While the Middle East may have been the cradle of agriculture, it isn’t the most friendly area in the world when it comes to growing plants. Well over two thirds of the area is harsh desert, making growing enough crops to feed a rapidly increasing population one of the trickiest challenges Arab countries face.
Sixteen researchers from Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Palestine and Morocco have spent a month in China as part of a training programme in the Chinese autonomous region of Ningxia Hui. The programme teaches Arab scientists techniques used in Ningxia to fight desertification, which has successfully reduced its deserts from 1.65 million hectares in the 1970’s to 1.18 million hectares in 2010, according to China News.
The scientists are then expected to adapt these techniques to support agriculture back home. These range from using chemicals or vegetation to stabilize sand dunes to developing drought-resistant crops that can become lucrative businesses.
The Anti-Desertification Technology Training Program for Arab Countries has been held annually since 2006 and has trained over 100 scientists from the Arab world till now. However, it is not clear how effective it has been in transforming agriculture in the region. In fact, agricultural techniques used in most Arab states in the Middle East have remained unchanged for hundreds of years.
The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), which was headquartered in Aleppo, Syria until it had to move to neighbouring Jordan due to the civil war there, has been working for decades in the region to research and educate farmers on new ways to increase their yield and counter droughts. They have produced various strains of drought-resistant and disease-resistant wheat that have been pivotal in the harsh deserts of the Middle East.