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Scientists and policy makers discuss agricultural research results and priorities for Central Asia and the Caucasus.


More than 50 scientists and policy makers from 15 countries recently met in Fergana, Uzbekistan, to discuss on-going research projects and future plans to increase food production and boost agricultural development in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The Steering Committee for the ICARDA-hosted CGIAR Regional Program for Sustainable Agricultural Development in Central Asia and the Caucasus (CAC) reviewed the achievements of the Program over the past year and discussed future targets and priorities.


The meeting was attended by senior policy officers from regional Ministries of Agriculture, the directors of agricultural research from national institutions in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and director generals and senior scientists of international agricultural research centers. Representatives from several international development and donor organizations also joined.


The CAC region is faced with a plethora of challenges stemming from climate change, land degradation and growing concern over the availability and quality of water resources. All this calls for new integrated approaches to ensuring sustainable agricultural production and food security, and improving rural livelihoods.


In addition to the regional program, these challenges are being tackled head-on by the ICARDA-led CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems, launched in 2013, through which research is now in progress in three trans-boundary ‘Action Sites,’ in the Aral Sea Region, the Rasht Valley, and the Fergana Valley.


The meeting discussed progress in this, and other CGIAR Research Programs active within the region - including ‘Wheat,’ ‘Dryland Cereals,’ ‘Water, Land and Ecosystems,’ and ‘Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security.’ Participants exchanged knowledge on how agricultural innovations are improving climate change adaptation and water management in the CAC region, and how on-going research projects were enhancing the productivity and sustainability of agricultural production.


Recent successes include: over 67 crop varieties released through international collaboration; the seed multiplication of stripe rust-resistant crop varieties across 1050 hectares (ha) in Uzbekistan and 1000 ha in Tajikistan; and the introduction of conservation agriculture techniques over 1,900,000 in Kazakhstan.


Given that delegations from eight CAC countries were present, the meeting also helped to identify country priorities, needs and capacities in agricultural research for development. More importantly, however, the meeting set the scene for a ministerial meeting on food security and environmental sustainability, planned to be held in Turkmenistan in December.


The meeting also included a subsequent visit to research and demonstration sites in Fergana province, where participants interacted with farmers and local authorities.


For more information on the CGIAR Regional Program for Sustainable Agricultural Development in Central Asia and the Caucasus (CAC) visit:        

The Fergana meeting concluded with a subsequent visit to a research and demonstration site in Fergana province, where participants interacted with farmers and local authorities.




‘SARD-SC Wheat’: Raising Africa’s wheat production


Wheat consumption is rising rapidly in sub-Saharan Africa and imports account for over 70% of the region’s needs. Change is needed to protect ordinary Africans from the vagaries of global commodity markets and strengthen the continent’s wheat security – without change, the Continent’s population will remain vulnerable to sudden food price hikes.


Nigeria, for instance, currently imports four million tons of wheat, spending $4 billion on the commodity every year – a figure that is expected to reach $10 billion by 2030 when Nigerians are predicted to consume over 10 million tons of imported wheat to satisfy their growing demand for non-traditional foods like pasta, noodles, and bread.


In Africa we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. The status quo – the ever-expanding demand-supply gap – is unsustainable and a cause of many societal problems, including widespread hunger and periodic violence.


ICARDA and its national and CGIAR partners are attempting to address these challenges through a region-wide initiative that aims to boost domestic production – seeing this strategy as the principal means of tackling Africa’s rising import dependence.


Leading the wheat component of Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa (SARD-SC), funded by the African Development Bank, ICARDA is managing an integrated strategy that incorporates the following activities:


  • - The development and dissemination of improved high-yielding wheat varieties
  • - Fast-track seed multiplication programs
  • - The promotion of proven technologies and farming practices
  • - Policy intervention packages to create the right enabling environment.


Recent impacts suggest that wheat production in sub-Saharan Africa has significant potential. The impressive performance of improved varieties of high-yielding, heat-tolerant wheat – now generating 5 to 6 t/ha in Kano and Borno States – has convinced Nigerian policymakers to invest in domestic wheat production.


The application of integrated pest management – a practical and environmentally-friendly approach to pest control which combines an extensive range of techniques to control and prevent the growth and spread of pest populations – is also generating positive results, for instance boosting wheat yields in Sudan and reducing farmer dependence on unsustainable chemical pest management strategies.


Researchers have also identified potential high-yielding, heat-tolerant wheat varieties for further distribution to smallholder farmers – over 300 in Sudan, 12 in Eritrea, 8 in Kenya, and 32 in Zambia.


Complementing the identification of potential wheat varieties, SARD-SC researchers are exploring agronomic options to drive production gains – including conservation agriculture and crop rotation in Ethiopia, and optimum seed and fertilizer rates in Sudan and Zimbabwe.


Finally, in order to determine the main constraints holding-back the adoption of new technologies, socio-economic studies have also been conducted with rural communities in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Sudan, helping to improve delivery mechanisms. A key constraint that emerged was an inadequate supply of improved seed – which could be overcome through the development of on-farm, low-cost seed production and storage facilities.


The progress of SARD-SC Wheat can be followed at:       

The ICARDA-managed wheat component of the SARD-SC Initiative is raising Africa’s wheat production.




Ethiopia: establishing a sustainably-managed watershed


An ICARDA-managed project is aiming to unlock the agricultural potential of the Amhara region in Ethiopia, helping to empower farmers to improve their livelihoods while adapting their production systems to climate change.


