Decision makers from 39 countries strongly endorsed views that are central to ICARDA’s, and the CGIAR’s, approach: that the challenges of food security, poverty and environmental sustainability can be addressed only through innovation – which requires greater investment in research, and better policy support from governments – and through partnerships between the public and private sectors, development agencies and other stakeholders.
The 3rd Global Forum of Leaders for Agricultural Science and Technology (GLAST) was held in Harbin, China, 12-14 August. It attracted more than 500 participants from 39 countries, seven CGIAR Centers, and a host of international research and development agencies, and. The theme of the forum was ‘Food security – the role of science and technology and international cooperation’. A series of presentations in the opening plenary session laid the ground for discussions on various aspects of scientific innovation, policy issues, agricultural modernization, and partnership mechanisms.
Dr Mahmoud Solh, representing the Consortium of CGIAR Centers, delivered a keynote speech on the ‘CGIAR’s Agricultural Science and Development System’, which described the CGIAR’s research-for-development portfolio, and the ongoing restructuring process to make better use of shared skills and resources across Centers. Dr Solh also chaired the opening plenary session, and served on a panel that discussed ‘Drivers and constraints of agricultural modernization’ His presentation focused on the process of modernization (prerequisites, drivers, outcomes) and specific examples of how ICARDA technologies have contributed to the modernization of smallholder agriculture in dry areas.
This year has been unusually hot: of the 123 days from 1 May to 31 August, two-thirds had higher maximum temperature than the long term average. In July, temperatures exceeded 46˚C on some days. In August, maximum temperatures exceeded 40˚C almost every day. Such temperature spikes are expected to become more serious in dry areas as a result of climate change, reducing crop yields and threatening food security.
ICARDA’s wheat breeding program is developing genotypes that can give reasonable yields even in heat-stressed environments. Ms Awatif Farag Alla, from Juba University, Sudan, is researching her PhD on this subject. She is registered with the University of Khartoum, and her ICARDA co-supervisors are Dr Francis Ogbonnaya and Dr Osman Abdalla. She is characterizing heat tolerance using a recombinant inbred mapping population grown in environments prone to extreme temperatures. Experiments are being conducted for the second season, at ICARDA’s Tel Hadya station, and ARC farms in Wad Medani (central Sudan) and Dongola (northern Sudan). Trials are sown at different dates, so that plants experience heat stress at different stages of development . The aim is to identify traits underpinning heat adaptation in a range of production environments and to identify genomic regions associated with such traits. This knowledge will help in the breeding of heat-tolerant wheat varieties to mitigate the impact of climate change on yield and quality.
H.E. Engineer Mazen Khasawneh, Jordan’s Minister of Agriculture, commended ICARDA’s work in the country and in dry areas in many parts of the world. He was briefed by Dr Kamel Shideed, ICARDA’s ADG for International Cooperation, on progress being made in joint Jordan-ICARDA projects. Several issues were discussed, including shared development goals, the challenge of declining natural resources, technologies for climate change adaptation, and the new Water and Livelihood Initiative, for which Jordan will host the benchmark site for rangeland areas. The meeting was attended by Dr Faisal Awawdeh, Director General of the National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension, and Dr Nasri Haddad, Coordinator of ICARDA’s West Asia Regional Program.
Dr Iman El Kaffass has joined ICARDA as Head of the Capacity Development Unit. She has a PhD in Higher Education Administration from Bowling Green State University, USA. Her specialty is organizational performance assessment and development. For the past two years she has been based in Cairo, as Chair of a special government panel on education, research, training and human development. Her previous positions include: Associate Dean of Student Affairs at the American University in Cairo; Director of the Global Student Development Program of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia; and a lead role at the Heliopolis Academy for Arts, Sciences and Technology in Egypt. She has also served as visiting faculty of several universities in the UK, USA and Egypt; and on the boards of a number of organizations in Egypt, France, and Japan. She is a former Fulbright Scholar. In 2006, Dr El Kaffass was appointed by the Prime Minister of Egypt to the board of the Egyptian Youth Council, setting youth development policies. Welcome aboard!
The long-standing partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is set to expand further, with the development of a comprehensive framework to guide future investments. This follows a meeting last month between Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General, Dr Kamil Shideed, ADG-ICC, and senior IFAD staff: Mr Kevin Cleaver, Associate Vice-President, Programmes; Mr Nadim Khouri, Director, Near East and North Africa Division; and Dr Mylene Kherallah, Regional Economist, NENA Division. The framework aims to integrate research grants into development funding, so that new technologies can be developed faster and more efficiently, and integrated within IFAD-funded development programs. Crucially, it envisages a long-term, multi-year commitment rather than grants for individual research projects.
Currently available, proven technologies developed by ICARDA and its partners will be scaled out through ongoing IFAD development projects. And the two institutions will work together to identify research gaps and develop new projects to respond to emerging challenges such as climate change.
