Impacts on Efficiency and Sustainability

The newly evolved system of agrarian governance (market and private incentives, smaller size and owner operating nature of farms, etc.) let avoid certain problems of large public enterprises from the past.11 It has also led to a sharp decline in all crop (except sunflower) and livestock (except goat) productions.12 The share of water intensive crops like vegetables, rice and maize considerable decreased, while some traditional and more sustainable technologies, varieties and breeds introduced. A large portion of agricultural lands have been left abandoned for a long period of time and the average yields for all major products shrunk 40-80% of the pre-reform level. All of this has relaxed the overall agricultural pressure on environment and water issues.

Since 1989, there has been more than a 21-fold decline in water used in agriculture13 (Table 24.2). In recent years sector "Agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishery" comprises merely 3.17% of total water use and 0.34% of generated waste waters (NSI).

Table 24.2 Evolution and agricultural use of water resources in Bulgaria (Source: FAO, AQUASTAT)






Total water resources (109/m3/year)





Water resources per capita






Total water withdrawal (109/m3/year)





Agricultural water withdrawal






Share of agricultural water withdrawal





in total (%)

Share of total actual renewable





water resources withdrawn by

agriculture (%)

Area equipped for irrigation (1,000 ha)





Share of cultivated area equipped for





irrigation (%)

Area equipped for irrigation actually





irrigated (%)

11 Over-intensification of production, intensive and inefficient water use, chemical contamination of soils and waters, livestock and manure concentration, uncontrolled erosion [1].

12 Potatoes 33%, wheat 50%, corn and burley 60%, tomatoes, Alfalfa hay and table grape 75%, apples 94%, pig meat 82%, cattle meat 77%, sheep and goat meat 72%, poultry meat 51%, cow milk 45%, sheep milk 66%, buffalo milk 59%, wool 85%, eggs 45%, honey 57% (NSI).

13 The main sources of water supply in the sector are large dams and rivers. Ground water is a supplementary source while utilization of sludge from purified waste waters in insignificant. Irrigation water accounts for the major share in total agricultural water use (74%).

600 500 400 300 200 100 0

600 500 400 300 200 100 0

800 600 400 200 0

1989 1992 1997 2000 2003 2006

Fig. 24.2 Irrigation and chemical application in Bulgarian agriculture (Source: National Statistical Institute)

800 600 400 200 0

1989 1992 1997 2000 2003 2006

i Irrigated area (000 ha) - Pesticides (00 t) Fertilizers (000 t)

Fig. 24.2 Irrigation and chemical application in Bulgarian agriculture (Source: National Statistical Institute)

The later contributes to reduction of water stress in the country.14 Restructuring of farms and agricultural production has been also accompanied with a sharp reduction in irrigated farmland (Fig. 24.2). What is more, a considerable physical distortion of irrigation facilities has taken place affecting 80% of the internal canals (MAF). Furthermore, water losses in the irrigation system amount to 70% as a result of poorly maintained facilities, low efficiency, and water stealing.

The negative impact of intensive irrigation on overall erosion and salinization has diminished significantly after 1990 (EEA). Erosion has been a major factor contributing to land degradation in Bulgaria. Its progressing level is a result of extreme weather but it has been also adversely affected by dominant agro-techniques, deficiency of anti-erosion measures, uncontrolled deforestation and recultivation of permanent grasslands. Due to ineffective management around one-third of the arable lands are subjected to wind erosion and 70% to water erosion as total losses varies from 0.2 to 40 t/ha in different years (EEA). Annual losses of earth masses from water erosion are estimated at 145Mt and two-third of it comes from the arable land.15 The fraction of salinized land doubled after 1989 but it is merely 1.1% of the total farmland (EEA).

The widespread application of primitive irrigation techniques, and inappropriate crop choice, rotation and agro-techniques augment inefficiency of water use and local soil erosion. The decline in irrigation has also had a direct harmful effect on crop yields and structure of rotation. The level of irrigation depends on the humidity in each year, kind of irrigated crops and water prices. Nonetheless, irrigation has not been effectively used to correct inappropriate seasonal and regional distribution of rainfalls, and mitigate effect of climate change16 on farming and land degradation. Farms meager capability for adaptation resulted in huge crop, livestock and property losses during recent droughts and floods.

14 Depending on year's humidity territory accumulates 9-24 billion m3 water (EEA). In 2006 total water withdrawal was 6559054 out of which 92.8% surface and 7.2% ground water. Since 1990 Water Exploitation Index decline considerably from 55% (2d in Europe) to 33%.

15 Soil losses range from 8 t/year for permanent crops to 48 t/year for arable lands (EEA).

16 Temperature increases, rains quantity decreases, and more extreme events occurs (EEA). By 2030 water availability on more than 50% of the territory will decrease 5-10%, a severe water stress is projected for South-Eastern parts and a medium in some other places.

There has been a considerable amelioration of the quality of surface and ground water as a result of an unintended decrease in the negative effects of agriculture. The total amount of fertilizers and pesticides used has declined with respective applications representing merely 22% and 31% of the 1989 level (Fig. 24.2). The respective unbalanced N, P and K fertilization is currently applied based on 37.4%, 3.4% and 1.9% of the Utilized Agricultural Area (UAA). This trend has diminished pressure on the environment and risk of chemical contamination of soils and waters. Nitrate and phosphate content in surface water decreases over the transition has resulted in only 0.7% of samples exceeding the Ecological Limit Value (ELV) for nitrate (EEA). Despite improvement, many water eco-systems are at risk caused by agricultural emissions in water and increasing application of chemicals.

In drinking water about 5% of analyses show concentrations of nitrate up to five times above appropriate level (EEA). The later is mostly restricted to 400 small residential locations, but it also is typical for almost 9% of the large water collection zones. Improper use of nitrate fertilizers, inappropriate crop and livestock practices, monoculture, and non-compliance with specific rules for farming in water supply zones, are responsible for that problem.

Monitoring of water for irrigation shows that in 45% of samples, nitrate concentrations exceed the contamination limit value by factors of 2-20 (EEA). Nitrates are also the most common pollutants in ground water with N levels only slightly exceeding the ecological limit in recent years. Around the country a trend for reduction in pesticides concentration in ground water is reported with occasional cases of triasines over the ELV since 2000.

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones cover totally or partially 53% of the territory of the country and 68% of UAA. The lack of effective manure storage and sewer systems in majority of farms contributes to the persistence of this problem. Only 0.1% of the livestock farms possess safe manure-pile sites, around 81% of them use primitive dunghills, and 116 thousands holdings have no facilities at all (MAF). A serious environmental challenge also has been posed by inadequate storage and disposal of expired and prohibited pesticides,17 as 28% of all polluted localities in the country are associated with these dangerous chemicals (EEA). Furthermore, the number of illegal garbage dumps in rural areas has noticeably increased reaching an official figure of 4,000; and farms contribute extensively to waste production bringing about air, soil and water pollution (EEA).

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