Food insecurity in Africa is severe and widespread – but could be addressed with better regional coordination and more effective use of available technologies. This was the view of delegates at the Expert Group Meeting on Food security in Africa: key challenges, opportunities and policy options, organized by the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
The meeting, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 14-15 July, brought together scientists, development experts and policy makers from every region in Africa. Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General, representing the CGIAR, chaired the first technical session, The global food crisis: experiences and lessons learned for food security in Africa; and also made a presentation highlighting the role of science and technology in enhancing food security in the context of climate change. Dr Solh presented examples of collaborative research by ICARDA and its partners, that could help transform smallholder agriculture in dry areas across Africa.
Speakers at the meeting stressed the importance of farmer-participatory research and a regional focus – which have always been central to ICARDA’s approach. They agreed that a food security strategy for Africa should include research to reduce yield gaps, establishment of early-warning systems, and policy support and market development to encourage technology dissemination.
The CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems (CRP1.1) is based on an integrated agro-ecosystems research, implemented through multi-institution partnerships. This was reflected at the 7th Stakeholder Meeting of CRP1.1, attended by more than 80 representatives of national research centers, advanced research institutes, NGOs and CGIAR Centers from every major dryland region in the developing world.
ICRAF hosted the meeting (27-30 June) at its Nairobi headquarters, and its Director General Dr Dennis Garrity opened the discussions with a presentation on integrated crop-agroforestry systems in West Africa.
The meeting focused on characterization and selection of benchmark research areas, and action sites within each benchmark area, for each of five regions: the West African Sahel and Dry Savannas, East and Southern Africa, North Africa and West Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia. Following weeks of intensive preparatory work, the participants discussed and selected a limited number of representative sites where CRP1.1 will be implemented. In each benchmark area, action sites will be complemented by satellite sites, to capture the diversity in agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions. Another innovation was the concept of Knowledge Sharing Centers, developed by AREEO-Iran, CIP-Peru, CIRAD-France, EMBRAPA-Brazil, GDAR-Turkey, CAAS-China and others. This will allow CRP1.1 partners to share and build on previous research conducted in each agro-ecosystem.
The outcomes of the meeting have been incorporated into the revised CRP1.1 proposal, which was submitted recently to the CGIAR Consortium Board.
Meetings with donor agencies and other partners have helped identify new opportunities for building on the successes achieved by ICARDA’s collaborative research in North Africa and West, South and Central Asia. Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General, visited USA last month, for discussions with USAID, the US Department of Agriculture and the USAID-funded Water and Livelihoods Initiative.
Our partners acknowledge that previous ICARDA collaborative projects have developed a number of technologies in crop improvement, water and land management, post-harvest methods, value addition and other areas. This offers opportunities for targeted investments to scale out these innovations in a number of countries – for example, low-cost technologies to increase water productivity in Egypt, integrated system-based ‘packages’ to improve livelihoods in Pakistan.
ICARDA scientists have developed a new screening method to develop chickpea varieties resistant to fusarium wilt, a soilborne disease that causes severe yield losses. The disease is already widespread – and future outbreaks will likely increase as a result of climate change (higher temperatures, drier soils, and probably more rapid development of new races of the disease-causing fungus).
The most effective way to control fusarium wilt is by using resistant varieties. To develop such varieties, genotypes are traditionally screened in a ‘wilt-sick plot’ that is naturally and/or artificially infected with the fungus. But this method has a number of difficulties: development and maintenance of uniform wilt-sick plots, presence of multiple races of the fungus in the same plot, and the confounding effect of drought.
ICARDA scientists have optimized a hydroponic method to increase the accuracy of in vitro screening in a glasshouse. A number of genotypes were screened against a single race, in a glasshouse at ICARDA’s Tel Hadya research station, to examine the type and effectiveness of resistance. The genotypes ranged from highly susceptible (Syrian variety Ghab 1, which starts wilting 10 days after inoculation) to tolerant (Indian variety JG-62 which begins wilting only at the flowering stage) to completely immune (WR315).
The new screening method is more cost effective and accurate than traditional methods, and also allows breeders to screen simultaneously for resistance to multiple races. Based on the same principle, a high-throughput screening platform will be established that could be used to screen for resistance to multiple diseases. This method will also help identify different gene(s) conferring resistance to different races of the wilt pathogen; and enable breeders to combine multiple genes into a single variety through DNA marker-assisted selection.
