The major achievements of the NARS/ICARDA partnership in North Africa, the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems (CRP1.1) and its implications for NARS-ICARDA collaboration in the region, and Libya’s request for ICARDA’s support, were among the various issues addressed at the 11th North Africa Regional Coordination Meeting, which took place at the Institut National de la Recherché Agronomique (INRA), Rabat, Morocco on 6-7 October 2011.
Around sixty participants, including NARS delegations from Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia; representatives of UNDP, the African Development Bank, FAO, the Islamic Development Bank, USAID, USDA, and the Arab Maghreb Union; and 15 ICARDA scientists and managers led by ADG-ICC Dr. Kamel Shideed gathered to set research priorities and discuss national agricultural strategies. They reviewed collaborative programs, focusing on managing water scarcity; integrated agro-biodiversity and germplasm enhancement; production systems; integrated pest management; value chain and income diversification; and empowering the rural poor in agro-pastoral areas.
During the meeting, Libyan partners representing the Libyan Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and Ministry of Agriculture requested ICARDA’s support for an assessment of the current state of the country’s national agricultural research and extension system, and assistance in rebuilding the country’s agricultural sector. “It is not clear today how many of the vital components of the national system, necessary for our national food production, are intact”, said Eng. Younes Shouayeb, Director of ARC. “Responding to Libya’s request, ICARDA is urgently sending to Libya seeds of wheat, barley, legume and forage crops for the 2011-2012 cropping season and priority has been given to Libyan scientists for training,” says Dr. Mahmoud Solh, Director General of ICARDA.
Other major recommendations from the meeting included: the need for better regional integration, joint research on adaptation to climate change and anticipatory resilient production systems, and capacity development of young professionals with special attention to Libya and Mauritania.
Conservation agriculture has made impressive advances in Algeria over the last two years. In 2010, the area under conservation agriculture management was 1523 hectares across 8 provinces (Wilayas) in the country. With the use of direct drills, this area increased in 2011, to 5559 hectares of cereals and legumes over 12 Wilayas. Direct drills are versatile seeders that give higher yields with lower costs.
In 2010, the results obtained in the Wilaya of Setif demonstrated that direct drilling gave a grain yield of 2.1 tons/ha in wheat and 2.2 tons/ha in chickpea. The use of conservation agriculture in the Wilaya of Constantine gave an average of 2.5 ton/ha in cereals. Yield levels were 14% and 11 % higher in Constantine and in Setif, respectively. Planting chickpea crops with direct drilling resulted in an increase of 1.2 ton/ha over conventional management in the region of Constantine. The year 2011 witnessed important progress in conservation agriculture, when three out the 12 Wilayas – Oum El Bouaghi with 3105 ha (56%), Constantine with 1109 ha (20%) and Setif with 663% (12%).
Given the impressive increases in yields of crops planted by direct drilling, it is essential that more direct drill seeders are made available to institutes, state farms, as well as private farmers to ensure the expansion of conservation in the vast agro-ecological zones of the country.
To share knowledge on the application of advanced biometrical techniques in crop development and to provide hands-on training for using statistical software, ICARDA in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR), Kanpur, India organised a six-day training course on “Advanced biometrical techniques in crop improvement research” on 10-15 October, 2011 at IIPR, Kanpur. This training qualified scientists from India, Nepal and Bangladesh for designing the variety trials and analysing the data from multi-environment trials for identifying the desired genotypes to enhance breeding efficiency and science quality. Trainees are expected to transfer information to other colleagues, and incorporate their knowledge in their on-going projects. The training covered topics on statistical design and analysis of variety trials and use of ICARDA’s online biocomputing facility. The training was given by Dr Murari Singh and Mr Khaled El-Shama’a from ICARDA and Dr N Nadarajan from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
In an effort to collect information on the current status of the seed sector in the region and to discuss the role of seed policies in strengthening national programmes, an ICARDA – FAO joint workshop that gathered 34 participants, representing all member countries of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO), and two participants from Lebanon, was held in Istanbul, 12-13 October 2011.
