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How did the medic system start in Libya?

     The link between Australia and Libya began as a series of fortunate accidents.

In the 1970s there was little knowledge of Australian legume pastures in Europe and America and within the international agricultural organisations. The "sub and super" formula (Subterranean clover and superphosphate) was known to a limited extent. It had been used successfully on the parcour and the cereal areas of Australia with acid or neutral soils. While the first sub clover pastures had been sown in the late 19th century it only became used on a large scale in the early 20th century. Some knowledge of sub clover had seeped through to the rest of the world by the 1950s and 1960s.

Australia is remote from European and US centres and the knowledge they had of sub clover use in Australia tended to emphasise the botany of plants rather than the farming system in which they were used.

Unfortunately the simplicity of the system - known as "sub and super" among farmers - was also a barrier to its adoption in WANA as experts did not realise that the sub and super formula could also mean medic and super for alkaline soils. They saw sub clover as having limited application to the WANA region because most of the soils in the region are alkaline rather than acid and ignored the relevance of medic that flourishes in alkaline soils.

Medics were less well known than sub clovers as they had been identified much later (in the 1930s rather than the 1880s) and the medic farming system only gathered momentum in Australian in the 1950s.

The FAO book "Legumes in Agriculture" by Whyte, Nilsson and Trumble published in 1953 mentions medic in passing but gives much more detailed attention to sub clover. Trumble had worked at the Waite Institute in Adelaide, South Australia.

The knowledge of the establishment and operation of the medic farming system remained unknown outside Australia.

Both sub clover and medic were considered to be just another group of legumes and their special properties (hard seed and regeneration) and management needs were not understood.

No one in the major organisations such as FAO seemed to think that there could be a useful link between the Mediterranean regions of Australia and the WANA region.

There were Australian agronomists working in FAO and other international organisations but generally they failed to spot the climatic and soil similarities. Where they did, for example, John Doolette in Tunisia, they had difficulty in understanding the interaction between the components of pasture, grazing, shallow cultivation and cereals. They were technicians, not farmers and knew components of the system but had not worked with or operated the entire system.

The Libyan initiative

The breakthrough for Libya was when a group of Libyan graduates including Bashir Joudeh (future director of the Jebel al Akdhar Development Authority) were sent to Australia with FAO sponsorship to study wool technology.

While the world may not have recognised Australia's unique contribution to legume pastures they did accept that Australia had developed a highly sophisticated system of grading and handling wool as it passed from the farm to the buyer.

It was thought that this system could be transferred to Libya.

Of course the Australian system was not particularly relevant to Libya. Australian farmers produced short staple, fine wool for the production of high quality woollen textiles in China and Italy.

The Libyan farmers produced meat from their sheep with strong, long staple wool as a bye-product used mainly in hand woven textiles and knotted carpets.

Bashir Joudeh quickly realised the lack of relevance of the wool technology courses in Australian agricultural colleges. Fortunately he was observant and curious about Australian farming. He realised that the pastures which allowed such large numbers of sheep to be grazed and achieved such high production were more relevant than the classification of wool.

He saw Australian farmers sowing large areas of cereals with shallow cultivation and he realised the cost and time savings this made to the cultivation and sowing operation.

Living in Australia gave him the personal experience of the climatic similarities.

Bashir Joudeh carried this knowledge back to Libya. In retrospect it can be seen that Bashir Joudeh's understanding of the complete medic farming package was greatly superior to the international organisations that were advising other Arab countries. The Libyan example was followed by Iraq but not other Arab countries. The Iraqis heard about the success in the Jebel Al Akhdar and travelled to Libya to learn from the Libyan experience with medic.

Development authorities in the early 1970s 

When Bashir Joudeh returned to Libya from Australia he went directly into the development process as Director of the Jebel al Akdhar Development Authority.

Bashir Joudeh in the late 1970s when he was Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Jebel al Akdhar Development Authority to give him his full title.

Libya was receiving large oil revenues in the early 1970s and was investing heavily in agriculture. Development Authorities were set up in the east and west.

They had many functions but here I will concentrate on their dryland farming work.

Jebel al Akhdar Development Authority

In the eastern part of Libya the Jebel al Akhdar Authority, under the direction of Bashir Joudeh, had been established to develop the region.