Recognizing that an under- and low-performing agricultural sector is directly linked to food insecurity, this project is working with communities in the Gumara-Maksegnit basin, a typical watershed in the upper catchment of the Blue Nile River and Lake Tana, to demonstrate the benefits of successful community-based rainfed watershed management.


Funding has been provided by Austrian Development Cooperation, the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems, and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security.


Adopting a ‘systems approach,’ partners are implementing, testing, and fine-tuning soil and water conservation interventions, constructing rainwater harvesting ponds, and introducing improved crop varieties and agronomic practices. The ultimate aim is to establish a sustainably-managed watershed that communities themselves can carry forward.


Recent activities have included an effort by researchers and local communities to conduct a land use study covering the period from 1986 to 2007, which revealed a drastic decrease in forest cover and grassland. The study serves as a warning to policymakers that improvements must be made to land-use policies to prevent the further degradation of natural resources.


A recent workshop, held in Gonda by the Gumara-Maksegnit Watershed Project, engaged a team of researchers on the importance of considering gender and imparted skills in designing and planning gender-sensitive research for development projects. Women farmers are primary role players in Ethiopian agriculture, accounting for up to 75 per cent of labor on the country’s family farms.


Finally, the participatory selection of cereal and legume varieties has successfully raised the incomes of farmers – the improved varieties offer higher yields, drought-tolerance, and disease resistance, and farmers have increased their crop production by 27-56 per cent. The new varieties were developed by Ethiopia’s national agricultural research system and ICARDA.


For more information on the Community-Based Rainfed Watershed Management Project visit:       

The initiative is working with rural communities in Ethiopia’s Amhara region to establish a sustainably-managed watershed.




Investing in Rangelands: Agro-Ecological monitoring of Jordanian ‘action sites’


Rangelands are vast landscapes in the world’s poorest non-tropical dry areas characterized by low productivity and potential. A large number of rural communities use range resources – including wood products and livestock forage in agricultural work. However, repetitive droughts and overgrazing have led to widespread land degradation.


In an attempt to increase the productivity of rangelands and design sustainable and efficient rangeland rehabilitation and restoration programs, Dryland Systems has researched best-bet methods to improve rangeland management, concluding that scientific methods need to replace the traditional monitoring methods still used by many rural communities.


Reflecting this need, a ‘training of trainers’ was recently organized in Jordan to build the capacity of National Agricultural Researchers (NARS). Twenty field experts representing Syria, Jordan, India, Tunisia, Tajikistan, Algeria, and Pakistan attended the training – their attendance was sponsored by Dryland Systems, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS), an IFAD-funded project, Crop Livestock Conservation Agriculture (CLCA), and a US AID-funded project, Promoting Science and Innovation in Agriculture in Pakistan (PSAIP).


The first part of the training focused on rangeland assessment. Participants were informed about the dynamic nature of plant community responses to climate fluctuations (drought or wet conditions) and man-made disturbances (mainly overgrazing), which make short and long-term monitoring of rangelands essential. Ground cover is another key indicator of rangeland degradation due to the high percentage of litter and the portion of bare ground exposed to the erosive impact of rain.


“Technology advances in the geo-spatial sciences have created new opportunities for vegetation and ecosystem monitoring. We have been implementing recent scientific techniques and have introduced ‘Digital Vegetation Charting Technique’ to our trainers,” says Mounir Louhaichi, a senior rangeland expert and a leader of the Rangeland Ecology & Management activity within the Dryland Systems research team. “We think it will improve the performance and decision making of local field experts to analyze what happens in their areas and to propose informed policy options to their institutions when needed,” he says.


Course Participants received hands-on experience using customized software to assess rangeland vegetation. They will take this knowledge back to their home country, not only to implement the new technique, but also to disseminate this knowledge to national institutions. Moving forward, there are plans to repeat the training throughout the dryland regions targeted by the Program.


The Progress of the ICARDA-led CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems can be followed here:       

Course participants got hands-on experience using customized software to assess rangeland vegetation.




New online resource supports sustainable land management in Central Asia


Effective knowledge management adds value to agricultural research for development. It consolidates crucial information, helping to disseminate the solutions that rural communities and other partners need to address constraints and put in place sustainable land management strategies. It also helps to promote strategies and tools with the potential to help farmers optimize opportunities and raise their productivity, incomes, and livelihoods.


Acting as an information repository and knowledge hub, a new website will help to increase the use of innovations developed by the well-established IFAD-funded CACILM Project – The Central Asian Countries Initiative for Land Management. Its synthesis, compilation, and dissemination of current research provide a secure knowledge base that policymakers and other stakeholders can access and utilize to develop sustainable strategies capable of addressing the region’s severe land degradation.


Validated by researchers from partner countries, the technologies will offer solutions to help mitigate the impacts of climate change which is already causing widespread degradation through low and variable rainfall, prolonged droughts, and more frequent heat and cold stresses.


Over time, the website will be used to store data and technical documentation, as well as capturing and synthesizing useful findings and initiating direct communication and engagement with key audiences in both English and Russian. Ultimately, the website aims to generate a behavioral change among target groups, simultaneously raising awareness and informing countries, communities, and farmers of the proven practices and technologies they will need to reduce land degradation and secure a more productive future.


To access the CACILM information repository and knowledge hub visit:       

The new CACILM website acts as a repository of information and knowledge related to sustainable land management in Central Asia.