All countries that depend on dryland production systems for national food supply face a rapidly changing set of climatic, policy, and social circumstances. These changes are challenging farmers and policy makers to respond swiftly to ensure enhanced food security, while successfully navigating a complex set of inter-related factors that impact on agriculture. Changing rainfall patterns, population trends and consumer preferences are posing challenges to farmers, while biotechnology and advances in knowledge need to be communicated to producers.
The Enhancing Food Security in Arab Countries project is taking innovative approaches to address these challenges in six countries: Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Syria and Jordan. With multiple technology transfer methods, rigorous 'live' testing in farmers' own fields, and integrated capacity-building components, the project is providing practical solutions to improve wheat production and enhance food security and sustainable agriculture in the region.
The project has convincingly demonstrated substantial benefits to farmers from improved varieties and agricultural practices. In Egypt, comparative demonstrations on raised-bed planting technology conducted over two seasons resulted in an average 30% increase in wheat yield, 24% saving in irrigation water, and 72% increase in water-use efficiency over farmer technology. In Northern State, Sudan, the cultivar ‘Imam’ demonstrated exceptional performance. Yields were up to 134.9% higher – more than double those of the farmers' usual varieties.
On-farm demonstrations of conservation agriculture based on the no-till system were established on ten farms in Jordan. Conservation agriculture techniques resulted in generally higher biological yields (6.7 ton/ha versus 3.5 ton/ha) and grain yields (2.1 ton/ha versus 1.8 ton/ha) than conventional tillage. The net benefit of conservation agriculture stemming from reduced cost of land preparation and increased yield ranged between 56 and 611 US$/ha.
As well as testing improved packages in Tunisia, irrigation demonstrations were carried out in Chebika. These confirmed past seasons' results that the tensiometer-based method for monitoring crop irrigation needs and scheduling is more efficient than either the Penman or the Class-A evaporation methods. The tensiometer method proved easier to apply and led to higher grain yields and greater water-use efficiency.
The project has also targeted capacity-building activities during the year, despite difficulties due to unrest in the region. A total of 9,240 participants attended a variety of capacity-building events. Over 7,100 farmers, extensionists, researchers, policy makers and other participants attended 178 farmers' field schools, while over 720 participants attended in-country training courses or symposiums. Regional activities also took place, such as a farmers' traveling workshop, which involved farmers, extension agents, and researchers from the six countries. The enthusiastic feedback from participants indicates that it was successful in allowing them to share experiences, create links, and strengthen farmers' confidence in new technologies.
During the coming year the project will expand its dissemination activities. More farmers will be included in the demonstration network to achieve wider adoption of improved technologies and further improve wheat yields in the region.