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A start in the 1970s.

    FAO assisted in the establishment of a medic project on the Himo Research centre at Kishmili in north east Syria in the late 1970s.

A detailed account is provided in Sustainable Dryland Farming by Lynne Chatterton and Brian Chatterton, Cambridge University Press 1996.

The project failed for the same reasons as the FAO project in Algeria.

There was a lack of realisation that medic farming was a system where pasture and grazing had to be managed together.

They also failed to understand the cereals and shallow cultivation package.

In fact the approach was sow some medic and muddle along.

The medic was often under grazed due to a lack of sheep and had to be mowed.

What is surprising about the project is not that these mistakes were made in spite of the presence of an Australian agronomist but the complete lack of communication within FAO.

The FAO Algeria project on medic had run its course by 1977 and produced some excellent reports if little else.

These reports seem never to have gone to Syria or if they did they were ignored.

No attempt was made to introduce shallow cultivation.

The attempt to introduce medic failed and has faded completely from the institutional memory.

ICARDA in the 1970s

    ICARDA is the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas and is based in Aleppo, Syria.

It was organised into traditional specialisations but has over the years changed to become a more integrated organisation where whole systems can be studied.

This should provide a good base for medic farming systems but that does not appear to be so.

Perhaps the changes have come too late as medic appears to have been abandoned in the early 1990s.

I first visited ICARDA in 1979 to see whether they were interested in medic farming either in rotation with cereals or on the parcour.

I talked with the Director General of the day who had been to Australia and was greatly impressed with the contribution made by medics and other annual legumes to increased livestock and cereal production.

He was aware that the medic cultivars used in Australia came from the WANA region and that they should grow as well in most of WANA as they do in Australia.

He was however dubious about the application of the medic farming system as a whole in WANA.

He explained to me how he had observed the high standard of grazing management on Australian farms and how farmers varied the stocking to control weeds and for other purposes.

He said he did not believe that Arab farmers could do the same.

If he had been making a judgement about the suitability of a new wheat variety or other plant or animal he would have required some experimental proof but his low opinion of Arab management skills was merely a personal opinion that formed the basis of ICARDA policy at the time.

I had not visited Libya and Tunisia at that stage and was not able to contradict him but I wondered afterwards why he had not visited medic farms in Libya and Tunisia to see if his opinions on Arab farmers were justified by the facts.

If he had he would have found Libyan farmers at El Marj grazing medic.

Perhaps at that stage they did not have quite the degree of skill of an Australian farmer (it would have been surprising if they did after such a short experience) but certainly adequate for the survival of the pasture.

If he had visited Tunisia he would have found some large cooperative farms where the medic pasture (see cover of Sustainable Dryland Farming) was a good as anything in Australia.

I asked him what ICARDA was doing for livestock production and he said that the policy was feed lotting on the US and European model.

They were trying to increase barley and grain legume production.

These would form the basis of a grain diet for sheep and cattle.

ICARDA in the 1980s

The Director General changed and ICARDA took up medic in the 1980s under the leadership of a South Australian agronomist who had worked as a consultant to the South Australian projects at Erbil in Iraq and the project in Jordan but not the one at El Marj in Libya.

The ICARDA program focused on the development of new cultivars of medic that were better adapted to the cold regions of WANA.

These are principally in northern Iraq, northern Syria and the high plateau of Algeria.

While these areas are extensive they do not account for all the areas suitable for medic in those countries and very little of the area suitable for medic in Jordan, Libya Tunisia and Morocco.

I could not understand why the ICARDA program should concentrate of solving these difficult problems when the easy ones had not been solved.

My other criticism of the ICARDA program was it failed to understand the difference between Australian and WANA ecology.

In Australian because of the lack of local medics you get what you sow.

In WANA you get what you sow at first but over time the local ecotypes recover and dominate the pasture.

Eventually these local ecotypes with take over the pasture whether you have sown an Australian cultivar or one of the ICARDA ones.

My observations of Australian cultivars in the cold regions of WANA was that they were certainly damage by severe frost and more frost resistance would be an advantage.

They did however recover and were still more productive than other pasture options.

Given they would be replaced by local ecotypes over a few years I could not see the need to spend time and effort on local cultivar or at least not as the first priority.

The Australian team leader showed no interest in looking at the successful locally managed medic pastures in Libya and Tunisia.

He felt this was a distraction as development was a top down process with ICARDA at the pinnacle.

His experience in Iraq and Jordan where there had been plenty of Australian equipment for shallow cultivation gave him a false idea of the gravity of the problem.

If he had made field inspections in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco he would have realised that the problem of deep ploughing was more severe that he thought.

He claimed that local implements could be adjusted in spite of the strong evidence to the contrary.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the ICARDA medic program it has now been abandoned and because there is no seed industry in the WANA region the ICARDA medic cultivars that were developed are merely interesting curiosities in seed libraries.

ICARDA also studied the medic system as part of its farming systems analysis and decided that the large number of variables made analysis almost impossible.

ICARDA in the 1990s

    Just as ICARDA was abandoning its medic program it came up with two innovations that have the potential to transform medic farming in the WANA region.

The idea of using pods instead of seed is not completely new but ICARDA deserves enormous credit for their work.

Farmers at Le Kef in Tunisia and at Tah in Syria used pods instead of seed but ICARDA developed a small pod harvester which made the technique much more efficient.

They also carried out trials that showed one could broadcast pods over a cereal crop and the medic would regenerate the year after.

    The pod sowing method effectively solved the following perceived and practical problems.

