H.E. Mehmet Mehdi Eker, Turkey’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, has strongly endorsed plans to expand Turkey-ICARDA collaboration. The Minister discussed ongoing research and future plans with an ICARDA delegation comprising Dr Mahmoud Solh, Director General; Dr Kamil Shideed, Assistant Director General for International Cooperation and Communications; and Dr Mesut Keser, Country Manager, Turkey. They were accompanied by Dr Masum Burak, Director General, General Directorate of Agricultural Research (GDAR), and member of ICARDA’s Board of Trustees.
The meeting, held in Ankara, 19 January, highlighted the role these partnerships could play in ensuring food security in the region, and the many opportunities to expand collaborative research on crop improvement (wheat, barley, chickpea), drought, livestock and other areas. The Minister pledged continuing support from the Turkish government. It was agreed that strategic collaboration would be developed in both research and capacity development between ICARDA and the Drought Center newly established in Konya.
Other meetings, with the Director General and senior management of GDAR, helped identify collaborative research activities in winter wheat and other areas. Discussions with the Turkish International Development Agency as well as international organizations (FAO and UNDP) helped develop a shared understanding of future priorities. The ICARDA team also visited the Southeastern Anatolian Development Administration (GAP) in Sanliurfa, to renew a Memorandum of Understanding (first signed in 1998) on GAP-ICARDA collaborative research. Mr Sadrettin Karahocagil, GAP President, noted there were several areas where the ongoing program could be expanded, for example watershed management, conservation agriculture, crop-rangeland-livestock systems and socio-economic studies. A team of ICARDA scientists will visit GAP in April to explore these possibilities in greater detail.
ICARDA scientists and management shared ideas during a 3-day ‘retreat’ held in Aleppo, 24-26 January. The retreat focused on the challenges and opportunities created by the ongoing CGIAR reform process and the new CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs). The aim was to identify gaps in ICARDA’s staffing, skills, processes and structure, and plan how to fill these gaps, in the ‘new’ CGIAR. The discussions were led by a team of facilitators: Dr Mohamed Zehni, former Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees; Dr Rodomiro Ortiz, who has help senior management positions at three CGIAR Centers; and Mr Nellooli Rajasekharan, Director, Human Resources.
ICARDA is the lead center for CRP 1.1, Integrated agricultural production systems for the poor and vulnerable in dry areas. It is also co-lead or member in eight other CRPs, working with a large number of partners. The discussions focused on the complexities of implementation, and covered a range of issues: research gaps, science quality, staffing needs,
impact pathways, partnerships, resource mobilization… as well as administration, finance and reporting. In research, for example, the discussions helped prioritize research themes and target regions, and identify gaps in knowledge or capacity. Outputs from the retreat will now become a central part of management planning, and will help ensure that ICARDA’s research portfolio is clearly articulated, well targeted, and realistic.
“This was ICARDA at its best – vibrant, energetic, full of promise for the future,” Dr Zehni said. Summing up the meeting, Dr Solh noted: “The CGIAR system is at a crossroads. Given ICARDA’s track record – our staff, and our close ties with national programs in every partner country – I am confident we are well prepared for the challenges ahead.” “This is the start of a new journey,” said Dr Maarten van Ginkel, Deputy Director General, Research. “I am optimistic because we are building on a proud and successful past.”
ICARDA has just dispatched its fourth shipment of germplasm to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. With this shipment, the seed vault will contain more than 102,000 accessions from ICARDA’s genebank – the largest contribution from the CGIAR. The latest shipment contained 7760 seed samples of cereal and food legume crops, sealed in aluminum foil and packed in special weather-proof cartons. The samples will be stored in an underground vault on the remote Arctic island of Spitzbergen, managed by the Global Crop Diversity Trust with support from the Norwegian government and other partners. The Global Seed Vault will eventually hold a large proportion of the world’s plant genetic diversity, serving as insurance against loss of this vital resource.
Three staff from ICARDA’s Afghanistan office passed away on 13 January, in a car accident. Mr Shamsuddin Siddiqi, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer; Mr Gulojaan, Senior Technician / Site Coordinator; and Mr Abeerullah, Driver, were returning to Kabul from a field visit to Mazar El-Sharif. All three joined ICARDA in 2002, when the Afghanistan office was established. They were key members of the ICARDA team, deeply committed to their work, and delivering outstanding results under extremely challenging conditions. The moral support the family has received – hundreds of visitors and messages of condolence from research and extension departments, government agencies, international organizations, farm communities and others – is a reflection of how highly their work was valued. Our thoughts are with the families. We pray the Almighty gives them strength to bear this terrible loss.
Dr John Ryan, Consultant Soil Scientist, has been named Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for “distinguished contributions to international agricultural research, particularly in the areas of soil science, crop nutrition and agronomy”. Dr Ryan is the only CGIAR scientist among this year’s honorees, and the first ICARDA scientist to be named an AAAS Fellow. Congratulations!
H.E. Pratibha Patil, President of India, during her visit to ICARDA headquarters in November 2010, suggested there were opportunities to expand India-ICARDA research partnerships. As a follow-up to her visit, a meeting, was held at ICARDA’s New Delhi office on 8 January, to identify specific areas of collaboration. The aim was to build on partner synergies to deliver benefits to farmers not only in India but across South Asia.
The meeting was attended by some of India’s top research administrators: Dr J.S. Samra, Chief Executive Officer, National Rainfed Area Authority; Mr Rajesh Ranjan, Director, International Cooperation, Department of Agricultural Research and Extension; and Dr A.K. Singh and Dr S.K. Datta, Deputy Directors General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. ICARDA was represented by Dr Mahmoud Solh, Director General, and several senior scientists. The meeting highlighted the potential for increasing productivity in rainfed areas, which account for 60% of India’s cropped area and support half the total rural workforce. ICARDA, with its expertise in integrated dryland production systems, could play a strong supporting role in these efforts. A joint team is now working on a concept note for a comprehensive bilateral research collaboration, to be presented to national policy makers.