A detailed review of ICARDA technologies has been completed, identifying specific technologies that match IFAD’s investment priorities. These ‘entry points’ have grouped into three thematic areas:
- Improving agricultural productivity and food security (covering crop, rangeland and livestock systems)
- Climate change and natural resource management (addressing water scarcity and land degradation)
- Income generating activities and empowerment of women (value addition, capacity development, markets, institutions)
Specific technologies in each of these areas are part of ongoing or planned projects. Therefore, IFAD investments will have significant multiplier effects. In summary, the framework creates new opportunities to build on past successes to fight poverty and food insecurity in dry areas worldwide.
The Agricultural Research Center (ARC) and ICARDA are partners in a large-scale government-funded research program to strengthen agricultural development in Libya. The collaborative program includes three projects – cereals improvement, water harvesting and irrigation management, and small ruminant production.
The second Steering Committee Meeting of the collaborative program was held in Tunis, Tunisia, in June 2010. A senior ARC delegation, working with ICARDA scientists, reviewed ongoing work and future plans. Dr Ibrahim Abdelhadi Balal, ARC Director General, noted the significant achievements made by each project. “I am particularly pleased with ICARDA’s approach, responding clearly and positively to any issues raised,” he said. Dr Balal also stressed the need to further harmonize the collaborative program with Libya’s national research program.
The Steering Committee discussed various issues, including results from last season’s on-farm work, staffing needs, mechanisms to ensure timely disbursal of funds, and integration of multiple technologies at benchmark research sites. In addition, separate meetings for each project focused on technical issues and logistics. ICARDA was represented at the meetings by an eight-member team led by Dr Kamel Shideed, ADG, International Cooperation and Communications. Key recommendations by the Steering Committee include: establishment of a Geographic Information Systems unit at ARC, and strengthening infrastructure at research stations and laboratories (equipment needs have been identified, and acquisition is under way).
Research partners in Syria and Iraq report that farmers in both countries are increasingly adopting conservation agriculture methods, thanks to a collaborative project with ICARDA, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and others. A meeting at ICARDA headquarters on 5 August brought together 80 participants from diverse fields: government research and extension staff, farmers, education and development experts, manufacturers of agricultural machinery, NGOs, agrochemical industry representatives, and others. The meeting reviewed results from the project’s first season in Syria and developed workplans for the next season.
To encourage farmers to practice conservation agriculture, zero-till seeders supplied by the project were made available – on loan, free of cost – at seven locations in Syria. In the 2009-10 season, the seeders were used by 160 farmers to plant some 6600 ha of wheat, barley and lentil. Zero-till fields gave higher yields than neighboring fields sown by conventional methods; while production costs were $20-30/ha lower.
The program will be further scaled up next season in both Syria and Iraq. In Syria, additional zero-till seeders will be available through the project, and 15 farmers are purchasing their own seeders: designed by a project team and fabricated locally, at low cost. In Iraq, the project has supplied seven seeders from Syria, and a further 20 farmers are modifying their own local seeders for zero-till. Iraqi participants at the meeting shared their experiences on conservation agriculture; they noted that lessons learned in Syria would benefit similar activities planned for Ninevah province in Iraq. Senior government officials – Dr Mohamed Abdalla, Director of Extension at the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, and Dr Avadis Arslan, Head of Natural Resources at the General Commission for Scientific Agricultural Research – commended the project team, and expressed confidence that conservation agriculture would continue to expand rapidly.
Twelve researchers from Palestine and Iraq participated in an intensive two-day training workshop on selecting and characterizing research sites, using both biophysical and socioeconomic parameters. The workshop, held during 4-5 August in Amman, Jordan, was jointly organized by ICARDA and Jordan’s National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension (NCARE). The participants will use this training to help select benchmark sites for the USAID-funded Water and Livelihoods Initiative (WLI).
The WLI covers seven countries: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Yemen. It is a multi-partner, multi-disciplinary project aiming to help conserve water resources and improve the productivity of farming systems. The training was conducted by experts from NCARE and ICARDA , and covered data collection and analysis, the use of GIS tools, and community characterization. The site characterization methods covered, have been used successfully in the ongoing Water Benchmarks Project, which has a major research site in Jordan.
Dr Rachid Serraj has joined ICARDA as Director of the Diversification and Sustainable Intensification of Production Systems (DSIPS) Program. He is an internationally respected crop scientist with a broad production systems background, having worked for more than 22 years with national research centers and international organizations.
Dr Serraj has a PhD in Agronomy and Crop Science from the University of Montpellier, France, and more than 150 scientific publications. He serves on several international scientific panels and editorial boards (Soil Science & Plant Nutrition, Crop & Pasture Science, Field Crops Research, Environmental Experimental Botany). His research interests include abiotic stress tolerance, soil fertility, legume-rhizobium symbiosis, deficit irrigation and water-use efficiency in arid areas. He previously worked at IRRI in the Philippines, as leader of the drought research team. He has also worked at the University of Marrakech, on a US Department of Agriculture project at the University of Florida, as principal scientist on drought at ICRISAT, and with a joint FAO-IAEA initiative in Austria. Welcome aboard!