An ICARDA/CGIAR delegation visited Algeria earlier this month, following a request from H.E. Dr Rachid Benaissa, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, for ICARDA’s technical assistance to strengthen the country’s Agricultural and Rural Renewal Program. The delegation included three ICARDA staff – Dr Mahmoud Solh, Director General; Dr Kamil Shideed, ADG-ICC; and Dr Mohammed El Mourid, Coordinator, North Africa Regional Program; and Ms Lystra Antoine, Senior Financial Officer/Investor Relations of the CGIAR.
Meetings with Algerian scientists and policy makers, including a review of current knowledge gaps, helped identify areas where ICARDA would provide technical support: climate change adaptation, combating desertification, increasing water productivity, agricultural intensification and diversification, capacity development, biodiversity conservation and utilization, and biotechnology applications. The Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique – Algerie (INRAA) will lead the program, and coordinate activities with the Ministry of Agriculture and its 14 research institutes.
The new partnership was formalized through two documents: a Letter of Intent, outlining the scope of the collaborative program, signed by the Ministry, CGIAR and ICARDA; and a Memorandum of Understanding between INRAA and ICARDA, describing a 5-year research program.
Algeria and ICARDA have been research-for-development partners for more than 30 years, with highly successful results. The new expanded program is expected to result in even greater impacts on food security and rural livelihoods in Algeria – and provide lessons that can be applied in dry areas in other countries.
CIHEAM (International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies) is an intergovernmental organization working on agriculture and rural development in the Mediterranean basin. The 8th Meeting of Ministers of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of CIHEAM member countries was held in Istanbul, Turkey, 8-9 March. Thirteen countries – Albania, Algeria, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey – were represented by ministers or senior policy makers. ICARDA, as a special invitee, was represented by Dr Mahmoud Solh, Director General, and Dr Mesut Keser, Turkey Country Manager.
Dr Solh’s presentation at the meeting focused on ICARDA’s work in the Mediterranean region, outputs from joint CIHEAM-ICARDA research in previous years, and new opportunities for collaboration. Later, Dr Solh also met with key decision makers including H.E. Mehdi Eker, Turkey’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, to emphasize the role that ICARDA could play, particularly in climate change adaptation, which is a key priority for all CIHEAM countries.
The Second International Conference on Drought Management was held this month in Istanbul, Turkey, and attended by 95 experts from 28 countries. The conference focused on the economics of drought preparedness in the context of climate change. The presentations and discussions covered several areas: methods to assess the impact of drought, development and cost estimation of drought mitigation plans, and best practices and case studies from West Asia, North Africa and the Mediterranean region. Eventually a set of recommendations was developed, to improve drought preparedness and create supportive policies to strengthen performance, efficacy and social resilience. The recommendations were presented, and accepted, at a meeting of the Ministers of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, held shortly after the conference. It is expected they will be implemented in at least 13 Mediterranean countries.
The conference was organized jointly by Turkey’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, CIHEAM-Zaragoza, ICARDA, FAO, the NEMEDCA Drought Network and the Technical University of Madrid, Spain. ICARDA was involved at various levels: organizational support, delivering technical presentations, leading round-table discussions on policy options, and sponsoring the participation of national scientists from developing countries.
Improved livelihoods of small-scale farmers in Iraq through IPM and organic fertilization: this project, funded by IFAD and implemented by ICARDA and national partners, aims to improve the productivity of date palm and wheat-based systems. The technical planning meeting and the Steering Committee meeting of the project (both held annually) took place in Amman, Jordan, in February. The participants included project staff, ICARDA scientists, and representatives from IFAD and FAO.
Progress made in the 2008/09 season was reviewed; budgets and workplans for the next season were presented, discussed and approved. Two new activities have been added to the research portfolio: control of Dubas pest of date palm, and a new research site in the northern region, targeting wheat-legume systems. Next season the project will establish linkages with other research/development projects in Iraq, to accelerate scaling up of successful technologies. One such linkage is with the FAO’s regional project on Integrated Pest Management (IPM). A joint program has been agreed, under which IPM methods will be promoted through a network of farmer field schools.
Dr Saleh Bader, Director General of Iraq’s State Board for Agricultural Research, said at the Steering Committee meeting: “Increasing food production is a top priority. The project has developed a team of highly qualified, committed scientists… in cooperation with ICARDA scientists we are certain the project will achieve its objectives.” Ms Taghrid Lahham, IFAD representative, was similarly optimistic. “I am delighted to be part of this group and I look forward to even greater progress next season…. Success of the project – for which evidence is already available – will make it easier to attract donor support for agricultural development in Iraq.”
Dr James Matis, Visiting Professor at the University of Damascus, and Professor Emeritus, Department of Statistics, Texas A&M University, USA, visited ICARDA last month. He presented two seminars: a technical lecture entitled Analyzing aphid population data using a mechanistic model, and a more general seminar on logistic regression and its application in agricultural research. Dr Matis also met with senior scientists and management, to identify opportunities to expand collaboration between ICARDA, Texas A&M, and the University of Damascus. One key area is joint supervision of graduate statistics students from the University of Damascus.
