Agricultural research for development priorities and achievements in the dry areas of the Central and West Asia and North Africa region

JIRCAS International Symposium Proceedings
Full text

The Central and West Asia and North Africa (CWANA) region extends from Morocco and Mauratania
in the West to Kazakistan in the East and Turkey in the North to Ethiopia and Eritrea in the South. It represents
the largest dry land area region in the developing world. Much of the area is characterized by a Mediterranean
climate with cold wet winters and dry and hot summer season. Rainfed agriculture is therefore practiced only in
winter season. Rainfall is low and highly variable both temporally as well as in magnitude. Drought is therefore of
common occurrence in several parts, of the region. CWANA is one of the most water scarce regions in the world.
Increasing use of groundwater to meet the demands for domestic and agricultural purposes, far in excess of the
recharge, is causing serious environmental threat. Soils are poor in fertility and highly susceptible to water and
wind erosion. The region has one of the highest rates of population growth, which is accentuating pressure on the
natural resources of land, water and biodiversity. High per capita cereal consumption and low domestic production
has made the region the largest importer of grains. Poverty is widespread and is a major cause of rural to urban and
the South to the North migration. There is vicious cycle of poverty and natural resource degradation. Agriculture
however continues to be the main economic activity on which the livelihood of the majority of the people in the
region depends. Sustainable development of agriculture, particularly in the dry areas which were bypassed by the
‘green revolution’, is therefore a key to meeting several Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly
those related to poverty alleviation, food security, and improved nutrition and health of children and women.
The key natural resource limiting agricultural production in the dry areas is water. The West Asia and North
Africa (WANA) sub-region of CWANA faces the most serious threat of water shortage, as the per capita renewable
water supply here is less than 1500 m3 and it is expected to fall to less than 700 m3 by the year 2025, well below
the water poverty threshold of 1000 m3. Even in the Central Asia and Caucasus (CAC) sub-region water scarcity
is increasing and excessive water withdrawals from rivers have caused environmental disasters as typifi ed by Aral
Sea region. Global climate change is predicted to make the drier areas of CWANA more dry and hot with severe
consequences for agriculture and animal husbandry there. With such serious situation regarding the renewable
water supply in CWANA, the major priority for research for sustainable development of agriculture in the dry
areas of CWANA is all aspects of enhancing water availability and its use-effi ciency and productivity. CWANA
is also the region for domestication of major food and feed crops and livestock, and therefore has the centers
of their genetic mega-diversity. This biodiversity is threatened because of the increasing population pressure.
Conservation and sustainable use of this biodiversity is essential not only for the present but also for the future,
particularly in light of the more extreme weather conditions expected in the future because of climate change.
Biodiversity collection, characterization, conservation and utilization research has therefore emerged as the next
important priority area. Desertifi cation and land degradation is another major threat to agriculture. Vast areas in
CWANA are under rangelands that are being degraded because of overuse in response to increasing population
pressure. Rehabilitation of degraded rangelands and preventing degradation of productive ones through research
on integrated crop-livestock systems and natural resource management is another priority in CWANA. The region
has a rich heritage of indigenous knowledge, which had enabled the rural people to make sustainable use of the
limited natural resources in the desert margins and degraded lands in the past. Unfortunately, increased population
pressure, breakdown of traditional social institutions and inappropriate policy environment has caped the
affectivity of such traditional knowledge, and it is under threat of extinction. Proper documentation of traditional
knowledge and the adaptation of its elements in the context of modern agriculture are essential for sustainable
agricultural development.
The national agricultural research systems (NARS) of CWANA, in partnership with regional agricultural
research institutes, international agricultural research centers (IARCs), and advanced research institutes (ARIs)
in the North and the South, and with fi nancial support from donors, are devoting research efforts on these priority areas to achieve food and nutritional security, improved livelihoods for their people and to ensure sustainable use
of natural resources and protect environment. The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas
(ICARDA) is the only Center operating under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
(CGIAR) that has its headquarters in this region. It is therefore playing a pivotal role in undertaking relevant
research on priority research areas that are harmonized with the priorities identifi ed by the NARS in collaboration
with sub-regional agricultural forums (AARINENA in the WANA sub-region and CACARI in the CAC subregion)
and the priorities identifi ed by the CGIAR System through its Science Council. These priorities excellently
address the needs for meeting the major MDGs.
ICARDA seeks to improve the welfare of people in the dry areas of the developing world by increasing
production and nutritional quality of food while preserving and enhancing natural resource base through research,
training and dissemination of information, in partnership with NARS, national governments, other IARCs (e.g.
CIMMYT, ICRISAT, IFPRI, ILRI, IPGRI, IWMI), ARIs (including JIRCAS and ALRC of Tottori University),
civil society organizations (CSOs), and donor agencies (including JICA). ICARDA has global responsibility
for improvement of three important food crops (barley, lentil, and faba bean), and the sustainable management
of natural resources in the dry areas, especially enhancing the on-farm water-use efficiency. The regional
responsibilities of the Center focus on improvement of wheat (with CIMMYT), Kabuli chickpea (with ICRISAT)
and forage and pasture crops and rangeland management with small ruminants in CWANA. The Center’s strategy
is to engage NARS and CSOs in the region, sister IARCs, and the ARIs from all over the world into a research
continuum that ensures that tools of cutting edge research are harnessed to meet the challenge of sustainable
development of agriculture in the dry areas. This strategy has resulted in significant achievements and has
positively affected the economic wellbeing of the people and the sustainable management and conservation of
natural resources of land, water and biodiversity in CWANA and the dry areas in other developing countries. The
spillover has also benefi ted the dry land agriculture in several industrialized countries.
ICARDA’s genebank holds the largest collection in the Mediterranean region, about 131,000 accessions
of cultigens (landraces as well as elite material) and wild relatives of its mandate crops, most of which are
geo-referenced, characterized and well documented. About 35,000 samples are distributed to collaborators
for use in breeding programs. ICARDA scientists and their partners have effectively used this biodiversity for
improving adaptation of the mandate crops for yield and yield stability under moisture limited environment and
responsiveness to improved moisture supply. Molecular tools and analytical physiological research have helped
in making fast progress in identifying desirable genes for such adaptation and their incorporation in suitable
phenotypes. Collaboration with ARIs, including JIRCAS, has been very rewarding in this research. Tolerance
to common biotic stresses has been combined with adaptation to drought and improved water use efficiency.
Participatory breeding involving farmers has helped in faster crop improvement for marginal environments. Crop
management techniques to enhance productivity per unit amount of water under rain-fed and supplemental/defi cit
irrigation have been developed. Water harvesting techniques, using remote sensing and geographical information
system, have been developed and disseminated. Work on use of marginal quality water for use in forestry, raising
biomass for renewable energy and for feed production has been promising. People-centered participatory research
on use of natural resources has helped in identifi cation of promising options for interventions acceptable to local
communities. Crop-livestock integration research and research on use of vetches for early weaning of lambs,
reseeding degraded pastures with native vegetation and intercropping with saltbush and spineless cacti with barley
has helped in improving the productivity of small ruminants and reducing degradation of rangelands. Policy and
institutional research has helped identifying factors that could enhance the adoption of improved technologies by
farmers and herders and increase the impact of research.

Date of issued
Creator Mohan Chandra Saxena


Crop Improvement


Drought Tolerance

Natural Resource Management

Research for

Publisher Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences
Available Online
Issue 2007
spage 52
epage 59
Rights Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences
Language eng

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