The Durum Wheat Economics, Traditional Knowledge, and Adaptive Research for Greater Rural Incomes in Semi-Arid Areas

Place: Not Applicable, _NO_MAIN_REGION
Quantitative & qualitative enhancement of crop products Quantitative & qualitative enhancement of crop products
Total Budget: € 7.884.569,90 | Period: From January 2003 To December 2007


A clear cut understanding of the traditional processing of durum wheat in the small rural communities of five countries. This understanding was converted into a nutritional analysis that confirmed the dietary quality of these foods. Further, the knowledge that was created was immediately applied into breeding to provide the rural communities with superior yielding varieties, but which still provided the characteristics necessary for traditional processing.
The further addition of economic considerations for each product is providing the rural communities with clear cut guidelines on how to better create added value in their durum products and to maximize the farm income. This was achieved by empowering the rural women with broader knowledge and by putting them in contact with other traditions from far away villages.


International Center for Agricultural research in the Dry Areas - Lebanon

Lead applicant

ICARDA’s Vision is improved livelihoods of the resource-poor in the dry areas. ICARDA’s Mission is to contribute to the improvement of livelihoods of the resource-poor in dry areas by enhancing food security and alleviating poverty through research and partnerships to achieve sustainable increases in agricultural productivity and income, while ensuring the efficient and more equitable use and conservation of natural resources. ICARDA has a global Mandate for the improvement of barley, lentil and faba bean and serves the non-tropical dry areas for the improvement of on-farm water-use efficiency, rangeland and small-ruminant production. ICARDA’s research portfolio is structured under four themes: • Biodiversity and Integrated Gene Management • Integrated Water and Land Management • Diversification and Sustainable Intensification of Production Systems • Social, Economic and Policy Research Alongside research, and integrated within it, capacity development (training) lies at the heart of ICARDA’s purpose. ICARDA works with partners such as national research/extension agencies, NGOs, development investors, universities, specialized research institutes, farmer cooperatives, and with the private sector.

ITGC, Algeria - Algeria

Initiative partner

ITGC is Algeria’s national institute, under the Ministry of Agriculture, dedicated to developing and promoting agricultural innovations, and providing monitoring of the cropping season. It was created in 1974 from t 1974 from the late INRA (National Agronomic Research Institute) to increase the adoption of new technologies for field crops and conduct research on breeding, agronomy, and Integrated Pest Management. The institution released dozens of varieties of wheat working in research partnership with ICARDA, mainly that for durum wheat. ITGC has substantially contributed to the increase of yields and production of wheat in Algeria.

General Commission for Scientific Agricultural Research, Syria - Syria

Initiative partner

Attività di ricerca accademica e applicata in agricoltura, divulgazione agricola, formazione dei divulgatori ministeriali. Miglioramento qualità, difesa delle colture, biotecnologie, pre-post raccolta, irrigazione.

Durum wheat in North Africa and West Asia is the major source of income for smallholders and also their main staple food commodity, providing them with their essential daily needs in calories and protein. The project used a full participation, community-based framework – involving farmers, researchers, extension agents, seed producers and sellers, and public and private institutions – to improve and stabilize durum wheat productivity by fostering adoption of better adapted and productive durum wheat varieties. The project also worked side by side with rural women to understand traditional use of durum, improve its home economics and diversify their incomes by developing on-farm made durum products appreciated by consumers, such as durum bread, frike and couscous – an activity that helped rural women raise their household income significanlty.

• IRDEN generated unique knowledge base from the grassroots by interacting directly with rural woman, assessing their prefered grain traits for processing and cooking, and converting it into cost-profit analysis – an innovation which identified opportunities for value addition in end products and thus increasing their profitability. The economic guidelines packaged into brochures and leaflets is providing the rural communities with clear cut pointers on how to increase their incomes through on-farm processing methods to fetch higher selling price in markets.

