Promotion of conservation agriculture gathers pace

Conservation agriculture (CA) – the practice of not plowing farmlands and leaving crop residues in the field to improve soil fertility and save water – is a proven and cost-effective approach that balances yields, conserves resources, and increases efficiency. Applied across many middle- and high-income countries, it holds significant potential for farmers confronting climate change in the dry areas of the developing world.
Since farmers in Iraq are already experiencing increasing drought and water scarcity, HSAD is prioritizing CA as a means of mitigating these constraints. Successes in Iraq will be scaled-up to other dry areas informed by an ICARDA-managed initiative that has convinced many previously skeptical Iraqi farmers to adopt CA. Since it began in 2005, the area devoted to CA has expanded to over 10,800 hectares and looks set to grow further.
The critical first key step in the promotion of CA is to raise awareness of the technique among farmers and the national agricultural research and extension systems they depend on. This is achieved through participatory workshops and farmer field schools – almost 30 of these were held throughout Iraq in 2013. For example, two training courses targeting the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq were held at the Ankawa Research Center during the last quarter of the year with participants from Erbil, Duhok, Sulaymaniyeh, and Gamian.
A four-day introductory course was also held in October with the aim of raising the awareness of Ministry staff about CA and building their capacity to promote it. Participants learned the principles of CA and its components and their role in improving crop production, soil health, and farm incomes. They were also introduced to the use of participatory extension approaches in CA. This course was attended by 16 researchers and extensionists.
A second four-day course in November focused on zero-tillage (ZT) machinery. It aimed to introduce the Ministry’s agricultural machinery specialists to the principles of ZT seeding and seeder calibration. Participants learned how to evaluate the performance of seeders and how to convert conventional seeders to ZT seeders. A number of farmers also attended parts of this course together with 13 Ministry specialists.