Many smallholder households in dry areas are often forced to farm degraded lands: infertile, eroded, and parched farmland where they struggle to produce a sufficient amount of food. ICARDA takes an integrated approach to reversing degradation, introducing sustainable feed resources, new technologies, and sustainable practices.
The dominant types of land degradation across the dry lands are water and wind erosion – often the result of overgrazing, unsustainable agricultural and water management practices, and the over-exploitation of vegetative cover.
In turn, these are driven by rapid population growth, urbanization and poverty, which force rural communities to adopt non-sustainable land use practices. Climate change is making it even harder to cope, increasing vulnerability to crop failures and poor livestock productivity.
ICARDA is working to improve land management and drought mitigation, and tackle desertification. Our research focuses on:
- Mitigating, and adapting to, the effects of climate change through the sustainable management, and utilization, of natural resources in cropland and rangeland.
- Developing holistic approaches to improved land management to combat degradation.
- Developing ‘best-bet’ technologies and practices to promote the sustainable management of land, biodiversity, and rangeland resources, including community-based land management practices.
- Adopting and out-scaling of modern research tools, based on watershed modeling and management.
Conserving scarce resources
Conservation agriculture – the practice of minimizing soil disturbance, maintaining soil cover, and rotating crops – is a proven technique that improves soil fertility and saves both the time and costs associated with plowing. Particularly beneficial where natural resources are scarce, the practice has the potential to unleash productivity across the world’s dry areas. It is particularly effective indrought conditions, since it allows soil to retain the maximum amount of precious water and nutrients
Field trials on wheat, barley, lentil and chickpea have demonstrated the practice’s benefits. By using conservation agriculture, together with good crop management, farmers can increase net revenues by about 120 USD per hectare. The extra revenue comes from higher yields (12% increase) and lower production crops (saving 40 USD per hectare for each eliminated plowing). The practice has proved particularly attractive in Iraq: in recent years ICARDA has convinced a growing number of farmers to adopt the approach, and conservation agriculture is now being applied on over 15,000 hectares (ha).
To encourage mechanization, specially-designed zero tillage seeders have been developed. These are manufactured locally by small-scale entrepreneurs, costing only 1500-5000 USD, compared to 50,000-60,000 USD for imported machines.
Unleashing the triple benefits of legumes
ICARDA continues to work with national partners to promote legumes and deliver their triple benefits: nutrition, greater farm incomes, and soil fertility. Multiple projects across Asia and Africa have been leveraging crop rotations, improved legume varieties, and innovative practices to meet growing food requirements in the face of climate change. In India, for instance, growing new lentil varieties in rice fallows is not only doubling yields and incomes, but making soils healthier and lowering production costs from reduced need for chemical fertilizers.