Scientists, research managers, policy makers and donors from 31 countries have outlined steps to combat stripe (yellow) rust, perhaps the world’s most widespread wheat disease. A virulent new strain of the disease has caused massive epidemics in at least nine countries in the past two years, reducing wheat harvests by up to 40% in affected areas.
The International Wheat Stripe Rust Symposium, held at ICARDA headquarters, 18-20 April, warned that global food security could be severely threatened by future epidemics, and that the CWANA region (Central and West Asia and North Africa) was particularly vulnerable. The symposium was organized by ICARDA, with support from FAO, IDRC, AARINENA, the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, IFAD and CIMMYT.
It sought to:
- Share information on the current status of wheat stripe rust epidemics and control efforts
- Develop an integrated approach for disease prevention and control
- Identify investment, research and capacity building gaps, as well as complementarities among national wheat research programs.
Introductory presentations provided regional and global overviews. Dr Robert MacIntosh, Professor Emeritus at the University of Sydney, delivered the keynote address. This was followed by a series of technical presentations on different aspects, including detailed country status reports.
“Stripe rust does not respect national borders,” said Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General. “No one single country or organization can control the disease on its own – regional and international cooperation is vital.”
The conference culminated in the Aleppo Declaration, which calls for coordinated action to combat stripe rust, as well as other rust diseases such as stem rust, that could be potentially even more damaging. The Declaration calls for urgent replacement of susceptible varieties, establishment of epidemic forecasting systems, investment in building national R&D capacity, and other measures. Participants agreed that follow-up actions would be coordinated by a group led by ICARDA, with the involvement of BGRI, CIMMYT, FAO and national research programs in the countries most affected by stripe rust. For more details, see the conference website http://www.icarda.org/wheatrust/
The CGIAR Fund Council has approved provisionally CGIAR Research Program 1.1 (CRP1.1), Integrated agricultural production systems for the poor and vulnerable in dry areas. The new program, led by ICARDA, involves some 40 national and international partners, with many more expected to join during the implementation phase. This is probably the first agricultural research program of its size and scope to take a systems approach to solving rural development problems. It combines the expertise of researchers in a range of disciplines: crop improvement, natural resources management, livestock, aquaculture and fisheries, policy and institutions.
Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General, presented the proposal to the Fund Council on 5 April, at a special meeting in Montpellier, France, in the presence of Mr Henri Carsalade, Chair of ICARDA’s Board of Trustees, and Dr Maarten van Ginkel, DDG-Research and leader of the CRP1.1 proposal development team.
The proposal was developed over the past year under ICARDA’s leadership, with development and research partners from around the world. Five stakeholder workshops were held, involving national research centers from 20 countries, nine CGIAR Centers (ICARDA, ICRISAT, Bioversity, CIAT, CIP, ILRI, IWMI, ICRAF, WorldFish), the CGIAR Challenge Program for Sub-Saharan Africa, the Global Forum for Agricultural Research, five regional fora – AARINENA (representing the Near East and North Africa), APAARI (Asia Pacific), CACAARI (Central Asia and Caucasus), FARA (Africa), and FORAGRO (Latin America) – advanced research institutes, development agencies and donors
The CGIAR has identified ICARDA’s work on legume crops as a prime example of successful research-for-development. The CGIAR’s Standing Panel on Impact Assessment (SPIA) has begun a scoping study to measure the impacts of CGIAR-wide legumes research on productivity and livelihoods. The review will cover ICARDA’s work on chickpea in Turkey and Syria (visits completed) and lentil in Nepal (in the coming months).
The SPIA team – Dr James Stevenson of the CGIAR Independent Science and Partnership Council, Dr Robert Tripp, consultant, and Dr Timothy Dalton from the University of Arkansas – visited Turkey and Syria in March. They met with farmers, national research and extension staff, policy makers and seed producers to collect information on yield and income gains, adoption rates and other impact parameters. In Turkey they focused on Gokce, a drought-tolerant kabuli chickpea variety developed through Turkey-ICARDA collaboration. Gokce, which occupies about 60% of the country’s chickpea area, yields 300 kg/ha more than most other varieties. In Syria, the study examined the impact of winter chickpea technology. ICARDA and its partners have developed new varieties – cold-tolerant and resistant to ascochyta blight disease – that can be planted in winter (rather than spring), with substantially higher yields. There is considerable anecdotal evidence of the impacts of these technologies. The SPIA study will provide quantitative data to enable researchers and policy makers to scale up the impacts still further.
ICARDA’s Water Benchmarks Project, currently supported by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, aims to improve water management in dry areas across West Asia and North Africa, through research at ‘benchmark’ sites in different agro-ecologies. Egypt hosts the benchmark sites for irrigated systems, where the project focuses on developing and promoting more efficient irrigation practices and increasing farmer awareness of water-efficient technologies.
As part of these efforts, field days were organized jointly by the Agricultural Research Corporation, the National Center for Water Research, two rural development projects (West Noubariah and East Delta), and ICARDA. The aim was to showcase technology ‘packages’ that combine improved varieties, crop management, and especially irrigation methods to achieve the same (or higher) yields with significantly less water and fertilizer. The field days brought together 120 participants – farmers, policy makers, local government officials, researchers, extension agents, NGO staff and others. These interactions, and follow-up distribution of information, have generated considerable interest among farmers as well as government officials involved in extension and water management.
The conservation agriculture project in Iraq, funded by ACIAR and AusAID, continues to build capacity among farmers, researchers, extension staff and agribusiness entrepreneurs to promote conservation agriculture methods to improve yield and soil conservation.
