The International Conference on Food Security and Climate Change in Dry Areas, held in Amman, Jordan this month, brought together policy makers and scientists from 29 countries and 13 international and regional organizations. It was jointly organized by the National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension (NCARE) of the Ministry of Agriculture of Jordan and ICARDA, and co-sponsored by
• The Middle East Science Foundation and the Scientific Research Support Fund of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Jordan
• The Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) and sub-regional organizations: AARINENA (Association of Agricultural Research Institutes of the Near East and North Africa); APAARI (Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions; and CACAARI (Central Asia and the Caucasus Association of Agricultural Research Institutions)
• International organizations: Bioversity International, FAO, IDRC (International Development Research Centre) and OFID (OPEC Fund for International Development).
The guest of honor, H.R.H. Prince El Hassan bin Talal, President, Higher Council of Science and Technology; pledged full support from the Government of Jordan for international efforts to fight climate change. The Patron of the conference, H.E. Samir Rifai, Prime Minister of Jordan, sent a personal message, delivered by H.E. Eng. Saeed Al Masri, Minister of Agriculture: “Science is the best tool to overcome the challenges facing the agricultural sector,” he said. “The Government of Jordan places great emphasis on the role of agriculture in development, and this is reflected in the partnerships between NCARE and international centers like ICARDA.”
The conference participants signed the Amman Declaration, pledging to enhance food security and reduce farmers’ vulnerability to climate change. The declaration included a range of specific actions covering natural resource management, food production systems, policies and institutions, energy and regional initiatives – notably the formation of an international network to enhance food security and counter the effects of climate change in dry areas.
The Amman Declaration concludes: “ We, the participants of the Amman Conference, pledge to work together with farming and livestock communities to adapt and cope with the effects of climate change towards enhancing food security… We appeal to the scientific community, policy makers and the donor community, as well as national, regional and international organizations, to give priority in their research, investments and activities, towards enhancing food security and coping with climate change implications in dry areas… We request ICARDA to coordinate implementation of the declaration.”
The Water and Livelihoods Initiative, a multi-year research program funded by USAID and coordinated by ICARDA, was launched during the International Conference on Food Security and Climate Change held in Amman, Jordan, in February. Seven countries – Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Yemen – will work together to improve water management in agriculture. The project aims to integrate improved water and land management technologies, water policy, training and institution building, to ensure efficient, sustainable use of scarce water resources. Project activities will be driven by national research centers in the seven countries. Other partners include two CGIAR Centers (IWMI, IFPRI) and universities in the USA and throughout the region.
“In some countries in the region, per capita water availability has dropped to 170 cubic meters per year – compared to the internationally recognized water scarcity standard of 1000 cubic meters,” said Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General. “There is a direct relationship between food security and access to water.”
Research plans for 2010 were discussed at a technical workshop held in Amman, with work to begin at benchmark sites representing three major agro-ecologies: rainfed systems, irrigated systems and dry rangelands.
Dr Solh stressed the need for greater collaboration between countries and partner institutions. “In order for the Water and Livelihoods Initiative to succeed, countries must discard the inappropriate water and land use policies of the past. They must move from fragmented or narrowly focused projects to integrated research on agriculture and natural resource management, with partnerships that extend across national boundaries.”
A high-yielding, drought-tolerant, disease-resistant lentil variety, developed jointly by Morocco’s Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) and ICARDA, has been released for cultivation. The new variety, Chakkouf (ILL 6001-81), was developed from an ICARDA breeding line sent to Morocco under the international nurseries program. It was released last year after field evaluation for nine years at three locations. Chakkouf is an improved plant type with semi-erect growth habit, large seeds (4.75 g per 100 seeds) and yellow cotyledons. It is resistant to the two biggest lentil diseases in Morocco – rust and ascochyta blight – and also tolerant to drought. Data from long-term field trials highlight the potential of the new variety: early flowering and maturity (135 days to harvest), suitable plant height (50 cm) and high grain yield, 1500 kg/ha – 40% higher than the control variety used in the trials. Under favorable conditions and with good management, it can yield up to 2400 kg/ha.
Lentil is an important crop in Morocco, but cultivation has fallen by 60% in the past two decades, from 87,700 ha in 1985 to 32,700 ha today. Chakkouf – and other new varieties currently being developed – can help restore lentil production to earlier levels, improving food security and nutrition among poor households throughout the country.
Dr Ayten Salantur is a wheat scientist at the Central Research Institute for Field Crops (CRIFC) in Ankara, Turkey, and a good example of how capacity development programs can make a difference. Efforts at CRIFC to produce doubled haploids (DH) in wheat and barley were not very successful. Dr Salantur then underwent a two-week training program with Dr Michael Baum and his biotech team at ICARDA headquarters, sponsored by the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program. When she returned to Ankara, she and her team tried DH production on a small scale. They successfully produced 64 DH plants, of which 47 reached the heading stage, and 31 produced viable seeds.
“We are optimistic about the nest stage,” Dr Salantur says. “We now want to produce not hundreds but thousands of DHs.” That will provide CRIFC breeders with adequate material from which to select genotypes for further evaluation. “We were already experimenting with DH technology,” she added. “But the additional skills, especially the technical details that I learned at ICARDA, made the big difference.”
ICARDA, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and other partners are working together to promote conservation agriculture in West Asia. The program involves field trials, training programs – and now, television films. Syria’s Directorate of Extension will produce two movies for TV:
• A short technical film (3-5 minutes) targeted at local farmers. The film, explaining zero-tillage technology, will be produced in time for the coming planting season.
• A 10-15 minute film for a wider audience, on conservation agriculture and its importance for the region.
Earlier this month, a TV crew from the Directorate shot the first footage: conservation agriculture trials at Tel Hadya, an interview with ICARDA farm manager Colin Norwood, and the use of zero-till seeders by farmers in Arnaz village. The crew will also visit project sites in Hasakeh and Kamishly in northern Syria, where conservation agriculture is rapidly becoming popular. To see how the movie progresses, watch this space.