Strengthening resilience in marginal rainfed regions
The conditions that farmers face in the Middle East are already difficult, and they’re expected to get much worse with climate change. Experts predict that the region will be among the worst affected worldwide, and this means lower and more erratic rainfall, extreme water scarcity, harsher land degradation, and rising temperatures.
But, the situation is not hopeless. Research by the Water and Livelihoods Initiative (WLI) reveals practical and cost-effective innovations that have the potential to strengthen resilience and mitigate the effects of climate change – while maintaining yields and protecting the natural resource base that agriculture ultimately depends upon.
Conserving scarce water resources
In marginal rainfed areas where rainfall is low and erratic and irrigation is impractical, simple water harvesting structures offer an affordable option for many rural communities. WLI is working with communities in Jordan and Palestine to build small basins, terraces, check dams and stone bunds that collect rainwater and run-off and conserve soil moisture. These structures provide a lifeline during prolonged dry spells.
Fodder species and strategic crops like barley and wheat have responded well. At one site in Palestine – Thaherya - the construction of 67 hectares of rock terraces, check dams and contour lines has helped farmers collect an additional 81 m3of water, benefiting wheat and olive production. The combination of improved crops and water harvesting is estimated to have generated over 400,000 USD among participating farmers.
Placement of water harvesting structures is aided by remote sensing – 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.
Silage production in Palestine offers an additional form of water saving – through the processing of agricultural by-products to produce critical fodder for animals. The intervention has resulted in improved ewe nutrition, helping to increase dairy production and generate more income for rural communities.
Introducing drought-tolerant wheat varieties
Advances in crop science are also helping to strengthen resilience through the development of new improved crop varieties that are able to tolerate intense heat and drought conditions. The WLI initiative has promoted more resilient varieties of barley and wheat, in addition to fodder species such as altriplex and salsola. In Jordan, the survival rate of fodder has reached 80 percent in locations where water harvesting structures have been introduced.
New varieties are also being introduced alongside the application of Conservation Agriculture - the practice of not plowing farmlands and leaving crop residue in the field, a proven means of stabilizing crop production, reversing land degradation, and raising farmer incomes. The results achieved with conservation agriculture so far are encouraging. In Tunisia, for example, water-use efficiency has increased by 21 percent over conventional practices and output values for olive and barley production have reached 209.8 Tunisian Dinars (TND) per hectare.
Enhancing resilience to pests and disease
In addition to the threat of drought, there is an urgent need to protect crops from pests and diseases that are emerging in new areas due to climate change. WLI is exploring the potential of Integrated Pest Management – a practical and environmentally-friendly approach to pest and disease management that emphasizes cultural and biological interventions and only supports the targeted use of pesticides when alternative methods have been exhausted, costs are not excessive, and there is no threat to existing agro-ecosystems.
This technique, which is being applied in Lebanon’s Beka’a Valley, is being used to regulate the health of apricot and plum trees. Researchers are identifying the main transmitted diseases affecting apricot productivity, and conducting laboratory analyses of the wilting and decline caused by fungi and bacteria. Over 6000 trees have been individually inspected in 24 commercial orchards.
The combined result of all these interventions will be stronger, more resilient communities able to withstand the ever-worsening effects of climate change and maintain agricultural production for generations to come.