Date palms have long been an integral part of the irrigated farming systems of central and southern Iraq. Dates and their products represent an important source of household income, especially in rural areas. As well as its nutritional value, date palm provides food and fuel, and can even be used in construction.
However, date palms are susceptible to damage from several insect pests such as the Dubas bug, various species of stem borer and the Lesser Date Moth, which have caused serious and significant reductions in date palm productivity and quality in recent years.
The most obvious practical obstacle to the uptake of conservation agriculture (CA) in Iraq is that zero-tillage (ZT) seeders are not commercially available. Uncultivated soil is much harder than tilled soil, and the springs and tines on conventional seeders are unable to sow the seed and fertilizer at a consistent depth. What’s more, conventional seeders are prone to the build-up of crop residues and mud on their tines, causing blockages and ineffective seed distribution.
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.
As part of the HSAD initiative in Iraq, ICARDA plant scientists recently set up field trials to identify sustainable sources of livestock feed. By comparing the performance of four species of grass, ICARDA and Iraqi scientists hope to identify long-term forage options that can withstand conditions of drought as well as salinity. The aim then is to encourage widespread uptake of the resilient species, thereby increasing food security and farmer incomes in the country.
ICARDA plant scientists working on the HSAD project in Iraq are currently testing a new method of controlling Dubas bug infestations in date palm orchards. By applying the botanical insecticide Oxymetrin, which poses minimal risk to the environment and human health, the scientists have so far obtained a 50% increase in date palm yields, compared with non-treated orchards. The findings pave the way for widespread use of this new alternative to conventional pesticides, many of which are toxic to humans and wildlife.
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.
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