Easing dependence on imported wheat

Paticipating farmers have enjoyed higher wheat yields since the initiative began in 2011.

An ICARDA-led initiative continued to strengthen wheat production across the Arab Region – testing, validating, and disseminating new technologies with the potential to boost yields and ease the region’s growing import dependence.

Farmers across the Arab region face multiple production constraints: a degraded natural resource base, chronic water scarcity, variable weather patterns, and a range of pests and diseases which severely affect the production of staple crops – especially wheat. The result is a large and growing import burden that undermines national food security in the Arab region and exposes ordinary people to the vagaries of global commodity markets.

A regional integrated approach

The Enhancing Food Security in Arab Countries initiative, led by ICARDA, works with national partners to improve the performance of regional wheat production across ten countries: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.

Launched in 2011, the program adopts an integrated approach to raising productivity: disseminating validated technologies – including improved climate-resilient crop varieties; undertaking adaptive research under farmer conditions to fine-tune new technologies; assessing the impact of disseminated technology; and offering capacity strengthening opportunities to farmers, researchers and extension staff.

Raising wheat production

The initiative achieved a number of notable successes in 2016. The dissemination of improved technologies at demonstration plots installed in farmers’ fields resulted in significant increases in wheat yields: on average, yields were up by 23% and maximum yields increased by an average of 62%.

In Egypt’s El-Sharkia province, mechanized raised-bed technologies continued to be adopted by farmers. This technology, which raises yields while improving water-use efficiency, is now applied across 38,000 ha – up from only 2000 ha in 2011.   

The initiative also embraced modern technologies, using cell phone SMS and WhatsApp applications to deliver practical technical advice to wheat farmers in Tunisia and Sudan. Tunisian farmers who used SMS technology to irrigate wheat saw an average 51% increase in wheat yields, compared to farmers who did not embrace this technology.

Investing in the future

Capacity strengthening also enhanced the knowledge and skills of beneficiaries. More than 15,500 participants benefited from capacity development activities, which included Farmer Fields Schools and Field Days. Farmers and extension staff represented 72% and 17% respectively of all beneficiaries who attended the 393 events organized last year

A key focus of the initiative is advancing the capacity of young researchers, thereby helping to achieve long-term impact. Last year, the project’s Young Agricultural Scientists Program (YASP) allowed eight young researchers from across the region to train in various areas and topics related to wheat-based production systems; each returning to their countries to strengthen and consolidate their respective national research programs.

“Year on year we have witnessed the growing potential of the Arab region’s wheat sector,” says Project Leader Dr. Habib Halila. “2016 was no exception and as we see wider dissemination and increasing interest by wheat producers in improved production technologies, we can look forward to rising wheat yields and declining import dependence.”

Enhancing Food Security in Arab Countries is funded by: the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (Phase I and II), the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (Phase I and II), the Islamic Development Bank (Phase I), the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) (Phase I and II), and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Phase II).