ICARDA’s North Africa Regional Program works with national agricultural research institutions in Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia. It tackles the challenges of low and highly variable rainfall, extreme temperatures, short cropping seasons, poor soils, poor infrastructure, and unsupportive policies.
The Program is working to reduce poverty in the region through natural resource conservation, improved crop and livestock productivity, diversification of production systems and incomes, human resources capacity building, and networking.
Developing low-cost livestock feeds
Projects in North Africa have widened the range of low-cost livestock feeds farmers have at their disposal. Feed blocks, shrubs (Atriplex numelaria, Acacia spp.) and cactus (Opuntia spp.), techniques such as alley cropping shrubs and cactus with barley, oats, feed legumes or native vegetation, and dual-purpose barley varieties have significantly reduced the cost of feeding livestock and reduced farmers’ dependence on rangelands.
Improving livestock management
Farmers, working with the program, are using specially bred rams to improve their flocks. This, coupled with other techniques introduced by the Program – feeding plans, culls of weak animals, and group mating – has improved the productivity of flocks. Animals fetch higher prices, especially when raised to be market-ready during Eid El Adha and Ramadan.
Monitoring rangeland degradation
The program uses remote sensing and geographic information systems to monitor rangelands. This has shown that, in the last twenty years, the area of crops has expanded by up to a fifth, encroaching on rangelands. In the degraded areas the quality of grazing has fallen as livestock over-graze the more palatable plants.
Improving water management
Farmers have adopted water harvesting and supplemental irrigation techniques introduced by the program. The techniques make best use of rain, surface water, and groundwater. In Morocco, the program introduced farmers to a no-till technique to conserve water that boosted wheat yields by at least 25%, and sometimes by 300%, compared to yields under previous methods.
Building community capacity
In Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, governments have adopted the program’s community development approach to empower communities in low rainfall areas. Plans developed by communities integrate the technical, institutional and policy aspects of development. Combined with the sustainable livelihoods approach, community development plans enable rural communities to identify their strengths, needs, and opportunities, and develop ways to move forward.
Developing value chains
Developing value chains for products such as honey, olive oil, cheese, and goat meat improves incomes in rural areas. Work to improve the value chains for medicinal herbs and aromatic plants indigenous to the region has resulted in two- to four-fold increases in marginal profits in southern Tunisia, for example. In Tunisia a national network of research, development, non-government, and private sector organizations to develop value chains has been set up.
The Government of Tunisia has also prepared a national strategy for medicinal, herbal, and aromatic plants that builds on the results of NARP projects to collect and conserve species such as Allium roseum, Artemisia herb-alba, and Rosmarinus officinalis, and to identify market opportunities.
Farmers are growing new drought-tolerant durum wheat varieties resistant to the pervasive pest Hessian fly. Local seed enterprises that multiply seed, and small enterprises adding value to durum such as producing couscous, pasta, and frikeh, are helping boost farmer’s incomes.
The North Africa Regional Program, working with countries in the region and other CGIAR centers, will tackle key problems facing the North African region:
- Recurrent drought and increasing threats posed by climate change
- Water scarcity and inefficient water use
- Limited land resources and continuing desertification
- Persistent rural poverty
- Insufficient investment in science and technology in agricultural research;
- Unfavorable policies