Libya’s Agricultural Research Center (ARC) and ICARDA have signed a five-year agreement (2012-2017) for a new phase of collaborative research in Libya, building on successes achieved in the first phase. The agreement follows a meeting between H.E. Eng. Sulaiman Abdel Hamed Boukharrouba, Minister of Agriculture, Animal Wealth and Marine Resources, and Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General.
The agreement was signed by ARC Director General, Dr Ramadan Abdel Moula Al Handaoui, and Dr Solh. It identifies priorities for the future: expanding ongoing research, particularly on water and irrigation management, cereals improvement and small ruminant production; training of ARC staff, including MSc and PhD programs; upgrading research facilities and equipment; strengthening ARC’s documentation unit; and linking ARC with international research centers.
The discussions also involved senior ARC and Ministry staff and Dr Mohammed El Mourid, Coordinator of ICARDA’s North Africa Regional Program. A joint ARC-Libya team will develop detailed workplans and budgets for 2012-2013.
Dr Solh also visited the National Biotechnology Laboratory in Tripoli where he met with Dr Nabil Nattah, Director General, and other staff. The two organizations will develop a formal Memorandum of Understanding on biotechnology applications in plant breeding, horticulture and other areas.
Development of conservation cropping systems in the drylands of northern Iraq
Phase III of the Australian-funded (ACIAR/AusAID), ICARDA-led project on conservation agriculture was launched at a meeting in Amman, 10-14 September. The new initiative will build on earlier phases, which catapulted the use of conservation cropping in Iraq and Syria from near-zero to more than 28,000 hectares in less than five years.
The Project Inception Meeting brought together more than 60 scientists, development experts and others, including H.E. Heidi Venamore, Australian Ambassador to Jordan; Mr Uday Asaad Khamas from the Iraqi embassy in Amman; Dr Eric Huttner, Crop Program Manager at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR); senior staff from Iraq’s Ministries of Agriculture, Higher Education and Foreign Affairs; and collaborators from four Iraqi universities (Mosul, Anbar, Salahaddin and Kirkuk), the University of Western Australia and Adelaide University.
“Australia and ICARDA enjoy a very close relationship,” the Ambassador said. She noted the many achievements in research, capacity development, and creation of linkages between Iraqi organizations and the global science community.
“Conservation agriculture is vitally important in dry areas,” said Dr Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA Director General. “Strong support from Australian agencies, and from government ministries in Iraq and Syria, has led to impressive progress in the past five years. We must now build on this platform.”
The project aims to spread conservation agriculture methods – a combination of zero tillage, retention of crop residues, crop rotations, early planting and other sound crop management practices – to many more farmers. Activities, which earlier focused on Ninevah province, will expand to three other governorates in Iraq (Anbar, Kirkuk and Salahaddin) and to new areas in Syria. Implementation will be led by Iraq’s Department of Agriculture and State Boards of Agricultural Research, with multi-disciplinary teams from Iraqi and Australian universities, ICARDA, ACIAR and other partner organizations.
Seed health monitoring is a crucial element of germplasm exchange and variety development programs. ICARDA’s seed health laboratory is acknowledged as a regional leader in the field. The lab tests thousands of samples each year, to ensure that both incoming and outgoing seeds are healthy and free of seedborne diseases, and fully meet international phytosanitary standards.
ICARDA has established a new seed health laboratory in Aleppo city. The lab is now fully operational and will soon begin shipping seed samples to partners around the world. Every sample is tested for a range of seed-borne fungi, bacteria, nematodes, viruses, and parasitic weeds.
More than 4500 statisticians gathered at the Joint Statistical Meetings 2012 – one of the world’s largest fora in the profession – held last month in San Diego, California. ICARDA was represented by Dr Murari Singh, who presented a paper on Bayesian techniques to estimate shrub species diversity in arid rangeland areas. The study, co-authored by Mr Abdoul Aziz Niane (ICARDA) and Dr Paul Struik (Wageningen University, the Netherlands), analyzed species abundance at two sites in the Syrian rangelands under two grazing management systems – areas open to and protected from grazing – to better understand the effects of rainfall and grazing patterns on plant diversity.
Presentations at the meeting covered a range of subjects. Of particular relevance to ICARDA were the sessions on Bayesian approaches to analyze data at different scales; genome-wide SNP marker trait associations; regional climate models; and G x E interaction analysis. The meeting was co-organized by the American Statistical Association, the International Biometric Society, and research institutes and associations from Canada, China and India.