Dr Solh also attended the Indian Science Congress (a highly prestigious event, inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India) as an invited speaker. He presented two papers on production systems in dry areas and the use of molecular approaches in crop improvement.
ICARDA’s Arabian Peninsula Regional Program organized its 3rd annual regional conference in Kuwait, in cooperation with the Public Authority for Agricultural Affairs and Fish Resources (PAAFR). The conference, 20-23 December 2010, was hosted at the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD) and inaugurated by H.E. Eng. Jasim Mohamed Habib Al Badar, Director General and Chairman of PAAF; H.E. Abdul Latif Yousf Al Hamad, Director General and Chairman of AFESD; and Dr Mahmoud Solh, Director General of ICARDA. About 45 researchers and extension agents from Bahrain, Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Yemen participated, together with ICARDA scientists.
H.E. Al Hamad stressed the importance of agricultural research to the Arab world and especially the Arabian Peninsula; and noted that collaborative research in the region, led and facilitated by ICARDA, had produced excellent results. He also provided a brief history of AFESD financial support (alongside other donors such as IFAD and OFID): since 1980, the AFESD has provided US$ 6.5 million in grants to ICARDA’s regional program.
H.E. Al Badar said: “We look forward to receiving your recommendations… to enhance agricultural development and address climate change, food security and other challenges.” He also outlined Kuwait’s development plan for agriculture, where the main targets are to increase agricultural production, expand rangeland rehabilitation and increase private investment.
Dr Solh expressed his appreciation to Kuwait and PAAFR for hosting the meeting, and to AFESD for their long-term financial support. He stressed the need to disseminate modern technology for improving water and land productivity. “ICARDA scientists are familiar with the dimensions of the problem,” Dr Solh said. “We are working closely with national research and extension agencies to enhance agricultural production and to provide accurate information for decision makers.”
The 3rd Regional Technical Coordination Meeting was held from 20 to 22 December; 44 researchers from the seven partner countries presented their activities, and – jointly with ICARDA scientists – developed workplans and budgets for the next season.
The successful dissemination of hydroponics technology – an important project goal – was highlighted by Mr Mohamed Al Naeemi, a pioneer hydroponics grower from Ajman area, UAE. He described, with detailed figures, how water and land productivity on his farm had significantly improved, once he adopted the new technology. The meeting included a field visit to the Abdaly area, where a number of private farmers have adopted technologies being promoted by ICARDA and its partners – hydroponics production systems, Integrated Production and Protection Management for greenhouses, and cultivation of irrigated Buffel grass for forage.
Dr Kamil Shideed, Assistant Director General, International Cooperation and Communications, chaired the 3rd Regional Steering Committee Meeting, held on 23 December at the AFESD offices. The meeting was attended by 11 NARS representatives from seven countries in addition to Dr Ahmed Moustafa, Coordinator, Arabian Peninsula Regional Program; and senior AFESD representatives: Dr Samir Jarrad, Economist; Dr Asaad Moustafa, Consultant; and Mr Habeeb Behbehani, Engineer Expert. Dr Moustafa presented a brief report on project activities. The Committee reviewed progress made towards research and financial targets; approved the proposed workplan for the 2010-11 season.
Other meetings. In parallel with these meetings, Dr Solh met with the top management of partner organizations, including H.E. Al Hamad of AFESD; H.E. Al Badar of PAAFR; and Mr Ahmed Osman, Director of AFESD’s Technical Department. The meetings focused on expansion of collaborative research programs to enhance agricultural development and food security in the region.
The Netherlands government and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development are co-funding a series of ICARDA-led projects to strengthen agricultural development in Palestine. The projects, operating in the West Bank and Gaza, cover crop improvement (wheat, barley, lentil, chickpea), water management, and protected agriculture. The first Steering Committee meeting for these projects was held in Amman, Jordan, during 3-4 January. The meeting reviewed progress made in each project. Progress has been encouraging. Project have worked with pilot farmers to establish demonstration plots to promote new varieties, and initiate plans for other project components. Baseline and review studies have been conducted in both West Bank and Gaza.
Key partner representatives, including Ms Heleen van der Beek, Deputy Head of the Netherlands mission in Amman, and Dr Ziad Fadda, Director General of the National Agricultural Research Center in Jordan, noted that the project was advancing well; and pledged continued support.
ICARDA is working with Afghan partners on a project on ‘Sustainable food security and poverty reduction’. The project, funded by the Netherlands government, targets Uruzgan province. The results to date have been highly encouraging. We reproduce, in part, a letter from Uruzgan’s Director of Agriculture:
“Our farmers are extremely happy with the newly introduced varieties… farmers have achieved 15% and 50% higher yields over traditional varieties… HMPAs [Producer associations established by the project] are getting very good responses on their test marketing of the first ever introduced hygienically packed dried mint packets… The people of Uruzgan will always be indebted to ICARDA and the Netherlands government for their generous support to this otherwise ignored province.”
Dr Sanjaya Rajaram, internationally respected wheat breeder and former BIGM Program Director at ICARDA, has received the M.S. Swaminathan Award for Leadership in Agriculture. The award was presented by Dr Abdul Kalam, former President of India, at a function in New Delhi, India, on 18 December 2010. The citation mentions some of his many achievements. Dr Rajaram has more than 400 publications to his name, and has helped develop an astonishing 500 new wheat varieties, released in 51 countries. He has led studies in Algeria, Egypt and India that formed the basis for government plans in these countries to expand wheat production.