MEDIC FARMING

TECHNICAL AND ECONOMIC OVERVIEW

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 HIGH   RAINFALL  ZONE

  ABOVE 500 mm

CEREAL  ZONE

     500 mm  to 200 mm 

    Medic overview

Deep ploughing overview

Farmers' Guide to cereals and pasture

Farmer training kits

This is a major section of the site

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 How does your medic grow?

   MARGINAL  ZONE 
   

  250 mm  to 150 mm

 Tenure and grazing management

RANGELAND

Below 200  mm

Rangeland overview

Action plan for flockowners

Water harvesting

   There have been three major development paths for medic farming in the WANA region over the last half century.

* Import of whole medic farming package.

* Import of fragmented technology.

* Local farmer innovation and local adaptation.
 

1.  Import of whole medic farming package.


    This was the development model used in Libya in the 1970s and Iraq and Jordan in the 1980s.

These countries purchased (or in the case of Jordan received as aid) the complete medic package from Australia.

They purchased medic seed, farm machinery for shallow cultivation and the know how to make the system work.

This technology transfer included a large component of farming skills practised by Australian farmers that were transferred directly to local farmers.

    *  Technical success at the project level.

    In all three countries the medic farming system achieved high levels of technical success at the project level.

Excellent medic pastures were sown.

High levels of production were achieved with sheep.

The pastures were cultivated and sown to cereal crops which achieved high yields.

The medic regenerated strongly after the cereals.

   *  Technical success at the local farmer level.

    In Jordan success at the local farmer level was limited because of the particularly difficult management conditions on Jordanian farms and frequent changes in policy by the Australian aid managers.

In Libya there was considerable success at the farm level particularly in the Jebel al Akhdar region.

In Iraq the medic program was shut down due to war and sanctions before the farmer program had developed momentum.

    * Policy and economic success.

    Measuring the success of the "whole package" approach is difficult.

At a policy level the major objectives of the national governments at the time was to increase cereal production whatever the cost.

The medic technology certainly increased cereal yields at the project level. Yield increase of 50% to 100% over the cereal-fallow system were regularly achieved.

At the local farmer level weed control after medic proved a problem and the increase in soil fertility after medic did not produce its full yield potential.

Increases in cereal production were still substantial.

    On an economic basis the medic system was even more successful.

The governments of the period (1970s and 1980s) backed their cereal production policies with large subsidies on the price of wheat but the price in the local free market for fresh sheep meat was extremely high and increased at a rate greater than that for cereals.

While cereal yields increased by 50 to 100% the increased output of sheep meat after medic comfortably exceeded that figure on both project and local farms.

Increases of 100 to 300% were not uncommon.

This proved popular with local farmers but was not expected by policy makers or fully appreciated.

In Libya there was some discussion about subdividing the land reform farms which grew medic as the farmers were considered too wealthy. Their wealth came in the main from the large increase in sheep production after medic pastures were sown.

Now the subsidy wave for cereals has broken and cereal prices are generally falling in real terms throughout the WANA region. 

Meat prices remain high and continue to increase.

This was anticipated to some degree in the ACSAD economic survey of the Libyan medic programs. They calculated profits with and without the cereal subsidy.

 The low cost element of the medic farming system did not enter the thinking of the policy makers but was appreciated by the farmers who saw the cost advantages of regenerating medic without re-seeding compared to vetch. They also appreciated the cost advantages of shallow cultivation.

In Jordan the grazing of medic proved difficult but shallow cultivation took off independently as a low cost means of establishing cereals.

The Jordan Cooperative Organisation obtained a large loan from IFAD to import Australian farm machinery for shallow cultivation.

    * Where has all the medic gone?

    Critics of the medic system are quick to claim that the medic farming system in all three countries collapsed once the Australian farmers returned home.

They say that the medic system is too difficult for Arab farmers to understand and manage.

In Libya the medic system on local farms declined over time once the Australian farmers returned home.

While the return of the Australian farmers was undoubtedly important as many Libyan farmers still required extension advice it was not just the Australian farmers who were withdrawn.

Due to sanctions and government policy changes all the inputs for the medic system were withdrawn.

Medic seed was no longer available.

