Smallholder farmers in the West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region are afflicted severely by low crop yields, recording an average cereal yield of only 2 t/ha – almost half the world average, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Virulent crop diseases/pests and weed infestations, resulting from changing climate patterns, pose major challenges to food and nutrition security in the region. Furthermore, the increasing practice of cereal mono-cropping is depleting soil fertility. Sustainably intensifying cereal-based production systems using legumes is a strategic objective of ICARDA to harness the many benefits of legumes – boosting food and nutritional security, improving rural incomes, and replenishing nitrogen in soils to ensure sustainable cropping systems in drylands.

A project, conducted between 2012 and 2015 across eight WANA countries – Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Turkey – demonstrated sustainable and profitable wheat-legume cropping systems over three planting seasons by using improved crop technology packages. A team of ICARDA’s scientists worked with the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in project countries to introduce smallholder farmers to balanced technology packages tailored to different agroecologies in WANA so as to increase and stabilize the productivity of wheat and legume crops amid climate change.

The project combined a suite of interventions using a systems approach – higher-yielding crop varieties resistant to stresses, seed systems, conservation agriculture, integrated pest management, and water productivity technologies. The improved technologies were collaboratively tested and validated by the project scientists and by smallholder farmers in their fields as part of on-farm participatory research.

Capacity building was a prominent feature of the project. Technology dissemination platforms were used in conjunction with farmer field days and farmer field schools to demonstrate and promote new technologies to large groups of farmers across neighboring communities. Further, lead farmers were invited to host these platforms and engage other farmers in the uptake and adoption of these technologies.

The project introduced improved technologies to over 19,000 farmers and extension workers, enabling higher crop yields and incomes while conserving natural resources crucial to the sustainability of food production systems in drylands.

The effect of climate change on pests is already being seen in the region. Pests have become more frequent and have extended their range because of warmer winters.

Mustapha El Bouhssini, Principal Entomologist, ICARDA

Turning around faba bean production in Egypt hit by climate change

Faba bean production has been declining in Egypt because of Orobanche weed infestations spurred by climate change. Higher-yielding varieties with resistance to Orobanche and a low water requirement, combined with integrated pest management techniques, are turning around this trend. Farmers are seeing an average increase in yield of 22.5%. In demonstrations in Sharkia province, this increase in yield reached 38%. The results have encouraged the Egyptian Academy for Scientific Research and Technology to fund and initiate a national campaign for the wider uptake of the improved faba bean technology package.

Improved incomes and food security

A total of 136 new improved varieties of bread and durum wheat, faba bean, chickpea and lentil were introduced and promoted to farmers along with their associated production technologies. The following are examples of the impact in project countries:

In the irrigated systems of Egypt and Sudan, a raised-bed planting package for faba bean, which ICARDA’s scientists developed with Egypt, was widely adopted by farmers. The technology uses 20–25% less water while increasing the yield by 22.7% as compared to flat planting.

Our government is committed to provide continued support to field crop production.

Lassad Lachaal, then Minister of Agriculture, Tunisia, visiting project farmers in 2015, who were reaping two to three times higher yields of chickpea from improved variety packages

Promoting sustainable management of natural resources

Project scientists established conservation agriculture (CA) in cropping systems – the practice of zero or minimum tillage to improve soil fertility and water conservation. It was promoted through 106 technology dissemination platforms, mainly where direct drill planters were available (Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Tunisia). The project demonstrated yield increases from CA of up to 128% for wheat and 133% for chickpea.

The outcomes of the project continue to build on ICARDA’s ongoing research in drylands to further enhance technology packages in response to new challenges emerging from climate change.