The African Development Bank will fund a new project, Support to agricultural research for the development of strategic crops in Africa, implemented jointly by ICARDA and three other CGIAR Centers, targeting 22 low-income countries. The project is the first comprehensive, continent-wide effort to overcome food security challenges in the poorest countries. It will focus on four crops – cassava, maize, rice and wheat – that have been identified as priority, strategic crops by African governments. The grant agreement was signed in Tunis on 12 March, by Mr Abdirahman Beileh of the Bank and Dr Nteranya Sanginga Director General of IITA (on behalf of the CGIAR partners).
The five-year project aims to help improve food security and nutrition and reduce poverty, through technology development and dissemination and capacity building. The targets are ambitious: improve cassava, maize, rice and wheat yields by 20%, food security by 20%, and average household income by 60%.
The project will be implemented jointly by four CGIAR centers: IITA (executing agency), ICARDA and AfricaRice, with IFPRI providing additional support for some components. The project budget includes $ 63 million from the Bank and $ 24 million as in-kind contributions from national research programs in the target countries.
Iran-ICARDA Biannual Coordination Meeting, Karaj, Iran, 27-28 February
A series of new research projects will be launched in Iran in the 2012-13 season, directly addressing national agricultural development priorities. Project outlines were discussed at the Iran-ICARDA Coordination Meeting, attended by 94 scientists and policy makers from 14 Iranian research centers and government agencies, and 12 ICARDA staff.
- Crop improvement. Six research projects to develop drought- and salinity-tolerant varieties of bread wheat, durum wheat, barley and chickpea.
- Land and water management. Phase II of the research program in Karkheh River basin, with 10 integrated research projects to arrest land degradation and sustainably manage water resources.
- Integrated production systems, with a focus on livestock-crop-rangeland systems in dry areas.
The meeting was inaugurated by H.E. Jahangir Porhemmat, Deputy Minister and Head of the Agricultural Research, Extension and Education Organization (AREEO). “Iran-ICARDA collaboration has led to outstanding achievements during the last few years,” he said. “AREEO is fully committed to further strengthening this partnership, for national as well as regional benefit.”
The delegates reviewed research results from 2010 and 2011, which included high yielding varieties of wheat , barley, lentil and forage legumes developed from ICARDA germplasm; networks to monitor wheat rust pathogens; new income opportunities (cashmere products) for women; new initiatives on highland agriculture; and training programs for Iranian researchers. The new projects will build on these successes, and will also contribute to other initiatives led by ICARDA.
With rainfall in dry areas becoming lower and more erratic, researchers are looking for ways to enhance precipitation. One promising option – airborne plant pathogens. Pseudomonas syringae (P.s.) is a bacterial pathogen that can cause severe yield losses in crops. But it can also contribute to ice-nucleation – the micro-organisms act as ‘cores’, stimulating the formation of ice crystals in clouds, enhancing precipitation. Ice nucleation has been studied in many different P.s. strains, and the results suggest that the bacterium plays an active role in the water cycle. ICARDA is leading a project on Identifying the sources and role of ice-nucleation bacteria in the dry areas, in collaboration with Montana State University in the USA, the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in France, and the University of Aleppo in Syria. The project aims to find non-pathogenic strains of P.s. from bread wheat plants and seed. Such strains would provide ice-nucleation benefits without causing crop damage.
During 2011, about 100 bread wheat varieties were studied at ICARDA’s Tel Hadya headquarters. Several strains of P.s. were isolated from the leaves and seed of some varieties; the isolates from seed, in particular, could have major implications for possible multiplication of bacterial strains. These strains were studied using biochemical characterization as well as ice nucleation tests in the laboratory. They were also tested (under carefully controlled conditions) for pathogenicity against 25 crops that are grown in dryland areas in West Asia and North Africa. This research is being led by Dr Siham Asaad, Head of ICARDA’s Seed Health Unit, and graduate student Abdoul Rahman Moukahal. Their research is still ongoing – watch this space for more news.
More than 8500 seed samples from ICARDA’s genebank have arrived at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on a remote island in the Norwegian Arctic. The samples included wild relatives or progenitors, cultivated varieties, improved genetic material and cultivated varieties of a range of crops – wheat, barley, food and pasture legumes and others. This is the fifth shipment from ICARDA, which is now among the world’s biggest contributors to Svalbard, with more than 110,000 accessions sent from ICARDA’s genebank.
The Svalbard vault will hold seed samples in long-term storage, keeping them healthy and viable for centuries. This is part of global efforts to ensure that the world preserves its crop biodiversity, allowing farmers and plant breeders to protect food security for future generations.
Crop-livestock integration is a crucial element in dryland farming systems. ICARDA’s training programs have helped build capacity among researchers, extension staff and farmers in fodder production, management of grazing resources, simple dairy processing and other areas. This month, 19 researchers from four countries completed a 2-week training course conducted in Beirut, Lebanon. The majority of trainees came from Iraq, with the remainder from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The course was funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
The course included three modules by ICARDA scientists: sheep/goat breeding and genetics (presented by Dr Aynalem Haile, animal breeder and geneticist), rangeland improvement (Dr Mounir Louhaichi, rangeland ecologist) and dairy safety, quality and processing (Dr Muhi El-Dine Hilali, dairy and animal nutrition specialist).