The shallow cultivation equipment was not replaced.

Libyan farmers certainly lacked extension support but they lacked all the other inputs also and it is hardly surprising that the system should have declined and collapsed.

In Iraq the medic system never reached the level of on-farm development achieved in Libya. There was a similar withdrawal of extension support and all other inputs due to the war with Iran and later sanctions.

 In Jordan attempts to transfer the system to local farms achieved limited success.

The Australian aid project found the fragmented land  holdings and the common grazing of pasture to be problems that they were incapable of handling.

The policy of the aid project veered between technology transfer to farmers and research liaison without providing a consistent attempt to develop a suitable adapted local farming system.

2. Import of fragemented technical package.


 Other WANA countries, principally Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Syria and FAO in Rome followed the more traditional approach to agricultural development and technology transfer.

They dismembered the Australian medic farming system into various specialist packages that fitted the structure of their agricultural bureaucracies.

Sowing medic became the responsibility of the agronomists.

Grazing medic became the responsibility of the livestock people.

Shallow cultivation should have been handled by the agronomists but they were "plant people" not farm machinery experts.

Shallow cultivation fell through a bureaucratic hole and was generally ignored by everyone.

    * Technical success at the project level.

In the 1970s Algeria and Syria introduced medic pastures through the FAO route.

The fragmentation of the farming system proved disastrous.

Only the pasture was introduced - a "green manure" concept.

The pasture was over run with weeds in most cases due to a lack of grazing management and the weed seeds carried over to the next cereal crop. The system was quickly abandoned and a strong "anti medic" group was formed within the bureaucracy.

At the same time Tunisia introduced medic onto large cooperative farms and wisely gave the responsibility to OEP (Organisation for livestock and pasture)  who were much more successful in mastering the skills of grazing management.

They produced some excellent medic pastures and some very high rates of livestock production.

They found the cereal phase difficult as they did not import scarifiers or produce them in Tunisia.

The failure rate after cereals was very high.

All three countries and the FAO refused to admit that shallow cultivation required equipment designed for that task and thought that existing machinery could simply be adjusted to a shallow working depth. (See  Buyers guide to scarifiers  )

An eminent Australian agronomist was accused of being a "machinery salesman" because he pointed out the failures of deep ploughs to cultivate at a shallow depth and the need to use scarifiers.

It was an unfair accusation but a natural reaction to the teams of American and European experts who had unashamedly promoted their national machinery interests in "the name of science" over the previous decades.

While Syria and Algeria hardly got to the stage of producing a medic pasture Tunisia had good medic but it was regularly destroyed by deep ploughing during the cereal phase.

While the "whole medic farming package" approach was considered too expensive and only appropriate for oil rich countries such as Libya and Iraq the horrendous failure rate of the "fragmented package" showed that the fragmented package was in fact much more expensive.

    * Medic seed production

 Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco all considered the cost of medic seed to be a barrier to the adoption of the system.

In fact it was the high rate of failure after the cereal crop that made the medic system expensive.

If they had been able to regenerate the medic pasture year after year for decades as in Australia the discounted cost of establishment even with high priced medic seed used at high seeding rates would have been negligible.

All three countries showed that it was technically feasible to produce medic seed but not economic to do so.

It is somewhat ironic that they were prepared to import expensive Australian medic seed harvesters but not Australian scarifiers for shallow cultivation.

The economics of medic seed production were poor due to the high price of sheep meat.

In Australia farmers are prepared to carry out the extra work to harvest medic seed because the returns from grazing the medic pasture are poor due to the low price of wool and sheep.

In the WANA region medic seed is only slightly more expensive than in Australia as the freight cost is only a small proportion of the final price. Returns from sheep meat are very high. There is little incentive for farmers to undertake the extra work required for seed production for so little additional profit. So it proved to be.

Medic seed was produced at high cost on government farms and briefly in Tunisia on private farms with a large government subsidy. Once the subsidy was removed the private seed industry collapsed.

    * Technical success in the 1980s

In spite of the failures of the "fragmented package" approach in the 1970s many people in Algeria were so impressed at the productivity of medic pastures that they re-launched their medic program and Morocco initiated its program.

