ICARDA is based in the heart of an area - the Fertile Crescent - which is the birthplace of agriculture. This is where settled farming first began to emerge as people started the process of clearance and modification of natural vegetation in order to grow newly domesticated plants as crops.
The Fertile Crescent is an arc that extends from the eastern part of the Mediterranean to the lower Zagros Mountains in Iraq and Iran. The name is an indication of the rich soils and the plentiful plants that thrive here.
Archaeological findings have shown that some 10,000 years ago barley, wheat, lentil, pea, flax, and vetch were all domesticated here. Wheat and barley, together with domesticated sheep and goats, formed the basis of farming systems which evolved around 7000 BC and then spread quickly as a Neolithic agriculture system to other parts of West Asia, the Nile Valley, and the Balkans. By 4000 BC, this wheat-and-barley farming method provided food for people living all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian subcontinent and from Scandinavia to the Nile Valley.
Origin of major crops
In the centuries that have followed, the Near East has contributed wheat, barley, pea, rapeseed, and wild races of rye and oats to the world's 30 major crops as well as crops which have a regional importance in human food such as chickpea, lentil, and faba bean. Other valuable components of the human diet, including olive, almond, pistachio, apple, apricot, peach, hazelnut, grape, quince, fig, date palm, cucumber, and melon also originated in this crescent.
Despite the lack of forested area and the erosion of natural resources there are still some 23,000 plant species in the region, of which 7100 are endemic.
Along with agriculture the Fertile Crescent has also been home to some of the world's greatest civilizations. The empires of Ebla, Assyria, Sumeria, Babylonia, and the Hittites were all centered on this region of economic and strategic importance. Although there were many factors that contributed to the emergence of these civilizations, there is little doubt that agriculture played a central role.