• On-farm seed production was demonstrated to be an effective, profitable and viable enterprise that will allow durum smallholders in less-favored areas reap the benefit of new improved seeds.

• Better understanding was created amongst communities of prevailing indigenous processing systems, skills and techniques to improve their performance and economic profitability and lessen women’s physical work load.

Traditional Burghul preparation In rural Syria the children of a small village await for the durum grains to terminate the parboiling process
Traditional Frike preparation The green spikes of durum wheat are roasted to give an intense flavor to the green grains
Traditional couscous processing A rural woman in Algeria is agglomerating the semolina flour by gentle addition of water and hand gesture

Durum wheat is an endemic crop of the Mediterranean, with five countries – Algeria, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey – accounting for one-third of the world durum production. In Algeria, cereal consumption represents 50% of household expenditure; 60% of source of energy; and 71% of the protein in the diet for urban and rural population.

The crop is a major source of livelihood for many resource-poor smallscale farmers in the region. Mostly grown under rainfed, semi-arid conditions, the crop yields suffer from erratic rainfall, thermal stress, pests and diseases. The low and unreliable yield of durum imperils livelihoods and creates food insecurity.

Durum is traditionally processed in villages by women into couscous and flat breads in North Africa, and ‘frike’ and ‘bourghoul’ in the Near East. The consumers’ distinctive preference in product quality offers an opporutnity for adding value to processing and increasing incomes for rural women.

Colors and flavors from durum wheat derived products First, a traditional Moroccan breakfast with ‘nuznuz’ café and ‘msemen’; Second, a burghul lunch in Syria
Colors and flavors from durum wheat derived products Colors and flavors from durum wheat derived products. First, a traditional Moroccan breakfast with ‘nuznuz’ café and ‘msemen’; Second, a burghul lunch in Syria
Overview of wheat importance Overview of wheat importance as calories and proteins intake in developing countries targeted by IRDEN project
Traditional couscous Traditional couscous produced in Morocco by an association of agricultures (First) and industrial production of semolina flour (Second)
Traditional couscous Traditional couscous produced in Morocco by an association of agricultures (First) and industrial production of semolina flour (Second)

IRDEN helped in stabilization and improvement of on-farm production of durum wheat, maximising the economic return for the rural communities when selling derived products, and sharing of the knowledge generated to all surrounding communities. The project emphasized women participation, and targeted enhancing indigenous on-farm durum processing and adding value to end-products as a means to improve farm incomes.

For example, for couscous making, surveying rural women in Algeria revealed medium semolina being the most desired grain size. For gallette making, gluten content was the most important criteria. These results were used as directives for crop breeding to devlop high yield varieties while retaining these traits.

For each of the product, analysis of cost of production and selling price identifed opportunities where value can be added and profitability increased. (Note: DA – Algerian dinar)

High quality grains of durum wheat ideal High quality grains of durum wheat ideal for traditional processing developed into a superior yielding variety
Traditional frike production in Syria Traditional frike production in Syria
Hand harvest of durum wheat in Morocco Hand harvest of durum wheat in Morocco

The rural women were at the heart of the Project design and the most uniquely benefited as they were the main providers of information and opinions that guided the outputs of IRDEN.  The knowedge gathered from surveying, watching and interacting with women was analyzed from a breeding standpoint to identify the best characteristics required in durum wheat varieties, and also from an economic perspective to identify the marketable value and profit margins from each product. The approach empowered women with decision-making and opinion-forming practices and created an understanding on their long tradition of procesing and consuming durum, its role in family nutrition and its economics.

Most of all, IRDEN identified opportuntites for women and farmers in on-farm processing to produce value-added end-products that consumers seek – opening up opportunties to increase household incomes and diversifyng from agricultural activities that are more labor-demanding and generally less rewarding

Many durum wheat varieties Many durum wheat varieties tested in parallel in Morocco to identify the best performing one
One of ICARDA’s breeders One of ICARDA’s breeders demonstrates to a group of farmers in Morocco the agronomical performances of superior durum wheat varieties

The team comprised more than 80 scientists from the five countries who worked with more than 500 smallholder farmers, NGOs, and the private sector.

