ICARDA’s integrated approach to more productive and sustainable crop-livestock systems focuses on the farmer and community-based solutions for improving sheep and goat production, sustainable rangeland management and restoration, water-efficient dryland forage production, and better crop-livestock integration in hybrid dryland systems.
Our solutions strive toward land degradation neutrality through restoration strategies that respond to climate change, reducing the environmental footprint of dryland agriculture. We also provide information and skills to rural households to ensure product safety and maximize value-added advantages. ICARDA’s teams interact with other CGIAR Centers on new projects and frameworks that define future crop-livestock methods under the One CGIAR reformulation to guarantee that CGIAR uses our new science now and in the future.
This work is carried out by ICARDA’s Resilient Agro-Silvo-Pastoral Systems (RASP) team, which also integrates the research teams on Rangeland Ecology and Forages (REF), the Restoration Initiative on Dryland Ecosystems (RIDE), and Small Ruminants (SR).
In 2021, the SR team, with funds from the United States Department of Agriculture, used a scaling framework developed by ICARDA to scale the goat community-based breeding program (CBBP) with more than 2,000 households in Konso, Ethiopia. Full sire certification—covering breeding value, physical integrity, semen assessment, mating ability, and vaccination against five diseases—has been established as a pre-condition for disseminating sires in at least four sheep and goat CBBPs in Ethiopia. To further scale CBBPs through educational systems, ICARDA engaged 23 local Ethiopian universities. Over ten universities have incorporated CBBPs in their undergraduate program, and six universities have started CBBPs in nearby villages.
Collaborating with National Agricultural Research Systems, ICARDA’s RASP team made a huge breakthrough by identifying in the genomes (all genetic information of an organism) of sheep, specific genes that may be responsible for adaptation to different environments (for example drylands and highlands) and resistance to internal parasites. Such genomic locations and genes can now be used to investigate variations that can be deployed in breeding programs to increase the resistance of small ruminants to specific challenges in environments in which communities live under climate change.
Within the scope of the ICARDA-FAO project, ‘Catalyzing Investments and Actions to Enhance Resilience against Sand and Dust Storms in Agriculture,’ ICARDA’s RIDE team, developed a framework and evaluation method in 2021 to assess sustainable land management (SLM) practices and their potential to mitigate sand and dust storm sources and impacts on agriculture. By adequately managing crucial land resources such as soils, water, animals, and plants, SLM allows for sustainable and environmentally sound agriculture, and ensures the long-term survival, productive potential, and ecosystem functions of vital resources. RIDE presented their findings at the United Nations pre-Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) side event on ‘Sand and Dust Storm and Climate Change’ in September 2021.
In 2021, ICARDA’s REF Research Team Leader, Dr. Mounir Louhaichi, was selected as deputy leader of the One CGIAR initiative, Livestock, Climate and System Resilience. This initiative aims to partner with public and private actors to develop and deliver actionable innovations that measurably help producers, businesses, and governments adapt livestock agrifood systems to climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to sustainability and development goals across livestock systems. Dr. Louhaichi is also a member of the Global Coordinating Group of the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists, which succeeded in getting the United Nations General Assembly to unanimously declare 2026 the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists. The REF Research Team Leader has also joined the editorial boards of the African Journal of Range & Forage Science and the Journal of the Professional Association for Cactus Development.
ICARDA’s Forage Systems Coordinator, Dr. Sawsan Hassan, has been selected as a member of the technical committee for Forgotten Foods, Neglected Crops and Underutilized Species, managed by the Association of Agricultural Research Institutions in the Near East & North Africa. The committee carries out research activities and data analysis, gives presentations and discussions, holds deliberations and debates, and drafts manifestos on forgotten foods.
