Pioneering agro-forestry techniques bring higher productivity

ICARDA plant scientists are currently pioneering an innovative agroforestry approach to increasing agricultural production in Iraq. As part of the HSAD initiative, ICARDA and Iraqi scientists have been planting shrubs alongside traditional field crops at a site designed to showcase the benefits of the ‘alley cropping’ technique. The scientists aim to show that alley cropping can have huge benefits for agriculture in a country where drought, soil and water salinity, and water logging are commonplace.

Agroforestry is an integrated approach that combines trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock, for the benefit of both. One form of agroforestry is alley cropping, in which crop strips alternate with rows of tree or hedge species. In Iraq, this approach has several advantages: it yields a greater productivity per unit area than arable crops alone; it uses off-season precipitation which would otherwise go to waste; it supplies green fodder at a time of year when sources are generally low; it provides extra employment during the off-season; and, when trees are planted along the contours of sloping land, it forms a barrier to run-off, holds silt, and conserves moisture.

ICARDA’s demonstration site for alley cropping is at Al-Mahalabia, in the Nineveh province of Iraq. Here, the team has already established one hectare of the drought-tolerant salt bush, Atriplex halimus. Two thousand more seedlings of Atriplex species will be planted on the site during the next season.

At the Al-Mahalabia site, the ICARDA team aims to show farmers how to implement alley cropping to increase yields and make their agricultural systems more resilient to variations in environmental conditions. The team has held one field day already, and more events are in the pipeline.

Information provided at the ICARDA field days includes advice on suitable companion crops and grazing management techniques. By promoting alley cropping in this way, ICARDA hopes that this robust and sustainable form of agriculture will become widespread, thereby improving nutrition and strengthening food security for all Iraqis.