H.E. Dr Mehmet Mehdi Eker, Turkey’s Minister of Agriculture, visited ICARDA headquarters on 24 March, to review ongoing ICARDA-Turkey collaboration and identify opportunities to expand research partnerships. The Minister was accompanied by Dr Masum Burak, Director General of Turkey’s General Directorate of Agricultural Research and member of ICARDA’s Board of Trustees; leading scientists from Turkey; and Dr Mesut Keser, head of ICARDA’s Turkey office.
Turkey’s large, highly skilled national research program plays an important role for the entire region. For example, the country hosts the International Winter
Wheat Improvement Program in partnership with ICARDA and CIMMYT; and provides resources for research on food legumes and other areas. Discussions with ICARDA scientists and management identified several opportunities to build on Turkey-ICARDA synergies. The collaboration on wheat and food legumes will be expanded. New projects could also be initiated on climate change adaptation and on drought tolerance, in partnership with the Konya Drought Management Center.
“Turkey’s research centers are able and willing to contribute to agricultural development in West Asia, Central Asia and North Africa,” the Minister said. “ICARDA plays a catalytic role, bringing together institutions from different countries. We are happy to be part of these partnerships.”
Researchers, development agencies and other partners are exploring new approaches to help ensure food security and long-term environmental sustainability in the Middle East and North Africa. The First Arab Development Symposium on Food and Water Security in the Arab World, organized by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD) and the World Bank, was held in Kuwait on 14-15 March. The meeting brought together more than 60 scientists, development experts and policy makers from 14 countries, representing a host of national, regional and international organizations.
H.E. Abdul Latif Al-Hamad, Director General and Chairman of the Board of Directors of AFESD, outlined the challenges. “Many countries in the region are unable to increase domestic production quickly enough to meet food demand. Water scarcity is approaching critical levels. R&D investment is declining, and adoption of improved technologies has been limited.” He stressed the importance of new integrated approaches to overcome these challenges – such as the regional project on ‘Enhancing food security in Arab countries’ launched in 2010, funded by AFESD, the Kuwait Fund and the Islamic Development Bank, and coordinated by ICARDA.
The symposium was organized around six themes:
- Developing a strategic framework to achieve food security in the Arab world
- Water and food security
- Infrastructure, logistics and post-harvest handling
- Harnessing research and innovation to achieve food security (with a key presentation by Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General)
- Impacts of climate change on water resources and agriculture
- Funding tools and investments in agriculture.
The discussions helped create a platform for future efforts. Donor agencies, R&D organizations and other stakeholders reiterated their commitment to work together to accelerate agricultural development in the region.
In parallel meetings, Dr Mahmoud Solh and Dr Kamil Shideed, ADG-ICC, met with H.E. Al-Hamad to brief him on ongoing AFESD-ICARDA projects. The AFESD Chairman expressed his appreciation of the progress made, and assured his continued support.
Good science requires well designed experiments and rigorous data analysis. A training course on Field experimental design and analysis, was held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, for scientists from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The course, held during 14-26 February, was funded by the German agency BMZ/GTZ. The topics included: statistical principles, alpha-designs, genotype x environment interactions and spatial methods for analysis of field trials.
Participants were addressed by key national policy makers from Uzbekistan: Prof. Sherali Nurmatov, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, and Prof. Amir Amanov, head of the national agricultural research program. Both were emphatic about the need for such initiatives, and urged ICARDA to continue its capacity development efforts. The course was organized by ICARDA’s Tashkent team, led by Dr Jozef Turok, Coordinator, Central Asia and Caucasus Regional Program.
The key to better farming is improved varieties – and healthy, disease-free seed. Two three-day training courses, conducted jointly by ICARDA and Egypt’s Agriculture Research Center (ARC), helped build skills on production, harvest and postharvest handling of wheat seed. The courses were held at ARC, Giza, on 21-23 February (31 participants) and 28 February–2 March (37 participants). They were attended by seed staff from every ARC research station in the country and from departments of agriculture in 24 governorates.
Both courses were funded by USAID, as part of the Accelerated Seed Multiplication Project being implemented by ICARDA in Egypt, Ethiopia and Pakistan. They were facilitated by Dr Fawzi Karajeh, Coordinator of ICARDA’s Nile Valley and Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Program. Resource persons were drawn from ARC, the private sector and the University of Cairo.
Dr Abdallah Alimari has joined ICARDA as National Coordinator for the Center’s activities in Palestine. He will be based at the National Agriculture Research Center (NARC), Palestine. Dr Alimari combines skills in both research and development. He has a PhD from the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Vienna, where he used molecular genetic tools to study disease resistance in wild wheat species (the progenitors of modern cultivated types). After his PhD he returned to Palestine, to work as a plant breeder with NARC, and later with several NGO-funded rural development projects. Welcome aboard!
