Wheat technology ‘packages’ transform food security in Arab Countries

 Improved wheat varieties plus implementation of appropriate practices has made a radical difference to the productivity of small small farmers

Sultan Ahmed Al-Othman, a young wheat farmer, struggled to increase the productivity of his small farm in Maru-Qusabat, a village located outside Irbid in northern Jordan. Even though agriculture is part of his village’s history, Sultan had little knowledge how to improve his crop yield. Traditional farming techniques often resulted in crop failures, as he struggled with changing patterns in rainfall and drought. Additionally, disease and grass weeds were a common problem risking his harvest every season. With his land only marginally productive, it was often difficult for Sultan to feed his family.

 Sultan (pictured above) is one of 25,000 farmers across 10 countries who have benefited from the initiative

Sultan is one of 25,000 farmers across 10 countries who have benefited from the initiative

Sultan was wary of new technologies. But with little to lose, he agreed to participate in the project which used his land as a demonstration site. When he saw the results, he changed his mind. He adopted the new technologies, benefiting most from improved wheat varieties and new knowledge on applying agricultural inputs, which increased his yield three-fold (average yield gain 28%). Sultan is now a proud farmer as older farmers seek his guidance after seeing his productive fields. He is not only training others on the improved technology methods and new knowledge, but leasing land from other farmers to enjoy increased crop yields and a growing income.

Sultan is one of the over 25,000 farmers across 10 countries who benefited from the “Enhancing Food Security in Arab Countries” initiative over the last four years. The initiative used large-scale interventions to improve yields and stabilize wheat productivity in the dryland countries across North Africa and West Asia. The food security situation in these countries faces an enormous risk with scarce natural resources, made worse by climate change and pressure from rapidly growing populations.
The initiative disseminated technology packages of improved wheat varieties with agronomic practices such as conservation agriculture and efficient use of scarce water resources at both country and farmer levels through adaptive research. These packages were tailored to suit the irrigated and rainfed (with and without supplemental irrigation) production systems across beneficiary countries – Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Iraq, and Palestine.
The resounding large-scale success of the Arab Food Security initiative stems from its emphasis on the rapid dissemination of tested technologies, and their scaling out to other areas in the country through a strong integration of research and extension. Another key strategy has been the Young Agricultural Scientists Program, which is bridging the skills gap nationally – a major constraint in enabling a food secure future in Arab countries.
The Young Agricultural Scientists Program trained motivated young scientists, men and women, from beneficiary countries to build their expertise in areas that relate to the enhancement of wheat and other major crops’ productivity. The trainees worked alongside ICARDA’s scientists on research areas such as plant breeding, biotechnology, plant protection, irrigation, water and soil management, plant nutrition, conservation agriculture, seed technology, agricultural economics and socioeconomics. A total of 34 young scientists have been mentored and trained thus far through the initiative’s Young Agricultural Scientist Program.
The initiative, funded by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, Islamic Development Bank and OPEC Fund for International Development, is now set to scale out the successes for larger gains. The beneficiary countries are convinced of the potential of research outcomes and are now entering into the second phase of the initiative to achieve food security through increased yields and stabilized wheat production.

Major outcomes from the first phase of the Arab Food Security Project (2011-2014):

  • A total of 25,700 farmers benefited thus far from project results and trainings through field days, farmer schools, and travelling workshops
  • An average of 28% increase in wheat yield achieved across all countries – from large-scale demonstrations of improved wheat varieties and agronomic practices on farmers’ fields
  • Transformative impacts in irrigated systems from mechanized raised-bed planting innovated for smallholders – an average of 25% saving in irrigation water, 30% increase in wheat yeild, and 74% improvement in water use efficiency demonstrated on farmer fields in Egypt. The total area under raised-bed planting reached 21,250 ha in Al-Sharkia province alone, with more scaling-out in progress
  • Substantial improvements in rainfed systems – providing a 45% gain in yields in Yemen and gains of 24% in Jordan and Tunisia
  • Helping farmers adapt to climate change through conservation agriculture. No-till systems increased wheat yields by 16% in Syria, 20% in Jordan, and 50% in Morocco.
  • 34 young scientists mentored and trained through the Project’s Young Scientist Training Program.

See more here.

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