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 seven dryland countries: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, and Yemen.

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.

Project manager