West Asia and North Africa face severe challenges which threaten to undermine the region’s ability to feed its growing population. From Morocco to Jordan, farmers confront erratic rainfall, frequent drought, increasing salinization, and a limited natural resource base. The region must also contend with increasing rural-urban migration, weak extension systems, and inappropriate agricultural policies.
Moreover, the increasing mono-cropping of wheat, using only a few wheat varieties, is contributing to the depletion of soil fertility and sustainable cropping systems.
Many of these challenges are expected to worsen as a result of climate change and variability – and with shifting climate patterns come new threats such as the spread of pests and disease. In recent years, for example, wheat yields in North Africa and the Middle East have been devastated by new strains of wheat rust disease, which have emerged with rising temperatures and the increased variability and intensity of rainfall.
Although food legumes play an important role in cereal rotation – helping to maintain soil fertility and sustainable cropping systems – the area planted to food legumes, particularly in West Asia, has declined over the past 20 years. This has been attributed to low yields, disease constraints, and the rising cost of labor. Legume production is largely un-mechanized, and operations, particularly harvesting, can be highly labor intensive.