India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) have joined forces to enhance the productivity of millet and sesame crops in Saudi Arabia.
This collaboration, which supports Saudi Arabia’s ambitions toward achieving greater advancement in food production, will also promote economic diversification, conservation, and the use and application of digital tools to tackle unique challenges in the face of limited natural resources, particularly water, ICRISAT said in a media statement.
Despite only three percent of the agricultural land being irrigated by rainfall, Saudi Arabia has overcome tremendous obstacles in recent years to convert 0.8 million hectares of agricultural land into productive fields.
Building on this success, the joint initiative between ICRISAT, FAO, and the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture, will focus on increasing the productivity of three vital dryland crops—sorghum, pearl millet, and sesame – by up to 20 percent in the regions of Mecca, Jazan, Aseer and Al-Baha.
Collectively these regions currently produce 170,000 tons of sorghum, 4,800 tons of pearl millet, and 4,000 tons of sesame across 70,000 hectares.
The collaboration project will also establish five community seed banks with the support of ICRISAT’s Genebank to preserve local crop diversity while building the capacity of smallholder farmers, extension agents, and researchers in the region.
In addition, comprehensive support will be extended through the pioneering mobile crop advisory app ‘Plantix’, which will be localized in Arabic, empowering farmers with essential guidance in addition to the development of new digital technologies to combat the challenges posed by pests and diseases.
Dr Ashok Kumar from ICRISAT and Coordinator of the project said that the Institute’s expertise would help in selecting the best crop varieties for the targeted regions.
ICRISAT Director General Dr Jacqueline Hughes said the Institute was delighted to be sharing its fifty years of expertise in dryland agri-food systems with the Government of Saudi Arabia and the FAO to help the nation achieve greater self-sufficiency in food production.