Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the ICARDA-managed Middle East Water and Livelihoods Initiative (WLI) helped rural communities address challenges resulting from water scarcity, land degradation, water quality deterioration, and food insecurity.

It drew on the expertise of a wide range of partners to test and promote promising technologies and strategies in the benchmark sites of eight dryland countries: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen. WLI's partners included 11 national agricultural research centers, two CGIAR centers, four US universities, the US Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Services (USDA - ARS), and three regional universities. 

The target sites typified the full spectrum of livelihood and watershed constraints, and also represented the region’s three main agro-ecological systems: irrigated, rainfed, and rangeland.


Research activities in irrigated agro-ecological systems

WLI worked alongside rural communities to improve irrigation efficiency, raise water productivity, and help farmers achieve ‘more crop per drop.’ The initiative also experimented with the utilization of marginal water to help producers get the most from alternative water resources in situations of extreme water salinity.

Innovations tested included: supplemental, drip, and sub-surface irrigation.

Research activities in rainfed agro-ecological systems

Rainfed marginal areas in the Middle East are characterized by water scarcity, severe land degradation, and an extremely fragile natural resource base that leaves them vulnerable to drought. In response, WLI targeted improved soil, water, and crop management strategies to strengthen resilience and enhance agricultural productivity.

Innovations tested included: water harvesting techniques, supplemental irrigation, sustainable farming practices such as alley cropping and conservation agriculture, improved drought-tolerant plants and crops, and watershed management and modeling.  

Research activities in rangeland agro-ecological systems

Rangelands hold significant socio-economic and cultural value across vast dryland areas – providing multiple roles as sources of subsistence, food security, and income. Unfortunately, these regions also suffer from low productivity and increasing rates of degradation and desertification, which WLI activities sought to reverse.

Innovations tested included: water harvesting techniques, conservation agriculture, drought-tolerant plants, modelling and monitoring systems, and enhanced value-added production.  

Selected impacts:

  • In Tunisia, the adoption of supplemental irrigation increased water use efficiency by 45 percent.
  • In Yemen, supplemental irrigation increased the productivity of sesame by 103-120 percent. A cost-benefit analysis showed that the gross margin ranged from US$ 1596 to 2570 per hectare.
  • In Lebanon, the introduction of conservation agriculture generated total savings of around US$ 555,000. The cost-benefit ratio was 16 percent higher than the cost-benefit ratio achieved when conservation agriculture was not adopted.
  • The use of Normalized Deviation Vegetation Index maps allowed a comparison of vegetation growth in different areas - to better understand drought intensity, and therefore target interventions more effectively.
  • Some 25 technologies or management practices were made available to producers.
  • Introduced improved integrated water and land management technologies across some 1800 hectares.
  • Short-term training opportunities benefited over 2600 people, including producers, government officials and members of civil society groups. Some 18 percent of beneficiaries were women. 
  • WLI supported the graduate studies of seven MSc and nine PhD students, and one Post Doc, through field research and linkages with ICARDA and regional and US universities.
  • Supported the short-term studies of international students, including students from Princeton, Tufts, and the University of Utrecht. 
  • Engaged and trained some 20 different CBOs - in either planning or decision making related to the management of their natural resources. 

Project manager

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