At the meeting, FAO and ICARDA staff, as well as two international consultants, provided background information on key issues in seed programme development, with emphasis on the policy dimensions. They gave a comprehensive overview of the seed sector in the region while highlighting some key constraints.
The workshop concluded that: a seed policy should provide a long-term vision and framework for the development of the seed sector; it should define the roles of the public and private sectors; it must be in harmony with other strategic documents for agriculture, rural development, and the wider economy; the relationship between the policy and existing/proposed laws for seeds and varieties should be made clear to ensure that they are complementary; an action plan should be prepared to implement the policy and monitor its impact. It was also concluded that a strong political support of the policy should be ensured for its successful implementation.
The ‘Focused identification of Germplasm Strategy (FIGS)’ is a new approach to rapidly identifying plant genetic material for researchers who are looking to improve crop yields and combat the negative effects of climate change.
This innovative tool was developed, tested and refined by a research team from ICARDA – with partners including the Vavilov Institute (Russia), the Nordgen genebank (Nordic Region) and the Australian Winter Cereals Collection.
To further develop this tool, the FIGS team is inviting all interested researchers, crop breeders and genebank managers to a continued on-line consultation aimed at gathering input and review to improve the FIGS approach, to share examples of use and for requests to the FIGS team for troubleshooting in applying the approach.
FIGS uses applied Bayesian mathematics and geographical information to help mine innumerable plant seed samples conserved in the world’s agricultural gene banks. It facilitates the rapid identification of traits that make crop varieties resistant to drought, excessive heat or cold, insect pests and a variety of crop diseases that reduce farm yields in low-income and developed countries.
The development of FIGS was funded by the Grains Research & Development Corporation of Australia.
Food security is the major concern of WANA countries characterized by water scarcity and drought which will be exacerbated by climate change. However, despite these environmental constraints, ICARDA and NARS scientists showed that yield of wheat, a staple food in the area, can be significantly increased if improved varieties and crop management are adopted. The yield improvement will increase wheat production and contribute to the reduction of food insecurity. To evaluate the importance of the improved technologies/techniques, the Integrated Water and Land Management Program of ICARDA conducted a wheat yield gap assessment study in selected countries of WANA, Morocco, Syria and Turkey using farmers, (district, province yields), on-farm trials, research station and CropSyst model simulated yields. Results showed that wheat yield can be increased by 1.7-2.0 times in Syria, 1.6-2.5 times in Morocco and 1.5-3.0 times in Turkey. It was concluded that there is large potential for increase in the wheat yields in the WANA region, especially in rainfed areas, and improved management practices along with improved varieties and supplemental irrigation can close the wide gaps between farmers’ yields and those achieved at research stations and on-farm demonstration trials. Further improvements will come from improved soil-water and nutrients management practices than those already practiced at the research stations and on-farm demonstrations.
Dr Boubaker Dhehibi joined ICARDA as Agricultural Resource Economist in the Social, Economics and Policy Research Program (SEPRP) in October, 2011.
Dr Dhehibi holds a PhD in Quantitative Economics (2002) from the University of Zaragoza (Spain), and MSc in Food Marketing (1998) from the Agronomic Mediterranean Institute of Zaragoza.
Before joining ICARDA, Dr Dhehibi was a Senior Research Economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at the National Institute for Agronomic Research in Tunisia – INRAT.
Dr Dhehibi is a referee in several scientific journals and a winner of the Second Medal Prize for the best research paper under the Second Global Awards competition organized by the Global Development Network on Economics of Natural resources.
Dr Serkan Ates joined ICARDA as Forage Scientist in the Diversification and Sustainable Intensification of Production Systems Program (DSIPS) in October, 2011.
Dr Ates holds a PhD in Pasture Agronomy (2010) from Lincoln University (New Zealand), and an MSc in Feeds and Animal Feeding (2002) from Suleyman Demirel University (Turkey).
