; Fereres, E. Irrigation of World Agricultural Lands: Evolution through the Millennia. Water 2020, 12, 1285.

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