Ms Alessandra Galié, ICARDA social scientist, received the Storm-van der Chijs Award on 8 March, International Women’s Day. The award is given by Wageningen University in the Netherlands, to women PhD students “to continue their involvement in science and enhance their international profiling”. Alessandra’s PhD research is a social impact assessment of ICARDA’s participatory plant breeding program, and focuses on issues of empowerment and seed governance with a gender perspective. Her work has also been highlighted by the CGIAR ICT-KM program (see http://ictkm.cgiar.org/2011/03/08/growing-talents-youth-in-agriculture-10-alessandra-galie/).
Plans are being finalized for a new research project to increase wheat yields in the Kurdistan region in Iraq. H.E. Jameel Haider, Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, speaking to project partners, said: “ICARDA is a well recognized center of excellence, and we look forward to signing the implementation agreement very soon.”
The project, funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), will include improved varieties of bread and durum wheat, water and land management practices and seed production, and will aim to effectively disseminate new technologies. Dr Nasri Haddad, Coordinator of ICARDA’s West Asia Regional Program, and Dr Michael Baum, Director, BIGM program, visited Erbil in the Kurdistan region on 2-4 March to discuss ICARDA’s role in the project, and potential linkages with other initiatives in the Kurdistan region. ICARDA will contribute to research, technology dissemination and capacity building in crop improvement, seed production, water management, socioeconomics and other areas.
It’s important to find information – and even more important to share it. That is the rationale behind the IFAD-funded Regional Agricultural Information Network for West Asia and North Africa (RAIN-WANA), launched at a workshop held at ICARDA headquarters, 9-10 March. The network will involve seven countries: Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, and UAE. It aims to
- Create an information repository, through which every partner has access to all the information held by every other partner (subject to copyright issues)
- Build knowledge-sharing capacity in each country through training programs for knowledge generators (research and extension) as well as knowledge managers (librarians, IT specialists and others)
In one sense, RAIN is a regional extension of a highly successful trilateral project: the Egypt-Sudan twinning agreement, coordinated by ICARDA, that dramatically improved knowledge-sharing capacity in both countries.
“Information is power – information sharing is critical for agricultural development,” said Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General. “We need to create IT platforms to share results, and to support both development and dissemination of new technologies.”
“RAIN will fill a major gap,” said Mr Taysir Al-Ghanem, IFAD’s Regional Communication Manager for the Near East and North Africa. “Research centers in WANA have produced excellent results – but have not been able to share these results effectively. ICARDA always takes the lead in innovation and partnership… this is one more example.”
A project framework and workplan have been outlined, and will be developed further. This will help select appropriate IT platform(s), identify training needs, and create a community of practice on knowledge-sharing.
The Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA) is a premier national research center, and an important partner in ICARDA’s collaborative programs in South Asia. This partnership is set to expand further, following a visit by Bangladeshi decision makers to ICARDA stations in Syria, Jordan and Dubai, 28 February to 15 March. The delegation comprised Dr MA Salam, Director of Research, BINA; Dr M Kamrunnahar, Deputy Secretary (Research), Ministry of Agriculture; and Dr MA Samad, Principal Scientific Officer and Head, Plant Breeding Division, BINA.
One priority is to expand collaborative research on food legumes: rhizobium biofertilizer, new varieties to intensify rice-based production systems, and village-based seed enterprises. BINA’s research on induced mutations, for example, could benefit plant breding programs in other developing countries; ICARDA could facilitate such knowledge transfers. Other priorities include conservation agriculture, improving water-use efficiency, and capacity development, targeting young scientists and graduate students. BINA and ICARDA are working together to develop more detailed plans, and explore funding possibilities.
National R&D organizations centers in India have launched a major effort to boost lentil production. ICARDA is contributing to this effort through a collaborative project funded by the National Food Security Mission. The India-ICARDA program organized three training events in February, bringing farmers and scientists together to share experiences. A train-the trainers program was held on 27-28 February at the Indian Institute of Pulses Research, Kanpur, for extension staff and field researchers. The training covered various areas: improved varieties, crop management, seed production, cultivation of lentil in post-rice fallows, and conservation agriculture. Two other programs, organized jointly with Rajendra Agricultural University, Pusa, brought together 35 ‘lead’ farmers from four states. A training course (2-3 March) was followed by a travelling workshop (4-10 March), where the farmers visited research sites – and neighboring farms – in different districts.
Several ICARDA staff served as resource persons: Dr Ashutosh Sarker, Coordinator, South Asia and China Regional Program; Dr Shiv Kumar Agrawal, lentil breeder; Dr Seid Kemal, legume pathologist; and Dr Ravi Gopal Singh, cropping systems agronomist.
These programs provided first-hand evidence of the field performance of new lentil varieties. Farmers were particularly happy with two high-yielding varieties, NDL-1 (developed by Indian scientists from ICARDA parent material) and HUL-57. “These new varieties are highly profitable,” said one farmer. “Many of us plan to expand our lentil fields next season.”