Medic-cereal farming in the 1970s and 1980s

There was a strong dryland farming component based in the beginning at Al Marj. The land had a rainfall of about 350 mm and better soil than the poor sand of western Libya. The land had been cleared of low scrub by the Italian occupiers in the 1920s and 1930s and Italian farmers settled on farms of between 30 and 40 ha. They grew cereals, some olives, fruit and vegetables.

These farms had been abandoned in the 1940s following the Italian retreat and the British occupation and some land had reverted to scrub. It was cleared using contractors, new farms of 80 to 100 ha were established with new farm houses. Roads were built. Fences were erected around each farm.

These farms were allocated to Libyan farmers.

Bashir Joudeh invested in farm machinery from Australia to enable his Libyan farmers to adopt shallow cultivation and rapid sowing of seed and fertiliser in the manner used by Australian farmers. He saw the value of abandoning deep ploughing that was common in the area before the 1970s. The Libyan farmers were using techniques inherited from the Italian colonists and reinforced by FAO.

Bashir Joudeh brought in Australian farmers to demonstrate the farm machinery and the medic farming system.

In the first year they sowed medic and grain over an area using scarifiers and combine seeders. The Libyan farmers watched with interest and were horrified at what the saw. They went in a deputation to Bashir Joudeh to complain about the Australians.

"These Australians are only scratching the soil, they know nothing and are playing at farming." they said. "They should be thrown out of the country and no more money wasted." They said to Bashir Joudeh.

Bashir Joudeh asked them to be patient and wait until the harvest had been completed before any decision was made. The spring rains failed that year in the Jebel al Akdhar and the Australian crop was only 5 qx per ha. Remember it was sown on infertile soil as no medic had been established at that stage. At that time a rotation of wheat after wheat was common and yields were rarely more than 10 qx per ha. even in a good season.

The Libyan farmers using deep ploughing and separate seeding had taken a couple of weeks longer to prepare their land and sow their crops because of the use of slow deep ploughing techniques. With the dry spring they had a zero yield.

Bashir Joudeh called the farmers back to his office.

"Who is playing at farming now?" he asked them.

The adoption of shallow cultivation was rapid after that initial success.

How shallow cultivation increases yields.

Shallow cultivation to a depth of 8 to 10 cm rather than 20 cm or more releases tractor power.

Wider implements can be used and at a faster speed.

Cultivation is carried out more quickly and at the right time to achieve good weed control.

Seeding of the cereals takes place earlier and the yield of cereals increases.

All these steps were demonstrated by Bashir Joudeh's program in the first six months yet they have baffled researchers at the international research centres within WANA over the last forty years. These researchers have been unable to design a single experiment that connects the links in the chain of shallow cultivation, sowing and fertiliser with risk, economy and improvement of yields.

At present ICARDA and FAO and other international institutions are interested in minimum tillage (some of the cultivation being replaced by herbicides) and zero tillage (all the cultivation being replaced by herbicides). Leaving aside the problem of herbicide resistance these systems cannot be introduced until the basic tillage has been improved. That has been achieved at Al Marj and further farming improvements can be built on this foundation.

Medic comes to Al Marj

The medic system was first introduced by Australian farmers working for the South Australian Seedgrowers Cooperative.

The cooperative had sold the medic seed to the Authority and they were asked to provide farmer demonstrators to sow the seed and to demonstrate the new shallow cultivation machinery for cereals.

The classic medic-cereal rotation in action at Al Marj. This photos taken during our visit in January 1982 shows a vigourous medic pasture on the left. It has regenerated from hard seed in the soil. On the right are cereal seedlings. Next year the medic will regenerate where the cereal is at present and the medic will be cultivated and sown to cereals.

After the intial work carried out by farmers from the Seedgrowers Cooperative the Authority approached the South Australian Department of Agriculture in 1972-3 to establish a Demonstration Farm. The farm was to carry out some applied research and provide a demonstration area for extension work.

This is a cereal crop grown after medic on the Demonstration farm at Al Marj in April 1979. Crops on the farm yielded 20 to 30 qx per ha. on average compared to less than 10 qx average with wheat after wheat. Even with half the farm sown to wheat the total output was greater.

The South Australian team and Lynne Chatterton inspect a demonstration plot of wheat grown after wheat for four years. This was the standard rotation in the region before the introduction of the medic rotation. Yields averaged less than 10 qx per ha.

Sam Pfieffer, a farmer member of the South Australian team, harvests wheat on the Australian Farm grown after medic pasture.

Sam Pfieffer unloading wheat grown on the Australian farm into a truck for transport to the Al Marj silo.