Earlier this month, an ICARDA delegation visited national decision makers in Syria: H.E. Dr Adel Safar, Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform and H.E. Dr Amer Husni Lutfi, President of the State Planning Commission. The delegation comprised Dr Henri Carsalade, Chair of ICARDA’s Board of Trustees; Dr Mahmoud Solh, Director General; and Dr Majd Jamal, Assistant Director General for Government Liaison. This was Dr Carsalade’s first official visit to the Ministry after taking over as Board Chair in January.
Dr Safar and Dr Lutfi were briefed about progress and future plans of the joint
Syria-ICARDA research program. They both emphasized that the Syrian government was fully committed to maintaining and expanding this partnership.
Research and capacity development partnerships between Palestine and ICARDA are being significantly expanded, following a decision by the government of the Netherlands to fund ICARDA’s work in dry areas worldwide, and Palestine and Afghanistan in particular. The initial funding commitment is for a period of three years. We welcome the return of the Netherlands as a crucial partner in ICARDA’s research-for-development efforts.
The proposed new program was discussed at the 3rd Biennial Palestine-ICARDA Coordination Meeting held at ICARDA headquarters, 9-12 March. The six-member Palestinian delegation was led by Dr Ziad Fida, Director General of the National Agricultural Research Center, and included crop production, water management and plant protection specialists from the Ministry of Agriculture and NARC. Together with ICARDA scientists, they developed a detailed action plan for 2010, and outlined technical workplans for a proposed three-year program, which will be funded by the Netherlands government and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD).
The program aims to help improve food production and food security in Palestine, and encourage more sustainable use of water resources. Program components include:
- Increasing the productivity and sustainability of rainfed food crops, and strengthening seed production systems in the West Bank
- Improving yields and quality of greenhouse crops in Gaza
- Introducing proven technologies for safe and productive use of treated wastewater and greywater in agriculture in the West Bank and Gaza
- Training programs to build research capacity in the West Bank and Gaza.
“This will build on previous work by ICARDA in dry areas, in this region and elsewhere,” Dr Fida said. “We are committed to ensuring that the program succeeds.” Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General, stressed the Center’s commitment. “We have a well designed program, with proven technologies and strong partners on the ground. I am confident that, together, we will make a significant difference to the livelihoods of poor rural households in Palestine”.
Dr Gert Kema, a world authority on Septoria tritici (the pathogen that causes septoria leaf blotch disease) visited ICARDA last month. Dr Kema, who works at the Wageningen University and Research Center in The Netherlands, presented a seminar entitled: ‘Mycosphaerella graminicola of wheat: towards a new insight, and its practical implications’. The seminar dealt with structural and functional genomics issues, phenotyping, and genome mapping (the Septoria tritici genome was mapped for the first time by his research team).
Dr Kema met with ICARDA breeders, pathologists and genetic resources specialists to discuss potential areas for collaborative research on Septoria, which affects both wheat and barley. Two key research areas were identified: the use of differential Septoria mycotoxins to screen durum and bread wheat genotypes; and virulence and aggressiveness in Septoria isolates. Collaboration could also include exchange visits between ICARDA and Wageningen scientists, and joint supervision of MSc and PhD students.
Accompanied by Dr Maarten van Ginkel, ICARDA DDG-Research, Dr Miloudi Nachit, ICARDA durum wheat breeder and other scientists, Dr Kema also visited durum wheat trials in the Ghab area, and the breeding program for Septoria resistance at the Syrian government’s Lattakia Research Station.
Syria’s Ministry of Agriculture has released a new durum wheat variety, developed jointly by the General Commission for Scientific Agricultural Research (GCSAR), the Arab Center for Studies in Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD) and ICARDA. Douma 3 (ACSAD 1229) is suitable for rainfed agriculture in dry areas (corresponding to Stability Zone II). In field trials in four governorates (Dara’a, Hama, Aleppo and Raqqa), it gave consistently better grain quality and disease resistance than the control varieties, with yields 10 to 16% higher.
This follows the release earlier this year of Cham 9 (Douma 41008), targeted at Stability Zone I. Cham 9 gave yields 11-12% higher than the control variety, and in addition, has good morphological characteristics and high levels of disease resistance, particularly to the Ug99 strain of stem rust disease. It is already being grown by farmers in four provinces; Hassake, Aleppo, Tartous and the El-Ghab region in Hama. It is expected to expand to dry areas in Dara’a and Idleb provinces.
Field days are usually organized by research or development agencies – but the ACIAR-AusAID Iraq Project on conservation cropping, as always, is different. Last month, 20 farmers working with the project organized their own field day at Al Namrud village in Ninevah province, Iraq. The participants included farmers from surrounding villages and staff from the collaborating Directorate of Agriculture and Mosul University. The field day highlighted farmer-managed zero-tillage demonstrations and farmer-developed zero-till planters, modified versions of the popular Rama local seeder. Farmers who had experimented with zero tillage methods and equipment were eager to show other farmers their experiences and the benefits of the new technology.
One striking demonstration comprised two fields: one under zero-tillage, the other conventionally plowed. Even experienced farmers were unable to tell which was which – showing clearly that zero tillage gave the same performance as conventional plowing, but with large savings in cost.