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Irrigation and drainage is one of the oldest professions – records extend back thousands of years and it has been credited with being the foundation of civilization. It is also a profession with something of a chequered history. In some circles, it is recognized as the basis for food and economic security, while in others the profession is equated with sellers of snake-oil; as a destroyer of rivers; and the centre of corrupt practices and institutionalized rent-seeking.
Although irrigation has many champions, it must be recognized that despite considerable investments over the past few hundred years, the performance of irrigation and drainage systems in many countries continues to disappoint both the agencies that made the investment and the farming communities expected to benefit from improved agricultural water services. The poor performance of these systems is exacerbated by many factors.
In many countries opportunities to increase agricultural areas are limited and in others conversion of agricultural land to alternative uses, and losses to salinity or waterlogging exceeds expansion to new cultivation areas. FAO, 2009, estimated that while global food demands are expected to increase by 70%, demands in developing countries will almost double by 2050.
Unfortunately, few farmers see agriculture as a desirable career for their expensively educated children – a view shared by many of the next generation – which is helping accelerate migration from rural to urban areas. A growing middle class is driving changing dietary preferences, generally requiring more water during production.
Agricultural water allocations are also facing increased competition from growing municipalities, industrial expansion, growing energy generation, and an expanded focus on environmental protection. Responses to these challenges will be further complicated by climate change.
Irrigation currently covers about 20% of the world’s cultivable land where over 40% of the world’s food is produced. In the future the majority (over 70%) of the required increase in production is expected to come from intensification of irrigated agriculture. If there ever was a need to revitalize the irrigation profession – it is now.
Ian Makin, Vice President, ICID and Lead Irrigation Specialist at the International Water Management Institute, Colombo will share thoughts on the critical challenges for irrigation, drainage and agricultural water management in the 21st century and why this ancient profession must be revitalized in order to attract and retain skilled engineers, water managers, and the farmers necessary to deliver food and water security that will under-pin achievement of the recently agreed sustainable development goals.
ICE Events Team