The farm was referred to as the 1000 ha Australian Demonstration Farm but the area varied (it consisted of a group of the land reform farms) and never reached 1000 ha.

The Australian technical staff lived in the houses built for the future Libyan farmers and the Australian farmers from the Seedgrowers Cooperative lived in hotels or as guests of Libyan farmers.

Al Marj 30 years on.

We visited the Al Marj area in April 2009. The medic had disappeared. The farms were growing barley after barley with nitrogen and phosphate fertiliser (DAP).

Barley as far as the eye can see at Al Marj.

While the medic has been lost the shallow cultivation and seeding remains. The standard of seedbed preparation and sowing is the best in Libya and better than 90% of the crops grown in the Arab countries. Bashir Joudeh's efforts to convert the farmers from the deep ploughing left behind by the Italian farmers to the Australian system of shallow cultivation has had a lasting impact.

This appears to be an Australian linkage scarifier from the 1970s or 1980s although it is hard to be certain as there is little paint left on it and no maker's name. It is still being used for seed bed preparation.

This appears to be an Australian seeder from the same period. Again it is difficult to identify the maker. There appears to be a small seed box on the back for sowing medic seed.

While the machinery has been repaired for thirty years it will not last much longer and a replacement is needed.

The main impact of Bashir Joudeh's program was in the Al Marj area. It did not take hold in Al Bayda and beyond where inappropriate implements (mouldboard ploughs, tandem discs, etc.) are still being used.

Why do FARMING BASICS matter?

Benefits

* The cost of preparing a seedbed and sowing with a scarifier and combine seeder is less than that of deep ploughing.

* Shallow cultivation is faster. Seedbeds with good weed control are prepared quicker and crops sown earlier. Yields are higher.

* Even sowing allows seeding rates to be reduced with the same number of seedlings emerging. Expensive seed is saved.

* Placement of fertiliser near the seed increases the response to fertiliser particularly on land that has received little fertiliser in the past.

* The level ground increases the efficiency of herbicide application.

* The level ground makes cutting and baling of forage easier.

* The level ground makes the harvesting of grain more efficient.

Costs

The major cost is the higher capital cost of the equipment used for shallow cultivation and seeding. When Bashir Joudeh decided in the 1970s and 1980s to invest in shallow cultivation equipment from Australia the cost was estimated to be at least double the cost of similar equipment from Europe. Thirty years on his investment decision has been proved sound as the equipment has lasted and the annual cost has been very low indeed.

The higher initial cost remains a barrier and the challenge for the future is to reduce the cost and find means to finance it.

By way of contrast Algeria chose during the 1970s and 1980s to purchase the cheapest possible equipment through a process of competitive tendering that resulted in European machinery being bought. The initial cost was low. The machines lasted for only a few years (three to four years on average). The annual cost of the machines was extremely high.

The rangeland south of the Jebel al Akdhar.

Bashir Joudeh also took the medic to the rangeland. At that time the standard formula for rangeland improvement (promoted by international organisations) was the planting of fodder shrubs. Atriplex and spineless cactus were two popular options. I recall Bashir Joudeh telling me that he had rejected the spineless cactus as it gave sheep digestive problems. This is so and has been the experience world wide.

The Atriplex option for rangeland re-vegetation

Planting Atriplex south of the Jebel in January 1982

The planting of Atriplex was expensive. The above team of 23 men planted on average 2 ha. per day. The plants were grown in a nursery and there were further applications of water using a tanker. Below are photos of medic where the seed was sown by one man with a tractor and seeder at the rate of 2 to 3 ha per hour.

Bashir Joudeh was becoming disillusioned by the cost and slow returns from Atriplex planting. Now 25 years later economists agree with him and expensive hand planting of Atriplex is going out of fashion with the international organisations. They now favour resting the rangeland. "Rest regeneration" has a low initial cost compared to Atriplex but returns are slow also. It has also been tried for more than fifty years in the region. The rangeland does recover, but when livestock are allowed to re-entre, the initial degradation is again experienced. Grazing management remains the problem.

The rest option for rangeland re-vegetation

The Atriplex option is a solution advocated by technical experts in rangeland ecology. The rest option has become fashionable (it has been funded by IFAD on a large scale in Morocco) as economists pointed out the high costs and slow returns from Atriplex plantings. While Atriplex seed is now sown directly into the rangeland, rather that transplanting seedlings as shown above, the cost is still high and the returns slow, and it provides only an occasional and additional feed for livestock who suffer illness if they eat too much.