Syria lost interest.

The programs of the 1980s were more advanced.

Grazing management was generally good and many impressive medic pastures were established.

Again shallow cultivation proved a problem.

In Morocco it was ignored.

In Algeria there was a large purchase of high quality machinery but it was not co-ordinated with the medic program and the machines were .distributed to farms who did not understand their purpose.

Tunisia persisted with its medic and continued to produce excellent result in terms of livestock production but failed to tackle the shallow cultivation problem. By this time Tunisia was beginning to develop its own farm machinery manufacturing industry.

If Australian equipment had been imported it could have been copied by local manufacturers.

There had been attempts in the 1970s when Australia equipment was being sold in large quantities to Libya to copy the Australian machines in Italy and eastern Europe.

These copies generally failed as they copied the machines without understanding the task they were performing.

If Tunisia had copied the task through local experience they would have been successful.

    * Policy and economic success.

    Government policy in the 1970s and 1980s in Syria, Tunisia and Algeria favoured cereal production.

They were disappointed with medic because cereal yields at the farm level did not increase more.

The reaction of the farmers was quite different. The manager of one of the few cooperative farms in Algeria that survived the FAO project with a working medic system intact explained to me in 1980 that the medic pasture had taken them out of the clutches of the government bureaucracy.

They were making so much money from their sheep (increased from 500 to 2000) that they had their own cheque book and no longer required government subsidies to under-right their losses.

In the 1990s this would have pleased the government but in the 1970s and 1980s they were obsessed by the physical production of cereals.

Profits and costs were not an issue.

In Tunisia and Morocco there were similar successes at the farm level from greatly increased livestock production.

   * Where has all the medic gone?

    Only Tunisia has persisted with medic.

The OEP still has a medic program - if only a small one and a considerable pool of talented people with medic experience.

The machinery problem still remains and presents a barrier to commercial acceptance of medic.

Many of the OEP farms have been privatized and have reverted to cereal-fallow. 

A few have begun to use medic as a permanent pasture as a means of overcoming their lack of suitable machinery. One cannot help deplore the fact that the machinery problem was not tackled during the last 30 years.
 

3.  Local medic systems


    * The emergence of the medic system in Australia.

    The Australian medic farming system emerged from the realisation by Australian farmers that the spontaneous growth of wild medic growing in the cereal stubbles was too valuable to destroy with a cultivated fallow.

The wild medic was not native to Australia it had been introduced accidentally from North Africa and Southern Europe over the preceding hundred years.

The shallow cultivation that is crucial to the survival of the medic pods near the surface had already been developed by Australian farmers half a century earlier as a low cost means of establishing cereals.
 

While the components of the medic system were put together before 1950 the system expanded enormously after 1950.

    * The destruction of the medic system in WANA

    In the WANA region there is considerable evidence that medics were an important part of the farming system in the 19th century and earlier. Medic is natural to the whole region. There are many thousands of ecotypes well adapted to the soils and climate.

French agronomists working in the Setif region of Algeria reported on the importance of medic pastures in the region in the late 19th century.

In the 20th century agriculture was extensively modernised.

The great development wave took place after 1950. More tractors were introduced.

Deep ploughing became more widespread.

The use of the cereal-fallow rotation became universal. Medics were wiped out.

The cultivated fallow prevented seed production in the spring and deep ploughing buried any seeds that escaped the destruction of the fallow to such a depth that they could not regenerate in future years.

It is ironic that Australia was expanding its medic at a great rate after 1950 while WANA was destroying its medic at the same time.

    * Survival of fragments.

    Some tiny fragments of medic farming survived in remote areas that escaped the great development wave.

In Syria local farmers at the village of Tah developed their own very successful medic system.

We discovered a few fields of local regenerating medic near Tiaret in Algeria.

Tunisian farmers at Le Kef collected medic pods and sowed additional areas.

Local medic ecotypes regularly survived in fenced areas such as Roman ruins.

    In general these local medic systems were ignored.

The agricultural bureaucracies saw them as a threat to their superiority.

