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Piggin says. “ to encourage uptake, nGOs and
government extension services also provide
locally made zero-tillage seeders on loan so
that farmers can trial the technology on part
of their land and compare the cost-benefits to
traditionally cultivated fields.”
in the current season in ninevah, iraq,
there are nearly 100 farmers using zero-till
technology on about 8,000 hectares, up from
52 ha in 2006. there are also several machinery
manufacturing groups starting to build and
market simple zero-till seeders. in Syria, too,
uptake has consistently grown. in 2011–12
this amounted to more than 500 farmers who
planted 30,000 ha using CA, in addition to five
to six local manufacturers making and selling
ACiAr also made it possible to build capacity
among iraq and Syria’s national agricultural,
research and extension organisations. For
instance, the project is supporting six iraqi
scientists to undertake master’s degrees with
project partners at the University of Adelaide and
the University western Australia. Capacity building,
too, is paying dividends as highlighted by the iraqi
universities that now provide CA courses as part of
their curriculum on crop management.
a food securiTy revoluTion
in all, a momentum has been generated that
is establishing ninevah as a centre for
excellence in CA, a vital resource in a region
The environmental advantages
conservation agriculture (ca) can increase
yield and productivity in ways that also
improve environmental health, especially of
soil, water and air-quality resources.
undisturbed soil is able to develop better
structure that absorbs and retains water for
crops more effectively.
nutrients drawn from stubble and other
residues enable better nutrient cycling.
crop residues physically protect soil to
reduce wind and water erosion by up to 96%.
Biological activity continues uninterrupted
and nutrient-rich organic matter is left to
There is better retention of water, soil and
inputs such as fertiliser, herbicides and
pesticides in the field.
The effects of agricultural run-off such as silting
and polluting of water bodies are reduced.
Rural air pollution and haze caused by
farmers burning crop stubble is eliminated.
Fields are less prone to rise as dust or dust
greenhouse gas emissions are reduced
since less nitrogen fertiliser and fossil fuels
are needed and the soil is better able to
improved water-use efficiency helps to
better conserve diminishing water resources
such as groundwater.
icarda’s Temporary home
deposited in gene banks across its regional network. curators from aleppo
have now relocated to offices in Tunisia and Morocco—nations that operate
excellent national gene bank facilities. seed was also sent to the svalbard
‘doomsday vault’ in norway for long-term safekeeping.
The decentralisation of icaRda activities was further eased by the
backup of all the research, financial and corporate data and documents
outside of syria.
as to icaRda’s crop Management group in charge of the iraq project,
it is now based in amman, jordan, where icaRda has cultivated valuable
links with jordan’s agricultural sector, especially the national centre for
agricultural Research and extension. This has enabled us to re-create the
field demonstration sites we need to train visiting iraqi scientists, just as we
used to do in syria’s 1,000-hectare research station.
We have also linked up with a local machinery manufacturer that has
supplied iraq for the past 20 to 30 years. They are involved in converting
their conventional machinery to zero tillage, for which they see a growing
market in the region.
While the loss of the aleppo facilities is a tragedy—and everyone
hopes this is a temporary state of affairs—it is not the first time civil strife
has overwhelmed a research centre from the consultative group on
international agricultural Research. With careful planning, flexibility and
good use of its excellent regional network and facilities, icaRda research
for development activities continues unabated.
FrOM Dr COLIn PIGGIn AnD VArIOuS ICArDA SOurCeS
The general uprising of the arab spring spilled over into syria in March
nearly two years ago. everybody at the international center for agricultural
Research in the dry areas (icaRda) was initially confident it would be
resolved, but things just kept getting worse. The unrest and disruption is
pretty extreme at the moment.
icaRda kept operating as best it could until the unrest escalated in june
2012. i was there in aleppo at the time and there was a lot of bombing,
gunfire and uncertainty over who was manning the many road blocks. at
icaRda, the main research station was looted, the sheep unit facilities were
damaged and the centre lost vehicles, farm machinery and computers.
When several icaRda staff were kidnapped the situation became
untenable. despite their safe return after about a week, all international
staff were evacuated to regional offices and research stations in jordan,
lebanon, egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and ethiopia.
a few months later, heavy fighting broke out in aleppo and icaRda’s
headquarters were occupied by anti-government forces.
also evacuated safely was icaRda’s priceless gene bank. it holds more
than 110,000 accessions selected for their genetic diversity that includes
important variation in heat and drought tolerance in crops such as wheat
and chickpeas. The collection was spared by looters and its importance has
been recognised by the anti-government rebel forces.
The gene bank was duplicated by icaRda in 2012 and seed was
where farmers increasingly struggle with
parched and strained farmland.
“ the ninevah project has created a very
good base for expanding the technology to
more farmers,” Dr Piggin says. “ACiAr is taking
advantage, extending the iraq project into a
third term to assist rollout of the technology
beyond ninevah to three neighbouring
governorates—Anbar, Salahuddin and Kirkuk.”
Farmers and scientists from these
additional governorates are being invited to
visit ninevah to learn about the technology
before implementing research work and field
demonstration sites of their own. these will
provide a base for extension services to farmers
to raise awareness and provide experience with
this extension process includes the purchase
of eight zero-till seeders for the new participating
governorates from the collaborating
manufacturers in Syria (the purchase was made
before iraq achieved the capacity to provide this
machinery). that means growing numbers of
farmers are in a position to try the technology for
themselves on their own farms.
Further afield, an ACiAr scoping study in the
wider region identified additional opportunities
for iCArDA to adapt and adopt CA in the wider
Maghreb region of northern Africa—an area
that includes Morocco, tunisia, Algeria, Libya,
Sudan and eritrea.
A five-year project was launched in 2012
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