This photo shows a typical rangeland pasture south of the Jebel al Akdar. It shows that the major reason for low production is the low density of plants and infertile soil. Even when the plant density is increased through a period of no grazing (Rest option) the production is well below the potential as the plants that have survived such intense grazing are not productive pasture species nor do they fix nitrogen and add to the fertility of the soil.

The rest option means that this land is not grazed for a number of years. The plants will produce seed and gradually over time they will colonised the bare ground. While this is much cheaper than planting Atriplex shrubs it is slow and the potential grazing from improved pasture is slow to provide benefits for flockowners and because plant density and soil fertility remain low, it is only transitory.

The rest option takes a negative view of the potential of the rangeland. Certainly a dense plant cover will produce a great deal more pasture than this sparse collection of weeds but if the fertility of the soil is improved by using legumes and phosphate the potential can be increased even further.

Medics and other pasture legumes have high protein seeds that are easily harvested by sheep. As the rangeland has been over-grazed over a long period these have disappeared more rapidly than unpalatable plants. When the rangeland is rested the survivors will increase more rapidly than legumes as they already have a better seed base.

Bashir Joudeh's decision to take the medic into the rangeland was truly unique in the world. In Australia medic pastures were used in farming areas and nearby grazing areas but not in the rangeland. The Australian rangeland has not been so degraded as that in Libya. There are large areas of natural Atriplex and grasses remaining. Where re-vegetation is required the options are limited due to the low returns from sheep. The sheep are kept for wool. Wool prices are low and costs of production and transport in the rangeland are high.

Bashir Joudeh used medic selected for the low rainfall parts of the Australian cereal zone. He sowed the wadi beds with medic or medic and barley or oats. He reasoned that the medic was the best option for these wadis. When they flooded it was difficult to cultivate them for some time. After the medic was established a reserve of hard seed accumulated in the soil over a few years. When the flood came some seed would germinate and form a pasture without any seeding. If there was another flood or more rain the pasture would flower and produce more seed. If the rain failed the medic would still regenerate in future years from hard seed in the soil reserves.

He realised that in the longer term he needed Libyan medic better adapted to the arid rangeland. He employed Gintzburger and Blesing to conduct a survey of Libyan medics. Ecotypes were found in all zones even those with less than 100 mm average rainfall.

The medic option for rangeland re-vegetation

Suleiman Raheel, at that time manager of the rangeland section of the Jebel al Akdhar Authority, examines a pasture of medic and barley sown earlier that season (Photo January 1982)

The wadi bed revisited. Trial plots of medic established by a Western Australian team. Photo April 2009.

As well as pioneering the use of medic pasture in the rangeland Bashir Joudeh laid the foundations for a grazing management system. I have discussed the concept of the "quantum leap" in the section of this web site on the rangeland but it was first used by Bashir Joudeh south of the Jebel al Akdhar. It required courage to sow medic on a large scale but it was the first step to overcome the crisis of the under-pastured rangeland. If he had established small trial areas of a few hundred hectares they would have been overwhelmed immediately by large flocks but instead he developed areas of thousands of hectares.

The sowings were not just in the wadi beds. A large area of Benghazi plain was sown to medic and oats.

Thousand of hectares of medic were sown into the traditional grazing land in a single season. The rains were good that year.

The growth of medic and oats was prolific and in a moment of hubris it was decided to cut the medic and oats for thousands of tonnes of hay. The traditional flockowners were angry as they were denied access to this rich pasture and vented their anger by burning much of the hay.

Hay from the Benghazi plain being transported from temporary storage.

The Director of the Authority, Bashir Joudeh quickly learnt from this example and further rangeland sowing on the southern side of the Jebel at Wadi Karouba and Wadi al Bab were linked with land settlement and grazing programs.

Unlike the east there was no attempt to fence and exclude the local flockowners nor were the Australians used to carry out the work. Again they acted as advisers to Libyans.

A much more comprehensive description to the Libyan development of medic farming is provided in Sustainable Dryland Farming by Lynne and Brian Chatterton, Cambridge University Press 1996.

Progress in the 1970s and 1980s.

Jebel al Akdhar

In the Jebel al Akdhar the Libyan farmers were in control from the beginning. The Australian farmers were advisers. Most of the effort was put into establishing medic pastures and cereal crops during the autumn and winter growing season but some Australian farmers stayed the whole year to provide advice on grazing.

