Modelling the Indigenous water harvesting technique of the Marab in Jordan

Published by:
Focus Region:
Middle East & North Africa
Focus Topic:
Agricultural Value Chains / Agri-Businesses

In the summer of 2021, I visited Jordan, enjoying everyday life in Amman (I was traveling with my future wife for her research on refugees). During the trip, I got the opportunity to visit some old colleagues, in particular Stefan Stromeheier (now assistant professor at BOKU, in Wien), who was working for ICARDA, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, one of the leading research institutions for the study of dry areas around the world.

Since 2016, ICARDA has been implementing the Badia Research Site (BRS), not far from Amman Airport. The BRS is a hub for dryland research; here ICARDA have been implementing several experiments on innovations for Mediterranean dry agricultural areas and it is a golden land for researchers working on water management in arid areas like me.

With Stefan, and with other outstanding colleagues from ICARDA (Mira Haddad and Muhi el Dine), we decided to join forces and develop some research together – in particular on an experimental water harvesting technology, the so-called Marab.

The Arabic word “Marab” describes a natural depression where runoff cumulates and spreads. A technical “Marab” structure facilitates those natural depression benefits and enhances its performance through earth dams and stone-made spillways that further decelerate and pond the runoff for deep infiltration into the soil. The increased soil moisture eventually supports the crop water requirements for increased agricultural production.

Figure 2. Building the Marab. Source: ICARDA

Thanks to a traineeship agreement between the Department of Agriculture, Food, Environment and Forestry (DAGRI) of the University of Florence and ICARDA we managed to organize the visit of one MSc. (now a Ph.D. student), Niccolò Renzi. Niccolò developed a model to study the effect of the Marab under different conditions.

The results confirmed the huge potential of the Marab in improving cultivations in the Badia are of Jordan, specifically Barley, which is impossible to grow without extra inputs from water harvesting technologies. They are available in the research paper:

Renzi, N., Villani, L., Haddad, M., Strohmeier, S., el Din, M., Al Widyan, J., Bresci, E., & Castelli, G. (2023). Modeling-based performance assessment of an indigenous macro-catchment water harvesting technique (Marab) in the Jordanian Badia. Land Degradation & Development, 1– 16.

The cooperation is continuing: a second MSc student from the Master in Natural Resources Management for Tropical Rural Development visited the BRS last spring, developing a model and a participatory analysis for analyzing alternative Nitrogen-fixing cultivations, and we are planning for new activities in 2024.


Giulio Castelli
Originally published on Warid