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Protected agriculture: productive use of marginal land

Scaling-up: This technology is suitable for both irrigated and rainfed systems, but particularly for subsistence farmers in dry areas with poor soils.

Protected agriculture – cultivation of high-value vegetables and other horticultural crops in greenhouses – allows farmers to grow cash crops on small plots in marginal, water-deficient areas where traditional cropping is not viable.

This technology, originally developed and tested by ICARDA in the Arabian Peninsula, has been adapted and successfully used in poor, smallholder farming systems in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

Protected agriculture offers many advantages:

  • Large increases in yield, produce quality and revenue
  • High water productivity, saving significant amounts of water
  • Significant reduction in pesticide use – lower production costs, healthier produce
  • Year-round production, allowing farmers to take advantage of market seasonality and higher prices

Low-cost greenhouses are fabricated locally, by small-scale entrepreneurs. Training on greenhouse fabrication, installation and maintenance is provided to farmers, technicians and entrepreneurs. Integrated crop management methods have been developed, to maximize the benefits of greenhouse cultivation.

Other innovations have also been developed to reduce the cost of highly efficient but expensive greenhouse cultivation methods such as hydroponics.

The benefits of ICARDA interventions include: 

  • Farmers are able to recover the cost of greenhouse construction within two years.
  • Farmers in Oman increased cucumber yields by 60%; in Yemen they reduced the use of agrochemicals by 80% with no loss of yield.
  • In the Arabian Peninsula, hydroponics with optimal crop management increased water productivity fifteen-fold, compared to traditional field production.