Ms. Martha Bonilla has joined ICARDA as Proposal Writing Officer in the Project Development and Grants Management Unit. She was previously a communications consultant for the IMF, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Bank and the International Meteorological Organization. Her earlier assignments include Editor for the United Nations in Vienna, and External Relations Officer for the IMF in Washington, DC (1980-2000). Ms Bonilla, a Nicaraguan national, has an MA in Publications Writing and Editing from George Washington University, USA; and considerable experience of working in the Middle East and North Africa.
Dr Vinay Nangia has joined ICARDA as Agricultural Hydrologist in the Integrated Water and Land Management Program. Dr Nangia has a PhD in Water Resources Science and two MS degrees (Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering, Geographic Information Science) from the University of Minnesota, USA. He began his career as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at IWMI, Sri Lanka; then moved to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, studying greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. He has worked in several large river basins, conducting research on irrigation and drainage management, GIS applications in hydrology and other areas. Dr Nangia is also Visiting Assistant Professor at the Institute of Soil and Water Conservation of the Chinese Academy of Science.
Mr Mohamed Fawzy Farag Nawar has joined ICARDA as a Documentation Specialist in the Genetic Resources Section. Mr. Nawar has a Masters degree in Computer Science from the University of Louisville, USA. He was earlier a consultant with Bioversity International in Rome, helping to develop prototypes for web-enabled databases and e-networks to share information on genetic resources. His previous assignments include: re-engineering ICARDA’s genebank information system (2006-07), designing an integrated accounting and document management system for the Desert Research Center in Egypt; and developing a Genetic Resources Information System for IPGRI. Mr Nawar, an Egyptian national, has experience in the private sector and in R&D organizations in several countries.
Dr Hasan Saoud, scientist, administrator and visionary, passed away on 18 July 2011. Dr Saoud played a key role in ICARDA’s establishment and management for many years. He served as ICARDA’s Assistant Director General for Government Liaison for 5 years (1990-94), and on the Board of Trustees for more than a decade (1980-90), as host country representative. He also held key positions at national and regional policy level. He was Syria’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (1979-90), and Director General of the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (1994-2002).
ICARDA joins many others in paying our last respects to a man who helped build a strong foundation for agricultural research and development in the region. May his soul rest in peace.
‘Improved water management for sustainable mountain agriculture’: this new IFAD-funded, ICARDA-led research project was launched last month, at a meeting in Amman, Jordan. The project will target smallholder farmers in the mountainous areas of Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco, to improve the management of water, land, crops and livestock. Water harvesting, supplemental irrigation, integrated crop-livestock systems and other technologies will help increase water availability, improve water-use efficiency, reduce erosion and improve rural livelihoods.
‘Benchmark’ sites have been selected in each country, where improved technologies will be tested, before being scaled out to similar agro-ecologies across West Asia and North Africa. Implementation will be led by the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute, INRA-Morocco, and the National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension in Jordan. Other partners include universities and government research and extension agencies.
The project launch was attended by 40 scientists, administrators and national decision makers from the three countries, IFAD and ICARDA.
India-ICARDA research partnerships are growing rapidly. A two-day meeting in New Delhi, 17-18 June, allowed scientists and policy makers to review progress and formalize plans for next season. The 100-plus delegates included some of India’s most senior agricultural policy makers: Mr PK Basu, Secretary to the Government, from the Ministry of Agriculture; Dr Gurbachan Singh, Agriculture Commissioner; Mr Mukesh Khullar, Joint Secretary in the Ministry and Director of the National Food Security Mission; and Dr Swapan Kumar Datta, Deputy Director General – Crop Sciences, Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
Scientists reported research results achieved in 2010-2011 under three government-funded projects implemented jointly by Indian research institutions and ICARDA. For example, some farmers in West Bengal harvested more than 2 tons per hectare of the new lentil variety Moitree (meaning ‘Friendship’) developed by India-ICARDA teams. National policy makers gave very positive feedback about the quality of the work, as well as ICARDA’s emphasis on partnership-based approaches. They urged that collaboration be expanded further, to assist government efforts to improve food security and nutrition.