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Reversing degradation

The effects of overgrazing on rangeland environments can be devastating: it can alter plant community composition, impair ecological processes, and facilitate colonization by invasive species. Long-term, continuous grazing can also limit a site’s ability to self-repair and recover from periods of disturbance and stress such as drought – a problem that is likely to worsen as a result of climate change. 

Forage depletion can therefore negatively impact the economic viability of rangelands and threaten the livelihoods of local communities. ICARDA provides decision makers with the knowledge and tools to reverse rangeland degradation. Experience gathered over the past three decades has contributed to the development of appropriate and proven mitigation strategies tailored to dryland environments.

Replacing what has been lost is a central aim of ICARDA’s work. Techniques developed and adopted in degraded rangeland areas include rotational grazing, the collection and identification of valuable native plants, the introduction of new trees and shrubs, and cost-effective water harvesting and reseeding techniques.

Demonstrating a commitment to ICARDA’s participatory approach to rangeland management, an initiative in Saudi Arabia encouraged pastoralists to collect the fodder plants they thought were becoming extinct. These varieties were then identified, conserved, and tested – and eventually multiplied so seed could be returned for planting.

Another innovative approach to the regeneration of degraded rangelands involves the development of in-situ ‘field genebanks.’ Working with national partners, ICARDA scientists collect the seed of threatened species of important fodder plants. Nurseries are then used to multiply this seed, which is subsequently distributed to farmers and NGOs for planting. This approach, which has achieved some success in Morocco, conserves native biodiversity, builds community support, and limits time and cost requirements. 

The future of dryland regions also depends upon the cultivation of appropriate alternative crops capable of withstanding water shortages, high temperatures, and poor soil fertility. Cacti, for example, satisfy these requirements, and are becoming increasingly important for both subsistence and market-oriented activities. ICARDA scientists are increasingly recognizing the positive attributes of cacti: these plants are an important source of fruit, forage and fodder, and can be productive even in years of severe drought.

In order to facilitate effective adaptation to conditions in West Asia and North Africa, ICARDA is identifying and evaluating drought, cold, and salt-tolerant rangeland/forage species – with a particular emphasis on screening and evaluating for cold-tolerant cacti species.