Algeria lead: Dr. Omar Zaghouane, agronomist with more than 25 years of experience.

Syria lead: Dr. Majd Jamal (then DG of GCSAR) and Dr. Zayad Al-Hallak, a highly experienced durum breeder.

Morocco lead: Dr. Nsaerellah Nasserlehaq (INRA/Settat)

Tunisia lead: Dr. Rezgui Salah: Plant breeder (INAT), National Project Coordinator

Turkey lead: Dr. Abdulkadir AVÇİN (Çukurova ARI, Adana), wheat agronomist

ICARDA Team: Led by Dr. Mohammed El Mourid, a specialized agronomist for the Maghreb region. His team included international experts in Durum Breeding – Dr. Sanjay Rajaram (recipient of 2014 World Food Prize), Dr. Miloudi Nachit, Dr. Habib Ketata, and Dr. Ahmed Amri; Seed Technology - Dr. Zewdie Bishaw and  Dr. Koffi Amegbedo; and Socio-economics – Dr. Kamel Shideed.

Main difficulties stemmed from the poor availability of seeds of traditional and new varieties in marginal areas. Official seed mutiplication addresses only favorable environments and farmers who can afford the price of new varieties. A study in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia estimated certified seed distributed by the formal seed sector to represent only 15-20% of the national annual requirements. Further, a large proportion of farmers (72%) found the prices set by seed institutions to be unattractive. To overcome this, the Project developed a program of informal seed mutiplication, which provided a select group of progressive smallholders with access to seed cleaners, along with training. These “lead” farmers sold the treated, good quality seeds to their neighbors, thus spreading the new germplasm to rural women and farmers. The process is continuing today and demonstrates potential for private seed enterprises to serve the needs of durum growers in semi-arid areas.

The deliverance of superior durum wheat varieties that are well adapted to the conditions of a region, while still providing the characteristics required for traditional processing, is one of the most strategic ways according to entities such as FAO and CGIAR in fighting global hunger and water scarcity and reducing chemical applications, especially fungicides and pesticides. Varieties with superior performance but without the characteristics sought by the rural women in making traditional products would not be widely adopted by farming households, and hence would fail to have positive impact on the environment.

Second, the traditional local seed variety revival initiative with the farmers is also helping to preserve biodiversity, conserving germplasm with valuable traits such as resilience to climatic stresses and resistance to local pests and diseases.

The outcomes from IRDEN led to a wealth of knowledge, practices and technologies that have left a lasting impact in the countries:   
• Generated set of directives for durum breeding programs that are ensuring new higher yielding varieties retain the traits desired for processing traditional products
• Computed economics of durum production shedding light on the key cost and profit margins for smallholders
• Set up a model for private seed enterprise in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
• The technolgoies and brochures continue to to be disemmintaed to more communities and the area covered by IRDEN technologies has been expanding
• Many products made at home by rural women and within NGOs using IRDEN technologies are marketed at high prices and still produced in large quantities in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia
• Introduced and institutionalized the "participatory, community-based approach" embedded in the deisgn of IRDEN and fostered working-with-communities culture in the NARS

The Project disseminated the knowledge created through a sizeable number of publications and products in all five countries, delivered in French, Arabic and English, and distributed to communities. They were also promoted through local media and channels like farmer associations, fairs, and NGOs. The publications included 13 research papers, 12 posters, 9 brochures, and 23 extension leaflets.

A total of 15 students were engaged in hands-on learning. Farmers were trained through on on-farm demonstration and activities, while workshops (held for individuals and groups) helped disseminate best practices and latest technologies to local scientists, technicians, extension workers and seed production specialists. The Project aimed for national partners to acquire the necessary tools and resources for self-sustained research-for-development needed to improve the livelihoods of resource-poor durum smallholders in unfavoured areas.