H.E. Harish Rawat, Union Minister of State for Agriculture, government of India, has promised support for expanding partnerships between the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and ICARDA. At a meeting with an ICAR-ICARDA delegation, the Minister said this partnership could help improve food security and rural livelihoods not only in India but in many developing countries. Participants at the meeting, held in New Delhi on 16 February, included Dr S Ayyappan, ICAR Director General; Dr SK Datta, ICAR Deputy Director General, Crop Sciences; Mr Henri Carsalade, Chair of ICARDA’s Board of Trustees; Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General; and Dr Ashutosh Sarker, Coordinator of ICARDA’s regional program for South Asia and China. The Minister was provided an overview of ongoing projects as well as future plans for collaborative research on rainfed agriculture – including the possible establishment of a joint research center on legume crops.
ICAR-ICARDA collaboration has expanded rapidly in the past few years, and now includes crop improvement (several cereal and legume crops), natural resource management, small ruminants, socio-economics and other areas. They involve ICAR institutions, the National Rainfed Area Authority and a number of Indian universities. These initiatives have been encouraged by H.E. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, President of India, who visited ICARDA headquarters last year.
Wheat production in Ethiopia is threatened by rust diseases: stem rust occurs in some areas, and yellow rust is common. Most currently grown varieties are susceptible: last year a yellow rust epidemic destroyed up to 80% of the wheat crop in some areas. The Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), ICARDA and other partners are working together to develop high-yielding, rust-resistant varieties. Two new varieties of spring bread wheat (Flag 5 and ETBW 5483), developed through this program, have been released for cultivation in Ethiopia. A third variety, ETBW 5496, has been provisionally released, but large-scale field trials will continue for another season. This was announced in February by Ethiopia’s National Variety Release Committee.
The new varieties are resistant to three important diseases: yellow rust, stem rust (including race Ug99) and Septoria leaf blotch. They yield 5.1 to 5.4 tons/hectare, about 21% more than most current varieties. The next step is to produce sufficient seed to enable farmers to replace their current varieties with new ones. Seed multiplication has already begun, under a pro-active program supported by the USAID Famine Fund and implemented by ICARDA, EIAR, the Ethiopian Seed Enterprise and other partners. The program has already produced more than 800 kg of seed, and production will be scaled up further.
‘Development of sustainable date palm production systems’ is a research-for-development project funded by the Gulf Cooperation Council and led by ICARDA, targeting six Gulf countries. The project’s 6th Annual Steering and Technical Committee meetings were held in Muscat, Oman, 6-8 February. Participants included H.E. Dr Ishaq Al Ruqaishy, Under-Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture; H.E. Dr Hamad Al Aoufy, Under-Secretary, Ministry of Fisheries; Dr Ahmed Al Bakry, Director General of Agricultural and Livestock Research; and Dr Khalid Zadjali, representative of the GCC General Secretary.
Project activities are structured under four themes: crop management, integrated pest management, biotechnology and postharvest issues. The technical meeting reviewed progress in each area and in each country, and developed research workplans for next season, which were later approved by the Steering Committee. The meeting included field visits to date production and packaging centers.
“The project is a landmark in the GCC region,” said one Steering Committee member. “It has addressed not only technical areas such as insect pests and orchard management, but also issues relating to postharvest treatment and marketability.”
The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) supports several research-for-development programs in Iraq, being implemented jointly by national research organizations, ICARDA, Australian universities and other partners. An AusAID team visited Iraq and Syria in February to discuss how best to exploit synergies between three ongoing projects: conservation agriculture, soil salinity management and capacity building.
Dr Joel Thorpe, Iraq Project Manager, and Dr David Kelly, Consultant, met with project partners in both countries, and with ICARDA scientists and management. The discussions helped outline a framework for the next 3 years, with results from each project contributing to the broader goal of sustainable agricultural development in Iraq. Detailed workplans and budgets are now being developed. In Syria, the AusAID team visited research plots at ICARDA’s Tel Hadya station, workshops where Syrian entrepreneurs are producing low-cost zero-till seeders, and zero-till demonstrations on farmers’ fields in the Al Bab and Qabbaseen areas north of Aleppo.
