H.E. Dr Adel Safar, Prime Minister of Syria, expressed satisfaction with the results achieved by Syria-ICARDA research partnerships; and assured his government’s full support for the Center’s work. He was speaking at a meeting with an ICARDA delegation, held in his office in Damascus on 24 May. The Prime Minister has played a key role in building these partnerships, during his eight years as Minister for Agriculture and Agrarian Reform.
H.E. Dr Riad Hejab, Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, also met with the ICARDA delegation, to review ongoing collaborative projects between ICARDA and the Ministry, which are coordinated by the General Commission for Scientific Agricultural Research. He commended the results achieved in research, capacity development and improvement of rural livelihoods in Syria. Dr Hijab also identified areas where collaboration could be expanded: water harvesting for rangeland rehabilitation, promotion of conservation agriculture, and food security improvement, particularly increasing wheat productivity and livestock production (through a new IFAD project in Syria).
Dr Mahmoud Solh, Director General, and Dr Majd Jamal, Assistant Director General, Government Liaison, assured the Minister of ICARDA’s commitment to addressing these issues, many of which are already part of collaborative workplans.
H.E. Aziz Akhannouch, Morocco’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, has commended efforts to broaden Morocco-ICARDA research collaboration. He was speaking to an ICARDA delegation led by Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General. The meeting, and other discussions with national research leaders, took place during Dr Solh’s visit to Morocco, 27-30 April.
Prof. Mohammed Badraoui, Director General of the Institut National de la Recherché Agronomique (INRA), together with senior staff from INRA and the Ministry of Agriculture, identified a number of priority areas where collaboration could be expanded:
- Expanding legume cultivation in Morocco to diversify farming systems, increase farm income and reduce imports
- Establishing a regional research platform for rainfed cereal-based systems, with Morocco taking the lead in wheat
- Strengthening the Settat genebank for better conservation and utilization of biodiversity
- Strengthening INRA capacity in biotechnology research at national and regional centers, particularly on molecular markers and genetic transformation for stress tolerance
- Promoting conservation agriculture
- Integrated crop-rangeland-livestock systems and value-added livestock products in the marginal and mountainous areas of Morocco.
A new partner – the OCP Innovative Fund for Agriculture – expressed interest in a collaborative project on food legumes, jointly with INRA-Morocco, ICARDA, the Indian Society of Agricultural Professionals, and ICRISAT. This will build on OCP’s ongoing projects with INRA, and link research in Morocco and India to expand production of legumes, which are an important staple food in both countries.
Dr Solh was invited to deliver the keynote address at the International Agriculture Fair of Morocco, the country’s premier showcase for new agricultural technologies. This annual event draws participants from more than 40 countries. Dr Solh’s presentation described ICARDA’s work in drylands and its collaborative programs in Morocco. Dr Solh and Dr Mohamed El Mourid, Coordinator of ICARDA’s North Africa Regional Program, also visited research stations and farmers’ fields in Meknes, Merchouch and Settat, where INRA-ICARDA collaborative projects are being implemented.
A new IFAD-funded, ICARDA-led research-for-development project was launched this month: Improving the food security and climate change adaptability of livestock producers using the rainfed barley-based system in Iraq and Jordan. The project inception workshop was held in Amman, Jordan, 16-18 May, attended by scientists, development specialists and policy makers from both countries, and representatives of IFAD, ICARDA and other organizations.
The 3-year project aims to develop integrated crop-livestock production systems to create viable, stable livelihoods for small-scale livestock producers in dry areas in both countries; and to generate lessons that could be applied in similar ecologies across the region. Project components include: management of integrated barley-livestock based systems, technologies to enable communities to cope with climate variability and change, ‘downscaling’ climate change models, strengthening extension systems, and sensitization of policy makers on climate change issues.
“This project is important for several reasons,” said Dr Radi Tarawneh, Secretary General of Jordan’s Ministry of Agriculture Tarawneh, who inaugurated the workshop. “It looks at food security and climate change from a regional perspective. It focuses on the low-rainfall agro-ecosystems that cover large parts of West Asia. And it is targeted at poor rural communities, which are suffering from frequent drought and poor economic returns from agriculture.”
The inception workshop was followed by a meeting of the Project Steering Committee, which approved the overall project framework and workplans and budgets for the first season.
Value addition – for example, simple home-based methods to produce high-quality, high-value dairy products – is an important component of livestock projects being implemented jointly by INRA-Morocco and ICARDA. One such project, in the Ouarzazate region, is helping to increase farm incomes through improved methods of producing cheese from goat milk. The project is funded through Morocco’s contribution to the CGIAR.
At a meeting held in Ouarzazate on 10 May, the project team presented results from three years of research, and discussed how best to build on this work. The findings covered several areas: local know-how on goat cheese processing, marketing pathways between local dairies and Ouarzazate city, income gains for cheese producers and physicochemical studies (composition, quality) of locally produced goat milk and cheese. The meeting was jointly organized by research (INRA’s regional center in Errachidia) and extension (Regional Office for Agricultural Development, Ouarzazate) agencies. Clearly, all partners are ready to scale up results. Cheese producers are convinced of the benefits, and keen to adopt new processing technologies; researchers and extension agencies are willing to provide staff resources for a targeted program to upgrade manufacturing practices at the three local cheese units.
The Konya Drought Center in Turkey’s Central Anatolia region is the designated hub for Turkey-ICARDA collaborative research and graduate research training on drought. This partnership will build on Turkey’s research strengths to generate technologies to minimize the impacts of drought – and which could potentially be applied to drought-prone areas worldwide.