    * The cost of imported seed from Australia.

Farmers would have their own seed in pods. There was no need for large quantities of imported seed.

    * There was no need to prepare a special seed bed for the medic.

This saved time and cost and as farmers were not equipped with suitable machines for seed bed preparation and sowing of medic.

A considerable obstacle to practical implementation of the medic system was overcome.

    * Broadcasting pod might be labour consuming but no more so than broadcasting medic seed as farmers were not equipped with seeders capable of handling medic seed.

They usually hand broadcast the seed.

    This breakthrough has not been exploited because ICARDA had abandoned the medic program.

    In 2002 we carried the ICARDA work one stage further to form the basis of the Zaghouan 4 rotation.


   ACSAD is the Arab Centre for the Studies of Arid Zones and Drylands and is based in Damascus, Syria,

   The Libyan report

    ACSAD seems to have taken a completely different approach to ICARDA.

ACSAD did not consider practical results on the ground to be a distraction and undertook a complete study of the Libyan experience with medic that was published in 1988 (ACSAD/R4/1988).

It was a most comprehensive report and given the lack of documentation on many Libyan projects it has formed a useful reference for medic in the WANA region.

    * Positive factors

    The report identified the great success of medic at a technical level in Libya.

The Australian cultivars and others that had been selected in Libya produced excellent pastures in the cereals zone.

They had also been successful in large scale sowings in the rangeland.

For example 17,000 ha had been sown on the Benghazi plain in 1973 using aircraft.

Another 27,000 ha was sown the following year using aircraft and 6,000 ha using conventional seeders.

By 1976 there were 40,000 ha of medic pasture.

    ACSAD also undertook a comprehensive economic study of the medic rotation compared to other farming systems.

They showed that on Libyan farms the medic system was more profitable than other farming systems. The realised that the Libyan policy of large subsidies for cereals biased farm profits away from livestock towards cereals.

They made further comparisons with the subsidies removed.

These showed an even greater advantage for the medic rotation. The "without subsidy" version of the economic comparison is useful now that subsidies have been reduced or removed in many WANA countries.

    * Negative factors

    In the rangeland almost all the medic pasture had disappeared because of a lack of grazing management.

ACSAD did not see this as a fault of the medic pasture (unlike the World Bank in Somalia) but rather that grazing management, pasture improvement and tenure must be developed at the same time.

    In the Cereals Zone the medic rotation was also under threat.

There was a lack trained Libyan extension officers to replace the Australians who had by then left.

There was a lack of spare parts for the shallow cultivation equipment and other inputs for medic.

    This excellent report was not used as the basis for further work by ACSAD on medics.

One cannot help coming to the conclusion that ICARDA chose to work on medic cultivar selection for cold regions because that was a task traditionally carried out by such centres.

ACSAD identified grazing management in the rangeland, implements for shallow cultivation and extension as the real problems of medic.

Perhaps because these were not traditionally areas of activity for ACSAD  there were not taken up.

    Shallow cultivation

    During the 1980s ACSAD carried out an extensive study of shallow cultivation that has been referred to elsewhere on this site.

The study was carried out in many WANA countries, in different rainfall zones, over a number of years and with a range of cereals and grain legume crops.

I do not know what prompted the study but it does not appear to be connected in any way with medic and the need for shallow cultivation to ensure regeneration.

The failure of the study was due to a lack of understanding that shallow cultivation requires implements designed for that task.

In effect the ACSAD study can be compared to left and right hand driving on the road where only vehicles designed for right hand driving are used for all treatments.

In spite of the failures in experimental design the report recommended shallow cultivation.

The ACSAD study also attempted to look at the cost of cultivation but again failed as deep ploughs were used for shallow cultivation.

The failure of ACSAD to understand the basic engineering of shallow cultivation follows a pattern that has been common in the WANA region over the last 50 years.

During the 1980s there was less excuse for this failure.

Libya had proved that shallow cultivation worked but had imported implements to carry out the task.

The same applied in Jordan and Iraq.

These were all farming examples and we have to accept that the feed back mechanism from farming to research centres is weak in WANA.

The ITGC centre at El Kroub in Algeria provided experimental evidence on shallow cultivation.

There was no linkage either to the farming or research experience.

At Tiaret in Algeria where some of the experiments were conducted the implement designed for shallow cultivation was not used as the research did not understand its significance.

No one from ACSAD seems to have visited Australia.


    The village of Tah in Syria has established a working medic rotation on many small farms.

The farmers of Tah have proved as the El Khemis farmer had in Algeria that medic farming is simple system that does not need large scale technical support from Australia.

In Algeria the farm had begun as part of a FAO medic program but soon became independent of any international inputs.

The Tah village appears not to have had any outside input of medic seed or technology at all.

The local farmers like the farmers in Australia had seen local medics and encouraged them as pastures.

They had collected pods to sow other pastures and used the medic in rotation with cereals.

The medics were local ecotypes of M. polymorpha.

ICARDA identified the village.

The carried out some phosphate trials on the medic.

It was not used by ICARDA or the Syrian Ministry as a demonstration and training centre.

Again we could not help feeling that the ICARDA staff were annoyed that the farmers had discovered a good working system without their help.

Instead of working together to extend it to other villages it was ignored.

Again and again in these case studies we have found that institutions find it difficult to cope with success if it occurs in unexpected places.

They are not able to adapted and feel they must follow a program derived from the top.

Now that participation by farmers has become a fashionable policy initiative these medic successes provide a genuine opportunity for participation.