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Arabian Peninsula Regional Program

ICARDA’s Arabian Peninsula Regional Program (APRP) works with local organizations in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen.

Currently, the emphasis is on the transfer of technology and the further development of more productive and sustainable rangeland and irrigated systems, including protected agriculture, through the more efficient use of natural resources – water, energy, and indigenous plant species.

The Program’s objectives are:

  • Improved targeting of research and technology transfer
  • Improved water use efficiency and optimal utilization of available water resources
  • Development of integrated range, forage and livestock production systems, and management practices
  • Development of a protected agriculture industry for the region
  • Strengthened national institutional and human resource capacity.

Rehabilitating rangelands

Rehabilitation and improved management of degraded rangelands in the region has been carried out by:

  • Collecting and multiplying important indigenous desert and mountain forages and shrubs
  • Assessing different forages for tolerance to salinity
  • Identifying suitable species for the rehabilitation of degraded rangelands
  • Identifying low-cost rehabilitation techniques for degraded rangelands
  • Publicizing and disseminating information and results.

As a result of this work APRP, together with local institutions, has rehabilitated heavily degraded rangelands in Saudi Arabia and Yemen with indigenous shrubs and trees. In the UAE, forages and shrubs have been screened for salinity tolerance to maintain production where water quality is poor.

Developing native forages

Exotic fodder species, such as Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana) are increasingly being used to overcome the shortage of fodder. But such species consume huge amounts of water. Indigenous forage species, adapted to local conditions, grow well with very small amounts of water.

APRA, working with national programs, has taken steps to address rangeland degradation and needs for irrigated forages with less water using these species:

  • Plant and seed collection missions were carried out in all Arabian Peninsula countries
  • Water-use efficiency and feed quality of exotic and indigenous forages were measured in the UAE, Oman, Yemen, and Kuwait
  • Feed quality of some of these indigenous forages was found to be as high as exotic forages.

In 2012, the Program worked with more than 35 farmers farmers in the region to grow buffel grass as a forage crop with productivity around 35% higher than the commonly-grown Rhodes grass. The Program also established two new seed units, in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to conserve and promote indigenous forage species. 

Improving on-farm water management

Water use efficiency depends greatly on irrigation management. Irrigation in excess of crop water requirements wastes water and energy, and increases leaching of agricultural chemicals. But excessive irrigation is common.

Improved irrigation scheduling and system monitoring can dramatically improve performance. For example, the introduction of estimates of crop water requirements based on meteorological measurements is an approach being investigated.

Designing appropriate greenhouses

High light intensities and temperatures, combined with high relative humidity, characterize the local climate. Greenhouses used in the region were developed for cool-climate countries with low light intensities. ARPA is working to develop a simple greenhouse suitable for the region's climate with more efficient ventilation and cooling systems.

Simplified hydroponics production systems

The quality and quantity of water required to produce high value crops is particularly impossible to obtain in a dry region such as the Arabian Peninsula. In addition, accumulation of salt and soil borne pathogens have a negative effect on vegetable production.  In protected agriculture, technologies such as hydroponics make efficient use of water.

However, these systems can be very complicated. Working with smallholders in Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE, the program introduced simplified soil-less techniques for the production of high value crops such as cucumber, tomato, strawberry, lettuce, etc. Using this approach, farmers saved large amounts of water and boosted their profits.

In 2012, hydroponic systems were adopted by 48 growers working with the Program. In addition, individual nations in the region encouraged growers to adopt soil-less growing. For example, in the United Arab Emirates, the Ministry of Environment and Water covered 50% of growers' costs in establishing hydroponic systems, which were consequently used in more than 600 greenhouses by the end of 2012.  

In Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, the Program also worked with 15 pilot growers to test an automatic controller for administering a nutrient solution in hydroponics systems. Initial results have been extremely promising.  

Integrating production and protection management (IPPM)

Under protected agriculture, farmers need to carefully manage production and pest control to produce residue-free high quality fruit and vegetables, and avoid contaminating the environment.

Extensive application of agro-chemicals in the region is a common practice in greenhouses where usage has resulted in complex problems of pest resistance and environmental hazards. APRP developed and introduced a number of controlled measures as part of an Integrated Production and Protection Management (IPPM) program which is now implemented in all AP research stations and pilot private farms.

In Yemen, introducing IPPM has reduced the number of chemical sprays from 19 to 2 - an intervention that also significantly improved growers' livelihoods. A recent study conducted with Yemen's national agricultural research and extension system concluded that adopting IPPM increased pilot growers' incomes by 12%.

Building capacity

In addition to ICARDA-HQ human resource development activities and based on NARS requirements, APRP is running a capacity building program specially tailored for the region. From 1998 until Dec 2010, APRP implemented 20 specialized tarring courses (1-2 weeks) for 275 and 10 individual on the job training program (2-3 months) for about 30 researchers, extension agents and growers from seven AP countries.

Furthermore, APRP is organizing farmers’ field schools and field days for extension agents and growers on private pilot growers’ farms. During 2012 more than 170 growers, researchers and extension agents participated. 

APRP has published 12 technical books, advisory notes and training leaflets as well as nine posters which were printed and distributed among project stockholders, including growers, extension agents and researchers. In December 2012, the Program held its 5th Annual Regional Technical Coordination Meeting and Regional Steering Committee Meeting in Dubai, organized jointly with the Ministry of Environment and Water, United Arab Emirates. 

To enhance the seed production of indigenous forage species, APRP in collaboration with NARS in Emirates, Oman and Saudi Arabia established Seed Technology Units (STU). At the moment necessary actions are in progress to upgrade these STU with seed health labs as well as establishment of similar units in Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait.

A major program achievement is the strong network among scientists and researchers in the region which is established as a result of regular technical conferences and meetings organized by APRP. 

The network is helping researchers to communicate and coordinate research and development activities among themselves.

Future directions

The Program will strengthen technology transfer and research activities on environmental issues, particularly rangeland degradation and groundwater. By conserving indigenous plant species, their genes will be available for future molecular research on forage crops capable of withstanding high temperatures, drought, and salinity.

In protected agriculture, more emphasis will be put on reducing hazardous chemicals, introducing new vegetable crops and cultivars, improving productivity per unit of water and land, as well as enhancing the cooling systems.