Egyptian government agencies will work with ICARDA and Australian partners in a renewed effort to develop, test and promote new technologies to increase water productivity in agriculture. Research priorities and action plans were developed during the ‘On-farm water use efficiency knowledge exchange workshop’ held in Cairo, 26-29 July.
The workshop, inaugurated by H.E. Salah Yousef Farag, Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, brought together more than 60 R&D experts, administrators and government officials. The participants included Dr Salah Abdel-Moamen, President of Egypt’s Agricultural Research Center (ARC); H.E. Stephanie Shwabsky, the Australian Ambassador to Egypt; Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General; and Prof Dr Adel El-Beltagy, Chair of the International Dryland Development Commission. The workshop included a field trip to newly reclaimed land in the Noubaria region, to better understand current water management practices and farmers’ needs and perspectives on irrigation.
Future efforts will focus on three production systems: the fertile ‘old lands’ in the Nile Delta, reclaimed and salt-affected areas in the Delta, and ‘new lands’ in low-rainfall areas, where large-scale irrigation schemes are being implemented. Discussions at the workshop helped share and refine ideas for each of these systems. Potential interventions, knowledge gaps, capacity development needs and potential implementation partners have been identified for each system.
ICARDA’s livestock research includes a breed improvement program for Awassi sheep, the dominant sheep breed in the Middle East, Turkey and elsewhere. The aim is to develop ‘dual-purpose’ animals that give high yields of meat as well as milk, by selecting breeding animals with specific traits. The program also aims to develop and standardize these methodologies for use by researchers in other countries. In July and August, researchers at ICARDA’s Sheep Unit selected the best animals from the flock, under different categories: mature ewes, mature rams, and young (6 months) lambs of both sexes.
Breeding animals were selected based on milk yield, growth and reproductive traits. Lambs were selected based on the dam’s milk yield, the sire’s ‘breeding value’ and the lamb’s own growth performance. Each lamb was then evaluated for morphological characteristics such as body size and frame, body conformation, color, and defects. Ninety lambs (70 females, 20 males) were selected from 224 candidates. The male lambs will go through further rounds of selection at yearling and 18 month stages to finally select the four best rams, which will sire the next generation.
Just published: The World Wheat Book: A History of Wheat Breeding, Volume 2, edited by Drs Alain Bonjean, Bill Angus and Maarten van Ginkel (ICARDA’s Deputy Director General – Research).
This 1200-page volume provides a comprehensive overview of wheat research worldwide. It describes the history of wheat breeding programs in 19 countries in Europe, North Africa, Asia and Latin America; wheat cropping practices in six countries with diverse environments; and recent advances including the application of genomics, physiology, modeling, bioinformatics, biofortification and hybrid technologies. It also covers developing food and feed end-uses, and breeding for specific biotic threats such as diseases, viruses and insect pests.
Dr Manickavelu Alagu has joined ICARDA as an Associate Scientist with the Biodiversity and Integrated Gene Management Program. Dr Alagu has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Genetics from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India. He worked as a post-doctoral fellow at Chiba University, Japan, then joined Yokohama City University as Associate Professor. He has worked extensively on rice and wheat (molecular characterization, QTL mapping, map-based cloning, functional genomics and bioinformatics), and has developed parental genetic stocks with specific traits in both crops. Dr Alagu will be based at the biotech lab at ICARDA headquarters. He will work with Dr Francis Ogbonnaya to apply molecular breeding techniques and quantitative genetics in crop improvement. Welcome aboard!
Ali Shehadeh, Research Associate with ICARDA’s Genetic Resources Section, has been awarded a PhD by the University of Birmingham, UK. He defended his thesis (Ecogeographic, genetic and taxonomic studies of the genus Lathyrus) last month. The examiners described his dissertation as an important reference for the conservation and utilization of Lathyrus genetic resources. Dr Shehadeh is now developing an illustrated field guide to Lathyrus species, which will allow easy taxonomic identification of species of this widely distributed genus.
Omar Atik has been awarded a PhD by the University of Aleppo, Syria, for his dissertation on ‘Population biology of Ascochyta rabiei, the causal organism of chickpea ascochyta blight in Syria’. His research was conducted at ICARDA, co-supervised by Dr Michael Baum and Dr Seid Kemal of ICARDA, Dr Ahmed El-Ahmed of Aleppo University and Dr Mohammad Mwaffak Yabrak of GCSAR-Syria. Congratulations!
Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General, and Dr Kamil Shideed, ADG-ICC, visited Rome during 1-4 August, to strengthen linkages between research and development, through partnerships with the government of Italy, IFAD and FAO.