Under the leadership of Dr. Nigamananda Swain, a project to introduce spineless cactus as fodder in degraded and hilly lands achieved a range of positive impacts in 2021. Implemented with the support of the Government of Odisha, and with technical support from RASP, ICARDA and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research-Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute, 425.26 hectares of degraded and hilly community lands have been planted with 28,442 cactus cladodes to establish 16 foundation nurseries and 36 village-level multiplication nurseries. The project has created more than 75,500 job-days for local communities. By intercropping in the cactus fields, these communities also earned an additional income of Rs7,500 (US$100) per hectare, approximately 56 percent more than local communities used to earn from the same land. Positive impacts for soil and water conservation are also expected in the coming years with the establishment of spineless cactus plantations.
Natural rangelands cover over a third of Tunisia’s land. But the majority (87 percent) of these rangelands are in arid and desert areas, and erratic fluctuations in rainfall supply mean there is not always enough vegetation to sustain livestock. The main cost-effective restoration technique is Gdel, which consists of resting pieces of land for a fixed period, during which it cannot be grazed. However, for many years the carrying capacity of the land has been based on arbitrary visual estimates performed by a selected field crew. In recent years, under the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock, ICARDA researchers developed criteria to help land managers decide whether grazing would impede rangeland restoration efforts. Now the carrying capacity is determined based on four criteria that offer key indicators of rangeland health: (1) biomass availability, (2) percentage of desirable (edible for livestock) species, (3) vegetation cover, and (4) rainfall distribution and amount. Development agencies and local communities have expressed appreciation for the flexibility to adjust grazing strategies based on climatic conditions that differ from year to year, and ICARDA researchers hope the criteria will be widely adopted.
Agro-silvo-pastoral dryland landscapes are important throughout Africa and Asia for millions of rural families, who depend on them for growing the grasses, shrubs, and trees they need to feed their livestock. Yet due to worsening climate change impacts, increasing population, and mismanagement such as overgrazing, the ability of these areas to produce enough forage is fast declining. A key forage species indigenous to the Mediterranean is sulla (Hedysarum coronarium L.). A deep-rooted legume, sulla is also effective in the biological fixation of sloping land and improving the organo-mineral soil fertility, yields, and protein value of cereals. It is highly palatable to animals, nutritious, and productive. The REF team has demonstrated that planting sulla can help halt degradation, significantly reduce soil and water erosion, increase productivity, and provide more forage to sustainably meet the demands of increasing livestock production while lowering import costs of feed. The REF team has used these findings to develop an integrated package for agropastoral restoration.
ICARDA has enabled public-private partnerships for forage seed production in the Conservation Agriculture in Crop-Livestock Systems project framework, funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). As a result, 2021 witnessed substantial achievements in scaling forage mixtures in crop-livestock-based systems in Tunisia and Algeria. For example, the quantities of vetch seeds available in the market increased by 300 percent in the past five years. Similar growth has been observed for forage mixtures, which are increasingly demanded by farmers.
REF scientists published a total of 13 papers in International Scientific Indexing publications in 2021, covering topics ranging from the sustainable restoration of agro-silvo-pastoral systems to the impact of rangeland biodiversity and climate variability. The REF team has also reinforced the Sustainable Rangeland Management toolkit, which will be adopted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in their training programs, with the publication of an Outcome Impact Case Report, an Innovation Brief, and a guide for rangeland inventorying, monitoring, and assessment. Other publications include an International Livestock Research Institute-ICARDA policy brief summarizing key insights on rangeland restoration, a study on native, drought-tolerant forage species for enhanced dryland pasture restoration in Tunisia, and more than 10 factsheets characterizing forage and range species.
ICARDA’s work on spineless cactus was selected as one of IFAD’s Panorama Solutions, and a case study about a cactus fruit plantation in arid drylands was uploaded to the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies Global Database on Sustainable Land Management. Activities related to strengthening cactus pear development and adaptation also led to a brief, an Outcome Impact Case Report, a newsletter, four educational videos, and, in collaboration with FAO, an event to launch the Arabic edition of Crop Ecology, Cultivation and Uses of Cactus Pear.