Before joining ICARDA, Dr Ates was a pasture researcher and the Head of Feeds and Animal Feeding Department at Bahri Dagdas International Agricultural Research Institute in Turkey. Some of Dr Ates’s research interests include forage legumes in dryland cropping systems, supplementary feeding of legumes, management of annual legumes in dryland, dual-purpose crops, grazing management and pasture-animal interactions.
Aware of the positive impact of conservation agriculture on improving the livelihoods of the resource-poor in the dry areas, an ICARDA delegation participated in the 5th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture, held in Brisbane, Australia on 26-29 September 2011 to discuss various related issues.
ICARDA conservation agriculture scientists discussed the importance of conservation agriculture in dryland systems and focused on potential ways of improving and disseminating one of its key elements – zero tillage – in West Asia and North Africa (WANA).
At the same meeting, Dr Mahmoud Solh, a member of the World Congress on Conservation Agriculture Steering Committee, agreed with representatives from the WANA region to form a WANA network on conservation agriculture. They also agreed to convene a regional conference on conservation agriculture with Australia in the autumn of 2012. Dr Kamel Shideed, was a keynote speaker and a panellist in the session on policy and adoption. He gave an invited keynote presentation on “Informing Policy Development for Sustainable and Productive Food Production Systems in Dry Areas.”
Dr Colin Piggin, Yaseen Khalil and Atef Haddad, agronomists from ICARDA, and Mr Sinan Jalili, a leading farmer from Ninevah in Iraq – who are collaborators in the ACIAR/AusAID funded project developing conservation agriculture systems in the drylands of Iraq and Syria – reported on the impressive uptake of zero tillage systems by farmers in these countries. Adoption in West Asia has grown from near-zero to over 27,000 ha in four years. Dr Piggin delivered a presentation on “Development and Promotion of Zero Tillage in Iraq and Syria” describing the challenges faced by the project, and the lessons learnt for future work to promote conservation agriculture in dry areas, while Mr Jalili shared his experience in modifying an importedseeder to suit local conditions in Iraq.
While in Australia, Drs. Solh and Shideed held several meetings with key donors and partners including ACIAR, GRDC and AusAID. In those meetings progress on on-going collaborative projects was reviewed and new potential areas for expanding the collaboration were explored.
Papers and presentations are available on the ACIAR web site (http://aciar.gov.au/WCCApapers)
Environmental issues, key to global food security, were discussed at the 14th Steering Committee meeting of the CGIAR Regional Collaborative Research Program for Central Asia and the Caucasus (CAC), held in Tashkent, 20-22 September 2011. The meeting – attended by heads of the involved national agricultural research systems from the CAC region, as well as Directors General from the international agricultural research centers that are members of the CGIAR program – described on-going research to increase plant tolerance to environmental stress. It identified several research priorities and addressed various issues, including capacity building, collaborative agricultural research-for-development, and the need for involving non-CGIAR international centers in the CGIAR research programs.
Dr. Sherali Nurmatov, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, of Uzbekistan pointed out that “The meeting is an important milestone in agricultural research-for-development in the CAC Region”. He hoped that it “…will serve as an engine for future research projects in the region”. Dr. Mahmoud Solh completed his one-year term as Chair of the CGIAR-CAC Program Steering Committee and handed over the chairmanship to Dr. Dyno Keatinge, Director General, World Vegetable Centre (AVRDC), while Dr Nurmatov was elected as Co-Chair.
The participants visited the experimental fields of the Tashkent State Agrarian University to evaluate trials on vegetables and groundnut. They also visited ‘Shreder’ Research Institute of Horticulture, Viticulture and Winemaking, and the National University of Uzbekistan, involved in collaborative research projects jointly implemented with international centers. They were briefed on the history and major activities of these institutions and the results of on-going joint research.
All presentations from the meeting can are available on the CAC Program’s website www.icarda.cgiar.org/cac