The government of Afghanistan has launched a major new effort to strengthen rainfed agriculture. H.E. Asif Rahimi, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, outlined the proposals at Afghanistan’s first International Workshop on Dryland Farming, held in Kabul, 18-20 December. “This is much more than a workshop,” the Minister said. “It is the first of many events that signify a permanent and dramatic change in Afghan agricultural policy. Today, we pledge to make a strong investment in – and a permanent commitment to – dryland farming.” The Minister outlined recent achievements as well as future plans. New crop varieties, introduced through partnerships with ICARDA and other international research centers, are being tested and promoted in several provinces. R&D programs are being established or expanded in several areas including medicinal plants, fodder production, and soil and water management. Two new dryland research stations – the first in the country – will be established. Credit availability has been greatly improved, and a new government agency will make it easier for farmers to lease government land.
The workshop was organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock in collaboration with ICARDA, with funding from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). There were more than 200 participants including the country’s top decision makers in agriculture and representatives from the donor community and international organizations. ICARDA was represented by Dr Javed Rizvi, Country Program Manager, Afghanistan, and three Research Program Directors (Drs Michael Baum, Theib Oweis and Rachid Serraj), who presented technologies, developed jointly by ICARDA and its partners, that could be applied in Afghanistan. Experts from national research organizations in Iran and Turkey also highlighted results from partnerships with ICARDA. Minister Rahimi strongly commended the Afghanistan-ICARDA collaborative program, and urged it be expanded further, to generate even greater benefits for Afghan farmers.
An ICARDA team led by Dr Mahmoud Solh, Director General, met with key decision makers in Egypt in December, to identify opportunities to expand collaborative research. The ICARDA team met with H.E. Amin Abaza, Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, and senior Ministry officials. The meeting reviewed ongoing Egypt-ICARDA collaborative programs and identified priorities for the future. The Minister agreed that four areas in particular – climate variability/change, conservation agriculture, salinity, and water management – were of direct relevance to Egypt. Outcomes from the meeting include: sharing climate prediction maps produced by ICARDA’s GIS specialists; and plans for introducing and testing zero-till seeders to promote conservation agriculture. Five research projects on water management, covering different agro-ecologies, are ongoing. In addition, Egypt’s Agricultural Research Center (ARC) and ICARDA are jointly developing a research proposal on salinity assessment and management as part of a larger regional effort. The team also met with Dr Ayman Abou Hadid, ARC President, and Dr Adel El-Beltagy, Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture.
The Water Benchmark Project, coordinated by ICARDA, is now in its second phase. Phase II, supported by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, aims to scale out technologies developed during the first phase and simultaneously develop new tools for water management. Ten countries are involved: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia. The Project Coordination and Steering Committee meetings were held in Amman, Jordan, 1-2 December.
The coordination meeting was attended by 36 delegates from all 10 participating countries, as well as national coordinators of the Water and Livelihoods Initiative (which targets Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Yemen) to identify linkages between the two projects. Research workplans and budgets were developed for 2011 and subsequently approved by the Steering Committee. In addition, regional activities were identified for three research themes:
- Outscaling improved technologies using GIS tools for agroecological mapping and targeting of interventions
- Modeling to plan and monitor water use and allocation, evaluate the impacts of water and land management technologies, and inform policy development
- Socioeconomics: developing policies and institutional frameworks to improve water management.
Working groups were constituted for each theme, mandated to enhance synergies among the different partners and the two projects (Water Benchmark, Water and Livelihoods Initiative); sharpen research focus; and standardize research methods and approaches.
The Algeria-ICARDA Annual Coordination Meeting was held in Algiers, 13-14 December. The participants included the Directors General of two key partner organizations – Dr Chehat Fouad from the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique d’Algérie (INRAA) and Dr Zaghouane Omar from the Institut Technique des Grandes Cultures (ITGC) – and Mrs Hamana Malika, Assistant Director General, Direction de la Formation de la Recherche et la Vulgarisation (DFRV), in the Ministry of Agriculture. ICARDA was represented by Dr Mohamed El Mourid, Coordinator, North Africa Regional Program; and Dr Mohamed Maatougui, BIGM consultant.
Ongoing activities include crop improvement (bread wheat, durum wheat and barley), water management (Water Benchmark Phase II) and the SAGA project focusing on local knowledge and natural resources. National coordinators of the various projects presented the results achieved in 2010. ITGC has released two durum varieties, Ammar 1 and Ammar 6. Five genotypes identified by INRAA’s participatory plant breeding program, designed and implemented in partnership with ICARDA, will be proposed for release in 2011: two barley genotypes for Western Algeria, and three wheat genotypes (two durum, one bread wheat) for Eastern Algeria. The discussions helped outline practical steps, including milestones and responsibilities of each partner, to promote the new varieties and disseminate new resource management technologies. The participants also discussed funding for the 2010-2014 program, and formalization of Algeria’s membership of the CGIAR.
Herbal, medicinal and aromatic plants (HMAPs) offer huge income opportunities for farmers in dry areas – but both technical and policy support are needed. A workshop in Amman, Jordan, helped identify policy issues that must be addressed to promote the country’s HMAP sector.
The workshop, held on 22 December, was organized by the National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension (NCARE), ICARDA and IFAD. It brought together 45 participants from research institutions, universities, NGOs and several government ministries, as well as producers, retailers and others involved in HMAP production and marketing. The workshop was inaugurated by Dr Faisal Awawdeh, NCARE Director General. ICARDA was represented by Dr Aden Aw-Hassan, Director, Socioeconomic and Policy Research Program; and Dr Nasri Haddad, Coordinator, West Asia Regional Program. Using lessons learnt from an IFAD-funded project on HMAP value chains in Jordan, the meeting recommended specific policy changes to promote the HMAP sector. The recommendations, relating to research priorities, production and marketing constraints, and institutional frameworks, will be shared with policy makers in Jordan.
