The proposed project will enhance the productivity of saline soils in targeted areas and minimize further salinization by bringing to bear ICBA’s multidisciplinary expertise in: salt-tolerant and drought-tolerant crops; optimal soil and water management by means of technologies and practices that make it possible to achieve full crop productivity while reducing water consumption and preventing further salinization; capacity building of farmers, extension workers and other local stakeholders; policy analysis and formulation, and engagement with senior decision-makers to facilitate scaling up of project results. The project will be first to diagnose the land degradation issues in each target country and then to address them using tested and proven adaptation and mitigation approaches for the rehabilitation of salt-affected soils.
The project’s approach is based on a theory of change that:
- IF farmers are shown how to increase their agricultural productivity in conditions of salinity (barrier = lack of knowledge concerning salt-tolerant crops and best management practices for crops, soil and water in such conditions), and;
- IF the capacity of NARES to support farmers through extension services appropriate for such conditions is enhanced (barrier = limited knowledge concerning appropriate crops and practices), and;
- IF the farmers’ access to the necessary inputs (seeds, tools, credit, etc.) is facilitated through the establishment of seed production units and linkages to input suppliers and credit institutions (barrier = lack of access to quality seeds of salt-tolerant crops and other necessary inputs, including credit), and;
- IF the farmers’ ability to market their produce is facilitated through strengthening and/or establishment of value chain linkages (barrier = constrained access to markets or lack of demand for new crops and related value-added products), and;
- IF a conducive environment for project implementation and scaling up of its results is created through awareness raising and advocacy among policy and decision-makers, and through incorporation of new approaches in agricultural sector strategies and plans (barrier = lack of recognition among national policy and decision makers that rising salinity poses a threat to the agricultural sector in the targeted countries and lack of information regarding appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies);
- THEN, farmers will be encouraged and enabled to adopt salt-tolerant crops and best management practices, which would lead to higher agricultural productivity and subsequently to improved food security and higher incomes in project areas, invigorating the local economy in targeted areas and beyond through forward and backward linkages.
To this end, the project’s implementation strategy will comprise the following four integrated components:
- Component 1: Assessment and mapping of salinity-affected agricultural areas, and selection of areas for project implementation. A desktop study will be followed by a comprehensive assessment of salinity in targeted areas, including its extent, characterization, causes and effects on agricultural productivity, and subsequently selection of areas and communities for project implementation in consultation with national stakeholders and IFAD and BADEA country program staff.
- Component 2: Participatory development of improved salinity management technologies and practices at Best Practice Hubs and related capacity building. A best practice hub (BPH) will be established in each targeted area (three per country), where ICBA scientists, NARES counterparts and local farmers will test salinity- and drought-tolerant improved lines and varieties of important local crops (e.g. rice, wheat, sorghum, millet, maize), as well as highly-resilient varieties and accessions of non-conventional dual purpose crops and forages (e.g. quinoa, blue panicum, and pear millet, as well as Sesbania, Sporobolus, Distichlis, etc.) for adaptability and productivity under local conditions, prior to their dissemination to the local farming communities. Concurrently, small-scale irrigation and other innovative low-cost intensification technologies will be tested and introduced. On the basis of these field trial outcomes, training packages will be developed for farmers and extension workers, in addition to technical guidelines for respective Ministries of Agriculture to facilitate scaling up. Facilitators for Farmer Field Schools of Excellence (FFSE) will be selected and trained through a Training and Trainers (ToT), following which FFSE will be initiated in each targeted area.
- Component 3: Scaling up of climate-smart and salt-resilient agriculture from BPHs to the farming communities in targeted areas. Community-based seed production and processing units will be established and/or strengthened through training and provision of the necessary equipment to enable them to produce good quality seed of the recommended crop and forage varieties for dissemination to farmers in the targeted and other areas. Likewise, the project will establish new and/or strengthen existing farmers’ cooperatives, particularly those with a high representation of women and young people, in order to create economies of scale in production, harvesting, aggregation, processing and marketing, as well as to enhance farmers’ collective bargaining power. Linkages between farmers’ cooperatives, credit institutions, input suppliers, processors, and local/regional markets will also be established to facilitate the creation of value chains.
- Component 4: Learning, knowledge management and policy dialogue. A dedicated project website will be set up to share information with project partners and external audiences. It will include links to educational videos/audios in local dialects on climate-smart agriculture, which could be watched online or downloaded on DVDs and disseminated to farmers and extension workers. To enable the Ministries of Agriculture in the target countries to address salinity threats in a holistic manner, ICBA scientists and NARES counterparts will undertake an assessment of existing irrigation and drainage infrastructure in the main irrigated areas and propose solutions for its rehabilitation and improvement, as well as optimal irrigation and drainage allocation based on soil-water-plant modelling. In addition, a review of current water use policies, practices and institutions will be undertaken and policy guidance developed. The project will be concluded with high-level seminars climate-smart agriculture and salinity management to raise awareness among policy- and decision-makers and secure their support for scaling up of project outcomes.