A training course on zero-tillage seeders was held at ICARDA headquarters on 22-28 March. It brought together 30 researchers, extension officers, farmers and machinery manufacturers from Iraq and Syria, as well as researchers and engineers from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey. The course was coordinated by project collaborator Dr Jack Desbiolles from the University of South Australia. It covered the design, construction and operation of tine and disc zero-tillage seeders, classroom sessions and visits to ICARDA research fields, local farms, and machinery manufacturers in El Bab and Qabbasin areas near Aleppo. Two previous courses were held in 2009. These courses have helped develop local capacity to fabricate and use effective, affordable zero-tillage seeders in both Iraq and Syria. Zero-till fields now cover more than 5000 hectares in Iraq, and more than 15,000 hectares in Syria – and there is considerable interest from other countries in the region.
Dr Mohammed El Mourid, Coordinator of ICARDA’s North Africa Regional Program, has received the prestigious national agricultural award from the government of Morocco, for his contributions as a scientist and research manager, in promoting agricultural development in North Africa. He received the award during the opening ceremony of the International Congress on Agricultural Production Improvement, held at the Hassan Premier University of Settat, Morocco, in March 2011. Congratulations!
H.E. Abdalla Al-Dardari, Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, commended the results achieved by Syria-ICARDA partnerships, and urged that collaboration be further expanded. He was speaking at a workshop on Spatial development challenges and rural development in Syria, organized jointly by Syria’s Regional Planning Commission and ICARDA. Participants at the workshop, held at ICARDA headquarters on 26 March, included H.E. Dr Erfan Ali, Head of the Regional Planning Commission, H.E. Ali Ahmed Mansoura, Governor of Aleppo, and other dignitaries.
The workshop discussed agricultural development opportunities in Syria in light of climate change, declining water reserves, land degradation and other challenges. H.E. Al-Dardari noted: “The new National Framework for Regional Planning places great emphasis on agriculture, because half of Syria’s population lives in rural areas. Joint research by the Ministry of Agriculture and ICARDA will be vital in implementing the Framework.”
The workshop included presentations by ICARDA scientists, highlighting technologies that could be scaled out, and new research tools that could assist land use planning. Dr Mahmoud Solh ICARDA’s Director General, said: “These are examples of how good partnerships can bring research results quickly into farmers’ fields.”
Five areas were discussed: policy options for enhancing research impacts, technologies for producing more food with less water, GIS tools for agro-ecological mapping, strategies for climate change adaptation, and strategies to improve livestock production in marginal rangelands. In each of these areas, the conference helped outline practical ways to build on previous research results, and integrate them into national development plans.
Syria-ICARDA partnerships have been taken to a new level, with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between ICARDA and Syria’s Regional Planning Commission. The agreement was signed on 26 March by H.E. Dr Erfan Ali, Head of the Regional Planning Commission, and Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General, in the presence of H.E. Abdalla Al-Dardari, Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, and H.E. Ali Ahmed Mansoura, Governor of Aleppo .
The new agreement, signed at a workshop on Spatial development challenges and rural development (see above), outlines how Syrian research organizations will work with ICARDA on priority areas identified by national policy makers. The aim is provide analysis and policy input to inform development planning in Syria. Activities will cover three areas:
- Research to contribute to the development of the new National Framework for Regional Planning
- Building of a spatial database to support rural development
- Capacity development and knowledge transfer between ICARDA and Syrian partners.
Ongoing technical consultations between Syrian partners and ICARDA will continue, to develop a detailed research program. The next steps, as outlined by senior national policy makers, is to establish thematic working groups to take this cooperation forward in each of the three priority areas.
ICARDA was a special invitee to the Board of Directors meeting of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), held on 4 April in Damascus, Syria. Dr Mahmoud Solh, Director General, and Dr Kamil Shideed, ADG-ICC, participated. Dr Solh made a presentation on ‘Harnessing research and innovation for Arab food security’, highlighting technologies and approaches that could enhance food security and agricultural development in the region.
The AFESD Board identified several research areas where ICARDA could contribute, both within and beyond the ongoing AFESD-funded, ICARDA-led regional food security project. These include: salinity-tolerant wheat varieties, gaps between potential and actual yields, water-use efficiency, alternative feed resources and post-harvest losses.
“The results achieved so far are commendable,” said Dr Abdulatif Al-Hamad, AFESD Chairman and Director General. “But we need to strengthen links between researchers and development organizations to disseminate these results more effectively. We assure you that AFESD will continue to support your efforts.”
Dr David Malone, President of Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), visited ICARDA headquarters on 27 March to identify areas of common interest and funding opportunities for research projects on poverty alleviation, food security and environmental sustainability.
He was accompanied by Dr Hammou Laamrani, IDRC Senior Programme Officer. IDRC-ICARDA ties go back many years. IDRC was the executing agency responsible for establishing ICARDA in 1977, and remains one of our key donors, supporting a range of research and capacity building programs.
The IDRC delegation met with ICARDA scientists and management, and toured field and laboratory facilities at Tel Hadya. Dr Malone noted that a number of improved technologies, developed by ICARDA and its partners, had been extensively tested and proven, and could be readily outscaled to dryland farming systems in many countries. He was particularly appreciative of ICARDA’s work in conflict zones (e.g. Afghanistan and Iraq), which he said would provide lasting benefits; and of the Center’s participatory approach, where initiatives were led by local communities and national institutions, with ICARDA providing technical advice and backstopping.