Progress was slower than the large farms in the west but more firmly based in the local farming community.

Again increases in livestock production were the star performer but cereals improved also.

The South Australian Department of Agriculture Demonstration Farm provided support to the Australian farmers from the Seedgrowers Cooperative. 

There were some excellent Libyan farmers who achieved high stocking rates and high output per sheep.

Many also had excellent cereal crops.

These farmers were criticised in the the People's Committee on Agriculture as being too prosperous and there were threats of further land division as these farms could support more than one family.

    Not all farmers were so successful and others plainly failed.

Strengths of the Libyan model for development

The greatest strength of the Libyan model was the adoption of the complete medic farming system package.

Both the Development Authorities (see below for an account of the Gefara Plains work) introduced medic pastures, shallow cultivation with Australian machinery designed for that task and Australian farmers to put the whole package together on the ground.

They used two different sub models.

In the west (Gefara Plains) the medic was established first and once the system was operating successfully the land was divided into land reform farms for Libyans.

In the east (Jebel al Akdhar) the land reform program was already under way. Medic was established on existing Libyan farms.

There was no doubt that the adoption of the complete package contributed to the rapid success of the system at the technical level. Whether the Libyan managers realised the link between shallow cultivation and medic regeneration is not known.

The link between shallow cultivation and medic regeneration is usually attributed to Ted Carter's work for FAO in assessing the failure of their Algerian medic project in the early 1970s. This was after the Libyan projects were under way. Ted Carter showed that deep ploughing in Algeria had buried the medic pods so deep that they did not regenerate in future years. The Algerian project run and funded by FAO was a failure. Unlike Bashir Joudeh they decided they could dismantle the medic system into components - medic pasture, grazing by sheep, ploughing, etc. They then decided that they would use some components and not others. They then decided to use experts to implement the project who were selected for their knowledge of French. Not one of the initial FAO team had seen the complete medic system in operation. Not surprisingly the whole project collapsed in failure but FAO never sent a team to Libya to examine how medic could work. Instead they blamed "the medic."

Bashir Joudeh saw the success of shallow cultivation in Australia and decided to adopt it because it was cheap and effective.

The Australian farmers in the east proved to be remarkably good extension agents and demonstrators in spite of their almost total lack of Arabic.

They were able to help establish good medic farming systems on many hundreds of Libyan farms through their own practical demonstration.

Other countries and traditional development experts were scornful of the Libyan projects as they believed that the leap into development without earlier research and the purchase of machinery and seed on such a large scale was risky.

They thought the use of Australian farmers extravagant.

The Libyan projects proved them wrong.

Costs may have been high initially but the rapid success meant the pay back was quick and considerable.

Compared to other countries that adopted a more conventional fragmented approach the cost - benefit ratios were much better.

Weakness of the Libyan model

    The success of the Australian farmers.

    It may seem strange to call this a weakness but the very success of the Australian farmers meant they were expected to continue their work with very little support.

They were at times provided with an interpreter but rarely a Libyan counterpart.

The Libyan trained agronomists were in short supply during the 1970s and were used to plug other gaps in the development program which included fruit trees, vines and bees.

The Development Authorities were involved in many activities besides medic and cereals.

They lacked experienced staff.

The Australians were doing well so the Libyan staff was used elsewhere. When the Australians left there were few Libyans trained to take over medic and shallow cultivation.

There was no written or visual extension material to help bridge the gap.

    Lack of adaptation of local livestock systems.

    The Australian farmers and technicians had no experience of the Libyan system of grazing flocks with shepherds. In the west they fenced the land into fields and used Australian grazing methods.

In the east the Libyan farms had a boundary fence but internally shepherds were used.

It was surprising that the Australians did not make any attempt to modify their ideas to suit this system of grazing.

The grazing management concepts incorporated in this dryland farming web site came from the experiences of farmers in North Africa not from Australians working in the region.

    Lack of emphasis on livestock.

    At an official level the emphasis was on cereals particularly wheat.

Farmers made more money from sheep even though cereals were heavily subsidised.

Later when Libyan farmers were placed under banking restrictions the advantage of sheep became even greater as they could be sold for cash and the money kept under the bed and out of the banking system.

Libyan officials, like their colleagues in the North African region at the time, saw the 500 to 250 mm zone as the cereal zone and found it difficult to adjust their mental framework to seeing it as the cereal - sheep zone once medic pasture had been established.

