Harvesting a field of wheat under conservation agriculture cropping
Harvesting a field of wheat under conservation agriculture cropping
  • Mina Devkota – Scientist - Agronomist 
  • Mourad Rekik - Principal Scientist - Small Ruminant Physiology and management 


ICARDA’s package of sustainable land management practice increases farmers' yields and income and improves soil health while protecting dryland crops ecosystems in the face of climate change. 

Crop production in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region is characterized by an increasing trend in monocropping, frequent soil tillage for weed control (and hence delayed seeding), and harvesting, burning, or on-site grazing of crop stubble residues. As a result, soil degradation is speeding up to become a major threat to crop production and food security in a region highly vulnerable to climate change.

ICARDA’s conservation agriculture (CA) innovations, developed alongside NARS partners,  optimize climate-resilient integrated crop-livestock systems to deliver sustainable agricultural practices through optimal resource use,  particularly in fragile dry areas. Compared to conventional tillage methods, CA involves minimizing soil disturbance, diversifying crop rotations including pulses legumes in the rotation system and forages, and retaining leading part of crop residues in fields. 

Farmers adopting CA benefit from improved soil fertility, lowered production costs, fewer pests, reduced soil erosion, enhanced nutrient availability, and natural resources conservation. This leads to diversified income streams, increased yields, better water-use efficiency, improved household nutrition, and a resilient production system.

The CA technology package is designed to use resources efficiently and flexibly, making it suitable for different settings across the region. Accompanied by ICARDA’s appropriate livestock and crop management practices, it offers transformative solutions to many of the challenges that dryland farmers face.  




Increased yields and improved soil quality:   

  • Farmers in Irbid, Jordan using ICARDA’s CA produced 16 percent more crop yields than those generated under conventional practices. 


  • In rainfed drylands of Morocco, adoption of the no-tillage technology under farmers’ management helped enhance grain yield by 16% and net profit by 21% with low production risk compared to conventionally tilled wheat. 


  • Adoption of CA among wheat producers in the drylands of Syria is an effective risk management strategy with 95% and 33.3% reductions in the risk of obtaining wheat yield levels below 1.0 t ha-1 and 1.50 t ha-1, respectively, and 93% reduction in the risk of obtaining technical efficiency that is below 40% compared to the conventionally tilled wheat. 


  • In Tunisia, an ICARDA study demonstrated that CA based on zero tillage and soil residue retention helps make wheat production more resilient to climate change through enhancing wheat yield by 15 percent; improving water use efficiency by 18 and 13 percent, and increasing soil organic carbon accumulation compared to conventional practice. Mulching also slows the annual rate of soil erosion by 1.7 tons in the semi-arid to 4.6 tons in the sub-humid of the arable soil layer in each hectare. The study also identified priority areas in Tunisia for CA adoption, spread across 260,000 hectares in the north of the country and representing at least one-fifth of the country’s total cereal area.


  • Farmers who have adopted CA practices had a two- to three-fold higher yield from barley and wheat production and saved 30-40 percent irrigation water in irrigated dry areas in Algeria.


  • Soil microbial activity is an indicator of soil fertility. Preliminary results clearly indicate that soil microbial activity remained higher under CA than conventional practices for up to the top 45 cm soil layers. Soil loss due to erosion was reduced by 14% due to the adoption of CA practices compared to the conventionally tilled field. 


Government support:  

  • Seeing the multiple benefits of CA for enhancing the climate resilience of small farmers’ communities and their crop-livestock production systems in drylands, policymakers from different countries (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia) included scaling out CA approaches in their policies within a national effort to stabilize yields and to improve soil health. 


Local Job Creation:    

  • In Algeria, machinery service provision companies supported by an ICARDA-managed CA initiative purchased the newly released Boudour no-till seeders and are renting them to farmers adopting CA, thus responding to the increasing demand for smart agronomic practices. 


  • Farmer-designed technology associated with ICARDA CA uses locally available parts and mechanical skills, creating jobs by expanding the market for repairs and technical services.  



  •  An ICARDA-managed CA initiative facilitated training sessions and showed plots unlocking the demand for CA practices in many niches across dominant cereal production areas. 


  • 1,200 female farmers and 600 youths benefited from ICARDA’s capacity development efforts undertaken in Latin America and the Near East and North Africa region.  

Further Reading:  


Bahri Haithem, Mohamed Annabi, Hatem Cheikh M'hamed, Aymen Frija. 2019. Assessing the long-term impact of conservation agriculture on wheat-based systems in Tunisia using APSIM simulations under a climate change context. Science of the Total Environment, 692, pp. 1223-1233.  


Mourad Rekik, Zied Idoudi, Santiago López Ridaura, Zohra Djender Ghallem, Hatem Cheikh M'hamed, Aymen Frija, Enrico Bonaiuti, Laura Becker, Boubaker Dhehibi, Mina Devkota Wasti, Udo Rudiger, Dina Najjar, Barbara Rischkowsky. (3/1/2021). Use of Conservation Agriculture in Crop-Livestock Systems (CLCA) in the Drylands for Enhanced Water Use Efficiency, Soil Fertility and Productivity in NEN and LAC Countries – Project Progress Report: Year (II) – April 2019 to March 2020. Lebanon: International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).  


Devkota, M., Yigezu Atnafe Yigezu. 2020. Explaining yield and gross margin gaps for sustainable intensification of the wheat-based systems in a Mediterranean climate. Agricultural Systems.