Michael Devlin has joined ICARDA as Head, Communications, Documentation and Information Services. Michael has been in the science and policy communication business for 15 years. In his past position, at the Swiss NGO ‘Council on Health Research for Development’ he was responsible for communication, knowledge sharing and donor relations. In this role, he helped promote the importance of national systems for health research and build capacity for research communication with Ministries of Health and health research institutes in a number of low income countries. He was earlier Chief Knowledge Officer at IWMI, Sri Lanka. Prior to that Michael worked in Brussels, running his company, a communication consultancy and editing service. He has experience in corporate public affairs and marketing. Welcome aboard!
The Kuwait Fund has signed an agreement to support on an ongoing research-for-development project led by ICARDA: Enhancement of food security in the Arab region. The Kuwaiti contribution represents co-funding for the project, which is currently supported by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD) and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB).
The 3-year project targets six countries in West Asia and North Africa; and aims to help improve domestic production of staple food crops, and to build the capacity of national research systems to sustain future growth. Implementation began in the 2010/2011 cropping season. Activities include applied research and dissemination, and a Young Scientist program to provide mentoring to young researchers from the region. Research will focus on wheat-based systems. It will include improved varieties and cropping systems, water productivity, conservation agriculture, pest and disease management, as well as policy and institutional options to improve the productivity and sustainable use of natural resources.
Scientists report steady progress on an ICARDA-led initiative, Improved livelihoods of small producers in Iraq through integrated pest management and organic fertilization. Two project meetings – the 3rd Technical Planning Meeting and the Steering Committee Meeting – were held at ICARDA headquarters, 6-10 February. The participants included 18 scientists and research managers from Iraq, ICARDA staff, and a representative from IFAD, which funds the project.
Partners reported encouraging results from each project component: IPM methods to control date palm pests, and identification of improved wheat genotypes resistant/tolerant to rust diseases, and chickpea genotypes resistant/tolerant to ascochyta blight and wilt diseases. Several lines are under final evaluation before being considered for official release.
Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General, noted the project was well focused, in terms of target production systems (date palm, wheat-legume systems) and target group (smallholder farmers). Project partners were positive about the prospects for a second phase to build on the achievements of the past three years. The technical meeting discussed results from year 2010 and developed workplans and budgets for 2011. These were subsequently approved by the Steering Committee, which also discussed a monitoring and evaluation system for the project, new fundraising efforts, and linkages with another ICARDA-led project on date palm in the Gulf countries.
The USAID-funded Middle East Water and Livelihoods Initiative (WLI) held its first Regional Coordination Meeting at ICARDA headquarters, 13-15 February. The meeting was attended by representatives from national research centers in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Yemen, and representatives from the University of California-Davis, University of Florida, USAID, as well as two regional hub universities – the University of Jordan and the American University of Beirut. The meeting created an excellent platform for each country to report on achievements during the year 2010 and to plan for the year 2011. The completion of socio-economic and biophysical data collection from each of the identified benchmark sites was a major highlight. The meeting also served as a good forum for knowledge sharing and for identifying future priorities for capacity building.
The WLI Steering Committee Meeting, held on 14 February, focused, among other things, on progress and future work plans, issues related to resource mobilization, and the need for enhancing the partnership between U.S. universities and other WLI stakeholders.
The Kabul Times has published a story about the IFAD-funded, ICARDA-led dairy project in Afghanistan. The project, targeted primarily at poor rural women, is helping to disseminate low-cost technologies to improve the health and productivity of dairy goats, and empower women to form producer cooperatives. The first phase covered villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Following excellent results, a second phase was launched in 2010, targeting Baghlan and Nangarhar provinces in Afghanistan.