Enhancing Food Security in Arab Countries - Phase II 2015-2017 External Evaluation Report

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The “Enhancing Food Security in Arab Countries” project (EFSAC) is an outstanding innovation to mobilize interventions to time-honored food production systems throughout a region having common environmental features. Thus, a transnational project using transdisciplinary approaches is highly relevant and is a concept that is only now becoming more widely advocated (Eigenbrode et al., 2018). The project was built on prior research that showed how food production may be increased to narrow the ‘yield gap’ between research situations and farmer’s fields. The innovation of selecting ‘lead’ farmers and applying yield-enhancing interventions on whole fields was an outstanding success. The appropriate field-scale comparisons to nearby fields that did not apply these technologies, called technology packages, showed an average of 25 % higher yields over all nine countries in EFSAC. This figure represents a good estimate of the true yield gap and this was well-noticed by the thousands of farmers and specialists who attended field days. The lead farmers became mentors to nearby farmers who, in some cases, formed ‘clusters’ of interested observers. We want to emphasize that EFSAC was an elegantly conceived project technically and from socio-economic realities. Results obtained were outstanding, as can be judged by the following single outcome: The adoption of new technology packages of practices showed great promise in reducing the yield gap for wheat production in each of the countries participating in the project. During this evaluation, interviews with farmers and administrators expressed great interest and satisfaction with the project. The Technical and Steering Committees provided guidance and decisions that were respected in the field. Leadership by ICARDA was a key to gel the various activities of the participants. The sites chosen in each country were representative of local agriculture. EFSAC demonstrated over a seven-year period of phase I and II that implementation of technology packages resulted in greater productivity over traditional cropping systems. But this is only one step in the development chain toward sustainable gains diffused throughout the agricultural communities of the nine countries in the project. The technology packages included ‘best’ practices for wheat production, including land preparation, nutrient fertilization, water-saving methods, and introduction of high-performing varieties of bread or durum wheat. The project introduced to farmers relatively new concepts, such as raised-bed cultivation for better irrigation, no-till production, adaptation of new wheat varieties, reduced seeding rate, among other innovations. Timing of pest management and fertilization was critical and innovations for communication to farmers with timely advice was recognized as essential. In Tunisia the Short Messaging System (SMS) was pioneered and found effective with a large number of users. In Phase II, socio-economic household surveys were begun and the results were not available at the time of the review. Those results will have strong bearing on future implementation and diffusion of these new cropping practices. The successes were many and deficiencies in the project were few. Some constraints were expressed by farmers and specialists. Attention to those constraints must be addressed as the diffusion process goes forward. For example, access to machinery was noted for no-till planting, equipment for efficient drip irrigation, seed supply and cleaning and treating facilities were limited. New schemes for supporting the manufacturing and distribution of such equipment are needed. Finally, small-holding farmers will be unable to own much of the equipment, but service providers should be facilitated to meet their needs. Private sector and farmer organizations should be encouraged to address these needs. One charge to the evaluation team was to consider the needs and opportunities for future work to diffuse technology packages that will address food security issues throughout the targeted region. The six-year life of EFSAC was too short to implement wide diffusion of practices, but some socio-economic and policy studies are in progress.