There was some low level research carried out by ICARDA at Tah on phosphate responses but no where were the local farmers' systems embraced by the development agencies as locally adapted models. They were themselves searching for a locally adapted models but could not accept the fact (as Australian scientists had not accepted in the first half of the 20th century)  that the local farmers may have produced a local system already.

    * Research in the 1990s.

    In the 1990s ICARDA to its great credit did develop a local system.

Whether the ideas came from Tah and Tunisia has never been acknowledged and is unimportant.

They developed a small scale pod harvester.

They undertook research into the establishment of medic pasture by broadcasting pods on the previous cereal crop.

Taken together this transformed the medic farming system.

    * Where has all the medic gone?

    The 1990s and 2000s were a bad time for medic at the government level. Iraq and Libya were hit by sanctions and Algeria by civil war.

Medic farming input were no longer available.

Medic extension agents were scattered.
.
    ICARDA having made its great advance lost interest in its innovation.

    At the farm level there were enormous changes as state and cooperative farms were disbanded and moved into a market economy.

Government subsidies on grain production were reduced.

The relative profitability of livestock over cereals increased.

Everything pointed towards more medic.

Farmers would be happy to make profits from livestock.

Shallow cultivation would reduce costs.

Why has it not happened?
 

4.  Where now with medic?


    *  Economic environment.

    The economic environment has not been better for medic for 50 years.

The subsidies on cereals are being phased out.

The price of cereals on world markets continues to decline in real terms.

Prices for fresh sheep meat remain high. Demand is strong and likely to remain so as populations increase.

Governments are also reducing subsidies for feedstuffs which are a rival source of food for livestock.

As the agricultural sector moves more towards commercial farming the low cost aspects of medic are also important.

Shallow cultivation is cheap.

Nitrogen produced by medic replaces purchased nitrogen fertiliser.

    * The technical environment.

    This is better than it has been since the early projects in the 1970s. 

The development of pod sowing has overcome one of the great weaknesses of medic in the WANA region.

Sowing medic with seed was expensive and difficult as farmers had no experience in preparing a seed bed suitable for medic or sowing small quantities of small seed and at a shallow depth.

The harvesting of pods has by-passed the expensive medic seed problem.

The broadcasting of pods has by-passed the seed bed preparation and sowing problem. 

ICARDA developed this innovative means of establishing medic but has lost interest in medic. This is not altogether surprising as the problems are at the implementation level. There are no technical barriers to the adoption of medic to be solved through further research.

    The machinery for shallow cultivation remains a bottleneck.

While the WANA market is too small for multi national machinery manufacturers to produce special products there is an expanding local industry capable of producing suitable machines.

    The development of the Zaghouan rotations shows that the medic farming system can be operated without shallow cultivation. It may be more expensive than necessary but it will certainly work.

    * The policy environment.

    Governments in the WANA region should be promoting medic as never before.

Their policy aims have changed.

They no longer want cereal production at any cost.

They want commercial farming that does not require state support.

Medic farming will provide better opportunities than other rotations.

Unfortunately agricultural bureaucracies after many decades of policy driven development find it difficult to adjust to the promotion of commercial farming.

In Tunisia the OEP with it substantial resource of medic knowledge remains isolated from the newly emerging commercial farming sector.

    Governments are concerned about the long term sustainability of the farming system. Again medic is better than other rotations.

    Development institutions such as IFAD are concerned about the particular interests of small farmers. The future for small farmers now that governments have withdrawn their support for machinery contracting services is in livestock.
 

 Why then is so little happening with medic?

    There is no easy answer to this question. Some factors are:

    * Ministries of Agriculture have lost their commanding position in determining agricultural policy and are slow to adapt to an advisory role.

     *  A strange lack of will on the part of development agencies.

They have rightly attributed failures at the farm level to management and social factors and have then gone on to say that the technology is therefore unsuited.

This contrasts with their attitude to other technology.

For example they point out that roads have been built but there has been a failure to build management and social structures to repair them.

Unlike the annual legume pasture technology this has not been seen as a failure of the road technology but a development challenge.

Why pasture technology is treated differently is a mystery.

    * Farmers are becoming more commercial.

Commercial sources of technology are heavily dominated by Europe and USA.

Australia and the medic system is not represented commercially in the WANA region.