In several countries in the Near East and North Africa, conservation agriculture (CA) has delivered bigger wheat harvests for lower costs.
Numerous field trials conducted in Syria and Iraq from 2000 to 2012 show yield increases of 15–20% in cereals under CA, especially when they are sown early. These results were supported by farmer experience. In Jordan yields of wheat under CA were 20% higher than under conventional tillage systems, while the increases in Morocco in 2011 were even greater: a 50% increase in bread wheat yields, a doubling of durum wheat yields, and 50% greater canola yields.
Based on the results of field trial and farmer experience, CA can increase farmers’ income from wheat by up to US$200/ha in Syria and up to US$300/ha in Iraq.
In Syria, a tonne of wheat sells for US$400, so a yield increase of 20%, or an additional 250 kg/ha, increases earnings by US$100/ha. CA uses two fewer plowings than conventional tillage, saving US$40/ha. Reducing the seeding rate from 300 kg/ha (the traditional broadcast rate) to 100 kg/ha saves US$80/ha. On the down side, CA may require increased herbicide applications costing about $20/ha. Thus, overall, CA increases the profitability of wheat in Syria by about US$200, or more than 50% of the income from a hectare yielding 1 tonne.
In Iraq, where wheat sells for US$700/tonne, a 20% yield increase brings in an additional US$175/ha, and optimal seeding saves US$140/ha. Factor in the same savings from reduced plowing and the cost of herbicide, and CA increases profitability by US$335/ha.
CA was used on about 30,000 hectares of crops in Syria in 2011/12. If this were all wheat, the total benefit to the Syrian economy would have been US$6 million or more. But Syria plants 3 million hectares of cereals each year. Imagine if even half of this were planted using CA—there would be a 10% increase in the country’s cereal production, and a US$300 million increase in agricultural income. What a difference that would make to food security in the country and to the country’s economy.