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Reversing degradation in rangelands: Promoting sustainable grass/forage species

Arid and semi-arid rangelands face increasing climate variability and grazing pressure as the world’s demand for food increases. ICARDA is promoting drought-tolerant forage species as a crucial means of assisting rangeland rehabilitation efforts, helping to conserve rapidly-depleting water resources and maintain grazing at sustainable levels. The result: a win-win situation for rural communities and the environment.

ICARDA is disseminating information on sustainable grass/forage species to extension workers and those working in the agricultural research and policy sector. The aim is to ensure that these species play an integral role in national rehabilitation strategies, and ultimately help to reverse the devastating levels of degradation that inflict many rangeland areas.  

The species being promoted include:

Buffel Grass: A resilient, drought-tolerant forage species that helps to alleviate feed shortages and feeding costs. Found in the Sub-humid and semi-arid tropics and subtropics, buffel grass can survive in areas with an annual rainfall below 1000 mm; it can endure up to five days of flooding with negligible effects; has crude protein of 9.6 percent; and In-Vitro Dry Matter Digestibility and Crude Protein Digestibility ranges from 50-60 percent.

Calligonum comosum: An excellent pastoral species for fixing soil and providing a source of protein for livestock.  Found in the arid climates of the Sahara, it grows in course sandy dessert soils and is used for grazing, fire wood, sand dune fixation, and pasture rehabilitation.  It plays a vital role in the fight against desertification.  It is cultivated around desert plantations and used as a wind break and can also be used for medicinal purposes and human consumption.

Atriplex halimus: One of the most commonly planted shrubs in the Mediterranean and well known for its remediation of degraded rangelands and salt-affected areas.  It is commonly used as a forage plant for sheep and goats in arid areas and contributes significantly to the feed calendar when herbage availability is low.  It is the only green, protein-rich forage available during late summer and early fall – when it is needed for the nourishment of pregnant and early-lactating ewes and does.

Stipa lagascae: A heavy, adaptable perennial bunchgrass that is highly palatable for livestock. Found in humid to arid areas across the Mediterranean, it is flexible to variations in temperature and water availability and can be harvested and dried as high-quality hay for summer feed. 

Periploca laevigata: an important shrub for grazing in the dry season.  Although it contains tannins, it is palatable and is grazed mainly by camels, sheep, and goats.  As this plant is able to grow in dry and rocky conditions in the poorest of soils it has good potential for increasing forage in dry areas as well as reducing erosion.  The plant is also known for its many healing properties.

Retama: A resilient, pioneer plant for rangeland rehabilitation and stable ecosystems. A drought-tolerant legume species native to the Mediterranean, it helps dune stabilization and can establish itself on nutrient-poor to fertile well-drained soils

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