A meeting with officials from Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs focused on Iraq. The meeting reviewed progress in a collaborative project between ICARDA, Iraq and Australia on salinity management in Iraq. The project is co-funded by the Italian government.
Discussions with IFAD President Dr Kanayo Nawanze focused on the strategic partnership between IFAD and ICARDA. Meetings with the Directors of three IFAD divisions ̶ the Technical Advisory Division, the Near East and North Africa Division, and the Asia and Pacific Division ̶ discussed new initiatives to build on previous successes. These include small ruminant production, carbon sequestration potential, land management, seed systems, conservation agriculture and knowledge-sharing platforms. ICARDA was also requested to provide technical backstopping for IFAD projects in Egypt and Syria. The two organizations will shortly sign a Letter of Intent that will outline shared priorities, and strengthen new collaborative projects involving multiple CGIAR Centers.
At FAO, a series of meetings were held with Dr Jacques Diouf, Director General, the Assistant Director General, and the heads of different FAO divisions including the Plant Production and Protection Division. FAO is keen to support a regional project on yellow rust (stripe rust) disease in wheat, now being developed. ICARDA was also invited to join a new FAO network, the Global Soil Partnership for Food Security and Climate Change. Climate change research was also discussed with a view to closer collaboration in the future.
Sino, a new chickpea variety developed jointly by the Institute of Crop Husbandry (ICH) in Tajikistan, the Tajik Academy of Agricultural Sciences and ICARDA, has been released for cultivation by Tajikistan’s State Variety Testing Commission. In three seasons of yield trials in Tajikistan, Sino yielded an average of 1.7 t/ha under rainfed conditions, significantly higher than the standard control variety. It has large seeds: 1000-grain weight of 370 g, compared to 200 g for the local variety Muktadir. Sino is suitable for planting in winter as well as in spring; resistant to ascochyta blight disease; and can be used for both food and feed (e.g. in feed concentrates for livestock and poultry).
Sino was developed at Tel Hadya as ICARDA line FLIP 97-149. It was tested for several years, first by ICH and then by the State Variety Testing Commission, before being released in 2011. The new variety is already being grown by farmers in several districts. Following the official release, ICARDA is working with ICH on seed multiplication and out-scaling. The team of breeders include C. Imomov, T. Bukhoriev and P. Zuhurov from ICH and Dr Rajinder Malhotra of ICARDA.
The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) is a simulation model that helps understand soil and water dynamics at watershed scale. A specialized training course was held in Jordan, 9-14 July, to assist national partners in the use of SWAT for watershed modeling in different dryland agro-ecosystems. The participants included researchers working on joint projects in Ethiopia, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Syria. The training began with a field visit to a research site at Al-Majidyya for familiarization with field measurements for water harvesting. This was followed by two days of classroom work and three days of on-the-job training using data collected during the previous seasons from Ethiopia, Jordan and Syria.
The ‘SWAT team’ providing the training was led by Prof. Raghavan Srinivasan, Director of the Spatial Sciences Laboratory at Texas A&M University, leader of the team that developed the model. This course is the beginning of a planned long-term partnership with Texas A&M University within the framework of USAID-funded projects.
The course was inaugurated by Dr Faisal Awawdeh, Director General of Jordan’s National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension. ICARDA representatives included Dr Theib Oweis, Director of the Integrated Water and Land Management Program; Dr Nasri Haddad, Coordinator, West Asia Regional Program, and Dr Feras Ziadat, Sioil Conservation and Land Management Specialist.
A 3-year project on ‘Access and benefit sharing from genetic resources and traditional knowledge’, implemented jointly by ICARDA and Jordan’s National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension (NCARE), has been completed. The project focused on farmer-participatory methods to identify, test and disseminate new crop varieties. An end-of-project meeting held in Amman on 5 July helped outline plans to build on the results achieved. The workshop brought together researchers, extension agents and farmers to share experiences, identify the lessons learnt, and plan how best to scale out the results.
Dr Faisal Awawdeh, NCARE Director General, said Jordanian agencies were committed to the participatory approach, and would continue the work of the project. Farmers felt the project was unique because it allowed them to select varieties best suited to their needs and circumstances. The discussions highlighted the need to strengthen seed delivery systems, to sustain the gains made by the project. Locally adapted, drought-tolerant varieties selected through the project must now be disseminated more widely, using a combination of formal and informal channels.
At the workshop, ICARDA scientists Drs Salvatore Ceccarelli and Stefania Grando, who helped lead the project, were presented with the NCARE shield to honor their contributions to agricultural development in Jordan.