Given the high price of sheep meat the emphasis should have been placed on the sheep with cereals taking a secondary role.

Later the subsidy on wheat was removed and it was no longer profitable to grow it. Farmers have turned to the production of forage for sheep.

    Lack of trained Libyan staff.

    The Development Authorities (both in the east and west) lacked trained Libyan staff.

The Libyan universities were producing trained agronomists but the medic system and shallow cultivation had not yet entered their training. In spite of the enormous success with medic in Libya it still has not been included in university training.

Bashir Joudeh, the Director of the Jebel al Akhdar Development Authority before he became Minister of Agriculture, complained that the Libyan graduates were all trained in European and US agricultural principles and the Authority found they had no useful knowledge when asked to work with Libyan farmers in the El Marj region.

Others had done post graduate training overseas - not in Australia - and had no knowledge of the importance of economies of scale or environmental suitability of a farming system.

    Dependence on inputs from Australia.

    This was certainly not a weakness at the time (1970s and early 1980s) but proved to be later when sanctions were imposed on Libya.

Medic seed came from Australia. There was no attempt to produce it locally. This was a sound economic decision as the comparative advantage of Australia in producing cheap seed was considerable.

Libyan farmers could never have produced a profit from seed from a medic pasture compared to meat production. The price of meat was very high and it was obvious that pastures were better utilised for grazing rather than seed.

The farm machinery came from Australia because there was no other source of equipment for shallow cultivation.

    Lack of documentary record and extension material.

    The pace of development during the peak period of the 1970s was frantic and insufficient records were kept. This is particularly true of the rangeland work.

While the Syrian hema system described by Draz in many publications appears in every report written for every international organisation on the WANA rangeland the Libya innovations are never mentioned in journals.

They are of equal or greater importance.

While the hema system attempted with limited success to tackle the problem of grazing management it did nothing to tackle the problem of under-pasturing.

The Libyan projects developed large areas of pasture quickly and showed the possibilities of a quantum leap in production being a solution to grazing management problems also. (see Rangeland management)

There was no extension material produced for the projects. In fact we produced for FAO the first medic material for the WANA region in the late 1980s in the the form of a medic manual and some training kits for farmers. The manual was never translated into Arabic and while the farmer training kits were available in Arabic they were never distributed by FAO in Libya.

Decline in the late 1980s

 In the 1980s Libyan agricultural investment changed direction. Sanctions and low oil prices had a drastic effect on the whole economy.

Less was spent on dryland agriculture and more on irrigation particularly the Great Man Made River.

The involvement of Australian teams of farmers was reduced.

The Australian technicians were withdrawn.

Medic seed was purchased for a while but not farm machinery.

Gradually even spare parts became difficult.

Reason for collapse of the medic system

    It is not possible to identify a single cause. There were many contributory factors.

    Lack of investment.

    There was a decline in investment in agriculture and the emphasis moved to the Great Man Made River.

Lack of investment was first evident in the withdrawal of Australian farmer and technical support.

Then machinery, seed and spare parts were withdrawn.

    Sanctions.

    The imposition of trade sanction on Libya caused considerable problems as Australian companies were much more timid than their US and European competitors and were reluctant to break official rules.

Machinery purchases from Australia were replaced with deep ploughing and cultivating equipment from Europe and USA.

    Lack of technical and scientific support.

    Bashir Joudeh said the medic system never penetrated the universities and other institution.

Each new generation of graduates had to be trained in the essentials and the operations of the medic farming system.

As the system became weaker new generations were not able to see the system in operation in Libya and reverted to the European and US ideas they learnt at university or overseas.

    Death of Bashir Joudeh

    There is no doubt this had an enormous effect.

He was a most dynamic and able Director of the Jebel al Akdhar Development Authority and later Minister of Agriculture and the momentum of the medic system declined after his death.

    Lack of time.

    The medic system was launched in 1972-3.

By 1982 it had achieved remarkable progress but only the early adopters had ten years of experience.

Most farmers had less.

In the east the task of breaking up the large turn key projects had only just begun.

When one compares the time scale with Australia where the progress from 1935 to 1950 was slow and then the system expanded greatly in the period 1950 to 1970 it is easy to see that the Libyan farmers needed a longer period for the system to become fully established.

