An increasingly important element in strategies to reduce rural poverty is supporting poor smallholder farmers who are moving from subsistence agriculture to market-oriented, high-value commercial agriculture, reports Lorenzo Coppola. In 2002, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) formally included research in horticulture and other high-value crops into its mandate and its activities now include selecting and introducing high-value crops and low-cost farming systems that are appropriate for small-scale farmers.
The ICARDA technologies have been applied successfully by smallholders with high value-chain agricultural commodities including figs (Egypt) and cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries grown in plastic houses (Afghanistan, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen). In Egypt, ICARDA introduced low-cost water harvesting methods for fruit trees that can help retain scarce rainwater and increase fruit yields while reducing soil erosion.
Pilot programmes are currently introducing appropriate varieties and technologies for cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and peppers grown in greenhouses (Afghanistan), mint (Afghanistan) and medicinal and aromatic plants (Tunisia). In Afghanistan, the returns for high-value crops grown under the technologies introduced by ICARDA have been reported to be high enough to compete with opium poppy. Cucumber greenhouse production has resulted in higher outputs than production in open fields (fourfold), higher incomes per unit of land (fivefold), and higher net returns per unit of water (ninefold).
The technologies and practices being developed by ICARDA and its partners to select and introduce high-value crops and low-cost farming systems for small-scale farmers in dry areas seem promising; they may provide smallholders and eventually agroprocessors and traders with alternative/additional economic opportunities. However, failure to address other key enabling factors (for example effective market linkages and appropriate financial products) may limit the widespread adoption of these technologies and ultimately their potential to contribute to increased incomes and improved household food security. In this respect, the NENA/ICARDA Learning Event on Rainfed Agriculture provided the opportunity to identify, within IFAD and ICARDA’s respective mandates and strengths, further areas of mutual collaboration; such collaboration may result in some of these technologies being introduced on a wider scale through IFAD-supported projects and programmes addressing high-value crops production and commercialization in the dry areas.
ICARDA. Horticultural Research at ICARDA: High-value Crops for Better Nutrition and Income. ICARDA, Aleppo.