ICARDA’s West Asia Regional Program (WARP) works with local government programs on agricultural research and development in Cyprus, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and lowland Turkey. WARP plays a key role in joint bilateral and regional initiatives.
Drought and water shortages over the last decade have prompted communities and decision makers in West Asia to explore the potential of marginal dry areas to sustainably produce more.
ICARDA’s innovative participatory integrated watershed management approach to developing options for managing natural resources in the dry marginal areas actively involves local communities and institutions.
This approach is proving effective in addressing the complex problems of poor production and desertification in West Asia.
Improving crop varieties
Each year, ICARDA provides research institutions in the region with plant material for their breeding programs on barley, wheat, lentil, chickpea, faba bean, vetch, grasspea, and medic.
Many improved varieties originating from ICARDA germplasm have been released by national programs in these countries over the years. ICARDA also introduced ‘participatory plant breeding’ where scientists and farmers work in partnership.
Following successes achieved with barley, participatory plant breeding is now being institutionalized in Jordan and extended to wheat and pulses.
Reversing land degradation
Water harvesting and planting fodder shrubs in the badia rangelands of Jordan and Syria have proved successful in reversing rangeland degradation. Micro-catchments and contour ridges are easily made, greatly increase fodder production, and control erosion.
Local communities have been fully involved and have begun to use the techniques themselves, suggesting high potential for widespread adoption.
Improving water use efficiency
ICARDA’s collaborative research on water and land management has identified options for improving the use of scarce water resources. Integrated and complementary approaches include water harvesting techniques, land tillage, supplemental irrigation, and crop residue management.
Integrated pest management (IPM) techniques developed by an IFAD funded project have halved pest damage to date palm orchards in central and southern Iraq.
Six ‘field schools’ were established and 36 farmers trained in IPM techniques in date palm and wheat. Other ongoing projects in the region include the USAID Middle East Water and Livelihoods Initiative, the Water Benchmarks Project funded by AFESD, and a project on community-based management of graywater, supported by the Coca Cola foundation.
In Jordan, 13 pilot wastewater treatment units were installed in villages in the Madaba Governorate, and households were trained to operate and maintain them. Fifty-four farmers worked with scientists in a participatory breeding program on barley.
Implementation of two new programs began in 2010: a Netherlands-funded program to enhance food security and livelihoods in Palestine, and a project to conserve genetic resources in Jordan, funded by IDRC-Canada
Developing policy and institutional options
Researching policy and institutional options is important to improve the uptake and impact of results. For example, community models have been developed to assess the effects of different policy reforms on farmers, including an innovative decision-making tool that evaluates the effects of technical, policy, and institutional options.
Counting the benefits
The adoption and impacts of improved crop and livestock technologies introduced in the region were assessed by on-farm surveys. Improved barley varieties were grown by half of the farmers surveyed in Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan, and a third of those in Syria, and over half of the total barley growing area was planted to the new varieties in Jordan and Iraq, and one fifth in Syria.
The feed block technology was taken up by most sheep owners in Iraq and one fifth of farmers in Jordan. In Syria, other successes included growing vetch in barley rotations and early weaning of lambs, both adopted by almost 30% of farmers.
Human resources are the cornerstone for success in rangeland development, so it is essential to continue to build individual and institutional capacity. Appropriate training and education is undertaken, especially in planning and evaluation, and strengthening ties with national programs and policy makers is also a top priority.
In thirty years, 4600 people from the region have received training, including 2679 from Syria, 726 from Iraq, 580 from Jordan, 501 from Lebanon, and the first 76 from Palestine.
The national agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES) in the countries is the main partner, in addition to other national institutions, Ministries, NGOs and private sector. The main partners are:
- National Center for Agriculture research and Extension (NCARE) in Jordan
- State Board for Agricultural Research (SBAR) in Iraq
- General Commission for Scientific Agricultural Research (GCSAR) in Syria
- Lebanon Agricultural Research Institute (LARI) in Lebanon
- National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) in Palestine
- Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) in Cyprus
The work continues, and with more investment, more benefits can be achieved in the region to further reduce poverty. Based on assessments of previous impacts, benefits could be immediately achieved in on-farm water use, conservation agriculture, rangelands and livestock, biodiversity conservation, adaptation to climate change, integrated pest management, crop diversification, poverty mapping, and capacity building.
West Asia saw the birth of agriculture, but now must see a rebirth if the region is to meet the challenges ahead.