- Component 5: Project management. An ICBA-appointed Project Leader will be responsible for the overall management of the project, under the oversight of ICBA’s senior management team. In each target country, a Project Implementation Unit (PIU) will be established within NARES and a national Project Coordinator with a background in agronomy will be seconded from the latter to support the Project Leader in the coordination of activities at the country level. Upon commencement of the project, an inception workshop will be organized for Project Coordinators at ICBA headquarters in Dubai. Regular coordination with all partners will be undertaken through annual steering committee meetings at BADEA headquarters in Khartoum, as well as biannual technical committee meetings in each country. Regular monitoring and a final evaluation will be undertaken by an ICBA-appointed specialist. ICBA’s Communication and Knowledge Management Section will support the project by managing its web portal and generating various knowledge products for dissemination to stakeholders, in addition to supporting the Project Leader with the preparation of regular project progress reports. ICBA will be directly responsible for the financial management and reporting to IFAD and BADEA. Upon completion of the project, ICBA will organize a final workshop to discuss achievements and lessons learned, and will also arrange an external audit to ensure full accountability for the funds received from IFAD and BADEA.
In line with IFAD’s policies, ICBA will ensure that its project approach is:
- Participatory, involving beneficiary farmers and other local stakeholders in all stages of the project cycle, from inception through implementation to the end-term review. To bridge research and practice, the BPH established by the project within each targeted area will enable local farmers to be involved in testing, evaluating and deciding which technologies and practices result in optimal productivity and are best suited for local conditions. In this manner, the project will concurrently: (a) identify and fast-track options for intensified small plot production; and (b) build the capacity of farmers and give them a sense of ownership over the project outcomes and decisions that affect their livelihoods.
- Empowering women: ICBA will partner with experienced local NGOs working to promote gender equality to ensure that the project’s women participants can voice their concerns and expectations regarding the project; are provided with the resources they need to succeed; understand their rights and obligations in relation to the project and the assets that are provided/created through it; and are empowered to make decisions, particularly in relation to the income they generate through their work.
- Promoting nutrition-sensitive food systems: ICBA will aim to introduce food crops that are not only salinity- and climate-resilient, but also have a high nutritional value. Among such is quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.), one of the most nutritious food crops currently known, with a high tolerance to stress. It is gluten-free, has a high content of crude proteins and more micronutrients than most staple grains, including wheat, rice and barley. Besides its use for human consumption, quinoa seed, stems and foliage can be used as livestock and poultry feed, while some of its components, such as oil, starch, saponin and colourings, may be used in the chemical, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. As such, it is an excellent choice for addressing both nutrition and income-related issues, particularly in environments where conventional crops may no longer be able to thrive.
- Bringing about positive trade-offs: The project is expected to lead to positive trade-offs, including substitution of: (a) traditional cropping systems whose productivity is decreasing due to rising salinity and other environmental changes with new cropping systems that are resilient to salinity and climate change and generate higher yields; (b) seasonal production that leaves smallholder farmers and their households food insecure during lean seasons with year-round production that enables them to avoid the hunger gap; and (c) subsistence farming that generates little income with farming that produces enough to stimulate the rural economy through forward and backward linkages with the non-farm sector. Nevertheless, an analysis of the current cropping systems will be undertaken in consultation with NARES and the farmers in all targeted areas at the start of the project to identify their strengths and weaknesses, opportunities for enhancement and threats to sustainable production (SWOT). The introduction of new technologies and practices will thus be based on a solid understanding of the existing systems, ensuring that their strengths are augmented and weaknesses addressed. Moreover, the farmers will be directly involved in the selection of new crops and practices in consultation with ICBA and NARES experts, in order to ensure that they are convinced about and are in charge of the innovations and changes being introduced, while at the same time preserving those crops and practices that are beneficial to their livelihoods and sustainable in the long term.
- Contributing to knowledge: ICBA will bring to this project a considerable amount of technical expertise acquired through its research work and past project implementation in SSA and elsewhere. A significant amount of knowledge will also be generated during this project’s lifespan. Both types of knowledge will be captured as appropriate and shared with all stakeholders through a variety of modalities, including training events and workshops, a knowledge hub, project reports, publications, policy briefs, guidelines, extension materials and educational video/audios, among others.