Australia also had the advantage that shallow cultivation was the standard means of seedbed preparation starting in the first half of the 19th century and was not under constraint attack from manufacturers selling implements designed for deep ploughing.

The multinational machinery companies that operate in Australia sell equipment for shallow cultivation but in the WANA region they sell implements for deep ploughing.

While the Libyan medic program was active the farmers were supplied with the correct equipment but as it went into decline at the government policy level equipment purchases reverted to the standard deep ploughs and chisels used in Europe.

The Libyan farmers were keen to continue with medic and aware of the difficulties.

Various missions to Libya led by ACSAD and others reported on the farmers' requests for medic seed, seeders and scarifiers for shallow cultivation.

The short period of time for the implementation of a totally new farming system had another impact. The adoption of the complete package by the Libyans including the use of Australian farmers had made the system look very easy. Even now where the shallow cultivation and seeding package still persists around Al Marj it is difficult to explain to senior people what an asset they have for future improvement. The Basic Farming skills in that region need to be preserved and used as an example for other farmers.

In the intervening period the necessity for importing medic seed from Australia has been overtaken by the knowledge of the widespread native medic throughout the WANA region - in every climatic zone - and the discovery that pods can be sown with even more regenerative success than scarified seed.

Gefara Plains Authority

In the west the Gefara Plains Authority was given many large blocks of land (each block being some thousands of hectares) in the marginal part of the cereal zone with rainfall of 150 to 250 mm.

The authority employed the Western Australian Department of Agriculture to develop these blocks as medic-cereal or in the case of the very dry areas (such as Adjulat near Sabratha) more or less continuous medic.

They were developed as large turnkey projects.

Large scale machinery was imported from Australia.

A camp was established with a permanent team of technicians and Australian farmers were flown in for cultivation and seeding work each year.

Progress on the turnkey projects in the west was rapid.

Large areas of medic pasture were established.

Cereals were sown in rotation with medic.

Yields of cereals were two or three times the local averages and sheep number increase by an even greater amount.

Henry Day, team leader of the South Australian Demonstration farm, in a crop of barley grown on the Western Australian project near Jandoba on the Gefara plains in April 1979

The high quality pasture meant output per sheep (lambing percentages and weight of lambs) increased at the same time. The Western Australian team also initiated a selection program for sheep.

Young female sheep selected for high live weight gain.

Selected rams from the breeding program

Towards the end of the 1970s the Libyan government began the process of dividing the big blocks into family farms and allocating them to Libyan farmers.

This proved difficult as the Libyan farmers had been excluded from the project from the beginning and had little knowledge of the medic farming system.

Technically one can say that the project was hugely successful.

In economic and social terms less so.

The costs were naturally high compared to returns because of the imported labour and the project was for most of its life totally isolated from the Libyan farming community.

Gefara plains in 2009

The Gefara plains is the graveyard of projects and the Western Australian medic development is no exception.

If I had not seen and photographed the barley crop above I would not believe the potential that has been lost.

The Gefara Plains today. This scene is not far from the site of the barley crop shown above.

The story of the collapse

A particular block of 3600 ha near the above photo was farmed by the Western Australian team until 1986. In the final year of their involvement they achieved an astounding yield of nearly 5 tonnes per ha. This was not the average but the 1979 crop photographed above shows that yields in the 3 to 4 tonne range were not uncommon. The land was farmed in rotation with medic. The medic was grazed by sheep at a rate of 3 sheep per ha for the whole year. A little supplementary feed was provided during the autumn months but none at all during spring or summer.

The photo above was taken close to this development block in spring (April 2009). The sheep are "grazing" at a rate of about one sheep to three ha. I say "grazing" because the reality is they are being exercised every day. They are fed 1 kg of supplementary feed every day. The supplement consist of a mixture of barley, bran and bread. One kg of feed (depending on the proportion of bran) is nearly the daily requirement of a sheep. The pasture is providing virtually nothing.

In 1987 the Western Australian team left. The 3600 ha of medic and cereals was divided into 18 farms of 200 ha each. A farm house was built on each farm. The farmers were not provided with scarifiers or seeders. They were not provided with any extension advice. They returned to their traditional system of growing barley after barley for forage. The medic disappeared rapidly under the combined pressure of continuous cereals and inappropriate cultivation methods.

After a few years the wind erosion became so bad that sand dunes formed on the main road. The government stopped cultivation. The farms were abandoned. There is now a program to plant trees on the side of the road to prevent further encroachment by sand.