Raising productivity while conserving vulnerable natural resources

Conservation agriculture – the practice of not plowing farmlands and leaving crop residue in the field for improved soil fertility and water conservation – 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 in the dry areas of the developing world where climate change is predicted to have its most acute effects.

These effects are already taking their toll in the dry areas of Iraq where farmers are forced to contend with increasing drought and water scarcity. HSAD is therefore prioritizing conservation agriculture as a means of mitigating these constraints and sustaining production against a backdrop of shifting climate patterns. Successes in Iraq will be ‘scaled-up’ to other dry areas where the technique demonstrates significant potential. 

Efforts to extend the technique will be informed by the successes of an ICARDA-managed initiative funded by AusAid and the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), which has convinced a growing number of previously skeptical Iraq farmers to adopt conservation agriculture on their lands. Since its inception in 2005, the area devoted to conservation cropping has expanded to over 10,800 hectares. 

Recent developments suggest this expansion is likely to continue. For instance, considerable progress has been made in the development of locally-manufactured seeders – a significant development given that the costs of imported machinery are too excessive for the vast majority of Iraq’s farmers. And farmers continue to become convinced of the technique’s efficacy through participatory workshops and farmer field schools – almost 30 of these events were held throughout Iraq last year.    

Moving ahead, the Project plans to extend these successes to other Iraqi provinces, further develop the construction of seeders, and multiply pioneer seed that can be included in zero tillage sowing. Socio-economic and bio-physical studies will also be conducted in areas of implementation to monitor adoption and progress.       

Lessons learned will complement HSAD’s efforts to raise awareness and promote the adoption of conservation agriculture. Targeting the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, initial activities will involve baseline surveys to identify the agricultural machinery that can be adapted and used in areas of implementation. These will inform the Program’s next steps and subsequent training sessions delivered to the region’s smallholder farmers.

As the case for conservation agriculture continues to be made, and an increasing number of farmers become convinced of the technique’s efficacy, HSAD is offering farmers a proven means to confront an increasingly harsh environment while continuing to maintain their productivity and sustain rural economies.