The world is going online – why should farmers be left behind? ICARDA and its partners have begun a new initiative to provide smallholder farm households – especially women and children – with computers, training and internet access. This is in response to requests made at the International Farmers’ Conference in Aleppo (see http://www.icarda.org/farmersconference/). The initiative is supported by the OPEC Fund for International Development. Five computers were distributed to farmers involved in a participatory plant breeding program in five villages in different parts of Syria. Once telephone lines are installed, the farmers will be provided with a modem to connect to the internet. The computers will help farmers share information with ICARDA researchers and with each other, and access online information on crop management. The community has developed informal guidelines to ensure that the computers are accessible to everyone, not just a few households.
The Association of Agricultural Research Institutes for the Near East and North Africa (AARINENA) held a special retreat at ICARDA headquarters, 22-24 November. The objective of the meeting was to develop an action framework for AARINENA’s programs in West Asia and North Africa, based on the ‘road map’ developed following the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) held in Montpellier, France in March 2010. The participants included senior management from national research systems in 17 countries, ICARDA and several regional and international organizations, and representatives of NGOs, farmer organizations and the private sector. The retreat was also attended by Dr Mark Holderness, Executive Secretary of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, which is coordinating the next GCARD, to be held in 2012.
The discussions culminated in an Action Plan Proposal, which covers a range of areas: near- and mid-term objectives, AARINENA’s role in international agricultural research-for-development (and in relation to the CGIAR’s new Consortium Research Programs), and identification of indicators/benchmarks to monitor implementation of the Action Plan. Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General, delivered a key presentation, describing progress in the CGIAR’s reform process, the CGIAR Research Programs, and the implications for agricultural research in the dry regions of West Asia and North Africa.
Global efforts to conserve and utilize plant biodiversity are underpinned by the FAO’s ‘Global plan of action for the conservation and sustainable utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture’. The plan will be periodically updated in light of new research, expert reviews, and the priorities of participating countries. A recent meeting, involving 20 experts from Central Asia, West Asia and North Africa, provided key inputs for the next revision.
The meeting, hosted at ICARDA headquarters last month, recommended important changes in emphasis in the next Global Plan of Action, including greater efforts on maintaining agrobiodiversity (including wild relatives of crops) in situ as well as ex situ, and utilization of genetic resources for plant breeding and rehabilitation of degraded areas. Another recommendation related to the methods used to identify, from large genebank collections, genotypes with useful traits. The meeting recommended that the ‘core collections’ approach, used with varying degrees of success, gradually be replaced with new tools such as the Focused Identification of Germplasm Strategy (FIGS), developed by ICARDA and its partners. FIGS has proved successful in identifying novel sources of resistance to a number of biotic and abiotic stresses in dry environments.
The government of Iraq, Australian funding bodies (AusAID/ACIAR) and research organizations, and international research centers have jointly launched a new research-for-development project to address salinity problems in Iraqi agriculture. H.E. Dr Mahdy Al-Qaisi, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, chaired the steering committee overseeing the project. The inception workshop, held at ICARDA headquarters, 5-9 December, brought together 60 scientists and administrators from multiple institutions. The 2-year project will focus on the Tigris-Euphrates river basins in central and southern Iraq. Project partners include five Iraqi ministries (agriculture, water resources, science and technology, higher education, environment); two Australian institutions (University of Western Australia, and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization); and three international centers, ICARDA, IWMI, and ICBA.
“Sixty percent of agricultural land in central and southern Iraq is affected by salinity,” said Dr Saleh Bader, Director General, Ministry of Agriculture, Iraq. Despite the challenges, he felt confident the new project would lay the foundation for long-term efforts to increase and sustain productivity in salt-affected areas.
Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General, noted that the project would bring together Iraqi expertise and broad-based government support, Australian skills in managing salt-affected soils, and the experience of IWMI, ICBA and ICARDA in developing technologies for resource-poor farmers in dry areas.
The meeting helped prepare the ground for effective project implementation. The research framework at project components – at regional, irrigation district, and farm scales – were agreed upon, and specific responsibilities assigned to each partner institution. Technical and Steering Committees were also constituted to provide project oversight, and review and approve workplans and budgets.
For many years, faba bean breeders were forced to limit the size of experimental plots, and the number of genotypes tested, because planting had to be done manually, since existing research-plot seeders could not accommodate the large seeds. This problem has now been resolved, with a new, specially designed seeder developed jointly by ICARDA and the Al Rashid Company in El-Bab, near Aleppo.
Technical discussions and prototype development began in summer 2009. An improved prototype was tested successfully at ICARDA headquarters in November 2010, and is being used for the current planting season. The new seeder has greatly reduced the time and labor needed for planting. Experimental plots at Tel Hadya have expanded from 3 hectares in the 2007/08 season to 14 hectares this season.
Imported seeding machines are available, but cannot handle very large seeds, and cannot be easily adjusted for different seed sizes (100-seed weight in our faba bean experimental materials ranges from 20g to 250g). The new seeder can do both these things – and costs US$ 6500, compared to US$ 27,000 for the cheapest imported seeder. Congratulations to the ICARDA staff who led this effort: Dr Fouad Maalouf, Faba Bean Breeder, and Mr Micheal Micheal, Research Associate.