Two of Turkey’s top decision makers in agriculture – H.E. Dr Mehmet Mehdi Eker, Minister of Agriculture, and Dr Masum Burak, Director General, GDAR – visited ICARDA headquarters in March, and recommended that collaboration be expanded. Following up on their visit, a team of ICARDA scientists visited the Konya Center on 25-26 May. Meetings with Turkish scientists, led by Dr Muzaffer Kiziltan, Deputy Director General, GDAR, helped develop a framework for collaboration, including guidelines for project development. Studies are envisaged in drought processes, drought tolerance mechanisms, climate change adaptation, drought impact assessment and other areas.
H.E. Dr Riad Hejab, Syria’s Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, visited ICARDA headquarters on 12 May. He was accompanied by Mr Hamed Al-Soud, President of the Syrian Farmers Union, and several Directors from the Ministry. “Syria and ICARDA have worked closely together for more than 30 years,” the Minister said. “The benefits have been substantial – but there are opportunities to expand this partnership even further.”
Dr Hejab visited field experiments and lab facilities at the Tel Hadya research station, noting that ICARDA’s research complemented national efforts in key areas. For example, multidisciplinary Syria-ICARDA teams are helping to fight epidemics of yellow rust disease, which has caused huge losses in recent years. A joint project, using GIS tools for agro-ecological mapping, is helping to improve technology targeting. The “100 villages” project has helped disseminate new technologies to improve the livelihoods of the country’s poorest communities. Another program has led to an expansion of conservation agriculture in Syria from near-zero to 15,000 hectares.
Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General, stressed the Center’s commitment to assisting national efforts. “All our work is driven by the priorities of partner countries – and designed, implemented and monitored jointly.
” He spoke about new research-for-development initiatives in which Syria would play an important role. These include a regional project on food security supported by the Arab and Kuwait Funds and the Islamic Development Bank, and the new CGIAR Consortium Research Program on dryland farming systems.
Following discussions with scientists and senior management, Dr Hejab identified several areas where existing programs could be expanded. These include new disease- and drought-resistant crop varieties, technologies to increase water productivity, integrated crop-rangeland-livestock systems, and rural development projects to create new income opportunities, especially for women.
The USAID-funded Water and Livelihood Initiative (WLI) conducts research at benchmark sites in different agro-ecosystems, to develop integrated strategies for water, land use and livelihoods. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are a powerful tool for site characterization – a crucial first step in the research process.
A training course on GIS applications brought together 12 WLI researchers from different countries. The course was held at the National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension (NCARE) in Jordan, 10-14 April. The trainers were Dr Feras Ziadat from ICARDA, and Eng. Safa Mazahreh and Eng. Lubna Al-Mahasneh from NCARE. The course covered different aspects of biophysical characterization, including land suitability analysis and database management – using real data from WLI sites. Following the training course, participants will continue to refine the parameters to be used for detailed analysis, such as suitability criteria for each agro-ecosystem, and for land utilization types within each agro-ecosystem.
Palestinian farmers gathered at a field day on 5 May, to view new crop varieties and select those best suited to conditions on their own farms. The field day was held at two locations: Der Abo Deef village and Qabatia research station in Jenin governorate in the West Bank. The objective was to showcase new varieties of wheat, barley, lentil and chickpea introduced from ICARDA, and now being tested in farmers’ fields.
The field day was organized jointly by the National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) and ICARDA as part of a research project funded by the Netherlands Government. Last season, the project distributed seed of new varieties to about 100 farmers in the West Bank. Each farmer received sufficient seed for an ‘experimental’ half-hectare plot, adjacent to his/her regular field, for comparison. Two farmers received a wider selection of varieties, and their fields are being used for variety selection by other farmers. Farmers at the field day were very positive about the results. After the harvest, they will be given seed of the varieties they selected, for further evaluation and for seed multiplication.
Eleven farmers and technical staff from Palestine (West Bank and Gaza) visited Jordan during 17-22 April, for first-hand experience on the use of treated wastewater and grey water for irrigation. This ‘traveling workshop’ was part of a Netherlands-funded, ICARDA-coordinated program in Palestine. It aimed to share lessons learnt during an ongoing project in Jordan, led by the National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension (NCARE) and ICARDA.
The Palestinians visited project sites in Jordan – individual home gardens, farmers’ fields and research stations – where grey water and treated wastewater are being safely and productively used to irrigate a range of crops. They also learnt simple testing procedures to monitor water quality, and visited the Khirbet As-Samra wastewater treatment plant (the largest in Jordan) and the farmers’ cooperative that uses recycled water from the plant. Dr Faisal Awawdeh, Director General of NCARE, met with the participants. He stressed the importance of such interactions, within and between countries, to accelerate the dissemination of water-saving technologies.
For any research project to succeed, it is essential to establish clear criteria for success, measure progress in meeting these criteria, and adapt to changing circumstances. Prof. David Greenwood shared his insights on project management methods at a seminar at ICARDA headquarters on 19 April. Prof. Greenwood is Associate Dean of Research and Consultancy and Director of the Sustainable Cities Research Institute at the University of Northumbria, UK. He is also chair of the Center-Commissioned External Review (CCER) panel that is evaluating ICARDA’s capacity development activities.
The seminar, Successful and results-oriented project management, discussed the project management process, success criteria, planning and monitoring techniques and other aspects. Particularly relevant to ICARDA were issues of how to manage multi-country projects, and how to avoid over- and under-spending by applying the right project management tools.