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Rainfed Agriculture

Rainfed Agriculture

Rainfed Benchmark Locations in MENA Region

Innovations in rainfed areas

Rainfed marginal areas in the Middle East are characterized by water scarcity, and severe land degradation. Their natural resource base is extremely fragile and many are susceptible to prolonged drought – a threat exacerbated by the effects of climate change. While this situation may appear desperate, adaptation strategies and improved soil, water, and crop management strategies can strengthen resilience and enhance agricultural productivity.

The Water and Livelihoods Initiative (WLI) approaches the challenges facing rainfed agriculture through the introduction of water harvesting, supplemental irrigation, sustainable farming practices, and improved drought-tolerant plant and crop varieties.


  • Water scarcity and susceptibility to prolonged drought

  • Widespread poverty

  • Fragile natural resources and severe land degradation

Marginal rainfed innovations:

  • Water harvesting: researching, constructing, and maintaining water harvesting structures – including check dams, stone bunds, and terraces.

  • Supplemental irrigation practices: a temporal intervention intended to augment natural evapotranspiration during periods of drought or rainfall shortages. Supplemental irrigation involves the addition of relatively small amounts of water to ensure plant survival.

  • Sustainable farming practices: promoting farming practices that make the most of scarce water resources and maintain crop production – including alley cropping and conservation agriculture, a practice that involves not plowing farmlands and leaving crop residue in the field for improved soil fertility and water conservation.

  • Improved drought-tolerant plants and crops: using advanced crop science to breed strategic crops that can tolerate drought; and introducing fodder varieties that can thrive in parched arid environments.

  • Watershed management and modeling: Various models are used depending on the nature of the research. For instance, the Soil Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) is used to compute run-off and sedimentation rates and to help simulate management strategies for improved decision-making.

Selected research activities and results:

  • The placement of water harvesting structures is being aided by Remote Sensing (RS), which provides invaluable information about slope lengths, slope angles, and watershed areas. Rainfall patterns, run-off, and soil profiles are also closely monitored – to ensure effective maintenance and repair following heavy storms and flash floods. RS is also used to monitor changes in vegetation cover in the Jordanian Badia, resulting from the implementation of water and land management practices.

  • At one research site in Palestine – Thaherya - 67 hectares of rock terraces, check dams, and contour lines have been constructed, collecting an additional 81 m3 of water and benefiting wheat and olive production.

  • Some 33 check dams have been constructed at the Majdyya research site in Jordan’s badia region – promoting the growth of important shrubs that are essential for reducing soil erosion, and contribute towards curbing the demand for fodder.

  • Some 10 hectares of contour ridges in Jordan have been planted with the drought-tolerant fodder plant, atriplex. In areas where water harvesting structures have been introduced, the survival rate of fodder plants has reached 80 percent. Barley has also responded well – generating up to 700 kg per dunum in some locations.

  • In Tunisia, the adoption of conservation agriculture has increased water-use efficiency by 21 percent over conventional practices, and output values for olive and barley production have reached 209.8 TND/ha.

  • In Lebanon, the introduction of conservation agriculture in research areas has generated total savings of around 555,000 USD. The cost-benefit ratio is 16 percent higher than the cost-benefit ratio achieved when conservation agriculture is not adopted.