Greece recently conducted its first international collaborative germplasm collection mission in three decades. The mission, covering 59 sites across nine provinces, yielded 1195 new acquisitions for the national genebank, representing 212 species from 51 genera.
Partners in the mission included the Department of Forestry and MNE, Greece; Agricultural Research Centre of Northern Greece; Greek GeneBank (GGB); ICARDA; and AgResearch New Zealand. Drs Mohamed Fawzy Nawar, Ali Shehadeh and Josephine Piggin from ICARDA’s Genetic Resources section joined the mission.
The aim was to document and conserve both wild and cultivated species, that could eventually provide novel genes for use in plant breeding programs for food and forage crops. Greece is particularly rich in clover (Trifolium), with nearly 100 native species. Perennial clovers are valuable elements of natural pastures, and could contribute significantly to livestock production systems. The mission targeted wild legumes (Trifolium and Medicago); cultivated cereals and their wild relatives (grasses belonging to the Triticeae group); wild perennial grasses; and some dicotyledon species of particular interest, including grasses (Lolium, Dactylis, Phleum, Festucai), plantains (Plantago) and chickory (Cichorium).
The next step will be to characterize the material collected, using phenotypic and molecular evaluation, to better understand adaptive traits and identify traits of interest.
Partnerships between Turkey and ICARDA are set to expand significantly, following meetings with H.E. Dr Mehmet Mehdi Eker, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Livestock; and Dr Masum Burak, Director General of Turkey’s General Directorate of Agricultural Research and Policy.
”ICARDA is important not only for the region but also for global food security,” the Minister said, pledging full support for broadening ongoing collaboration.
The ICARDA delegation included Mr Henri Carsalade, Chair, Board of Trustees; Dr Mahmoud Solh, Director General; and Dr Mesut Keser, Country Manager and winter wheat breeder. The meetings took place in Ankara and Izmir on 14-15 August.
The discussions identified several areas of common interest, where Turkish research centers could collaborate on new activities: plant pathology and integrated pest management in Izmir, drought research in Konya, small ruminant and rangeland research in Sanliurfa, and winter wheat breeding in Ankara. The Memorandum of Understanding between Turkey and ICARDA will be expanded, to support the proposed new research.
The delegation also visited the Aegean Agricultural Research Institute (AARI) in Izmir, which will host a research program on wheat rust diseases, diseases, which could expand to cover other diseases important in the region. A new greenhouse will be constructed and office and laboratory space expanded. The hosts also offered the use of the International Training Center, close to AARI, for training programs.
Research partnerships between the United Arab Emirates and ICARDA have helped increase output and productivity in severely water-deficient environments. Research, which earlier focused on protected agriculture and forage production, will soon expand to rangeland rehabilitation, water recycling and other areas.
H.E. Dr Rashid Ahmed Mohammed Bin Fahad, Minister of Environment and Water, said, “The government is keen to benefit from ICARDA’s research expertise. The Ministry will work with ICARDA to expand collaboration.” The Minister recently met with Dr Faisal Awawdeh, Coordinator of ICARDA’s Arabian Peninsula Regional Program, to discuss priorities and implementation mechanisms for collaborative research.
The meeting built on previous discussions between Dr Awawdeh and senior Ministry officials, including Mr Abdel Rahim Hammadi, Assistant Under Secretary for Supporting Services; Dr Nasser Sultan, Acting Undersecretary for Agricultural and Animal Affairs; and Eng. Mansoor Ibrahim Mansoor, Director, Agricultural Development.
Livestock research will be an important component. A field day was organized jointly by the Ministry of Environment and Water and ICARDA, to demonstrate hardy, water-efficient forage crops – Buffel grass and spineless cactus – and the use of nutrient-rich feed blocks produced from agricultural by-products. The field day, held at Dibba Agricultural Research Station, was attended by farmers, researchers and extension agents.
ICARDA and its partners in India are helping to expand production of lentil – one of the country’s most important sources of dietary protein. The research program, funded by the National Food Security Mission, covers four states: Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Partners include the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, Assam Agricultural University, Rajendra Agricultural University, Indian Institute of Pulses Research, Pulses & Oilseeds Research Station – Berhampore, and NGOs in Bihar and West Bengal.
The project met or surpassed all targets for the 2011-12 season. Activities have expanded to 98 villages and more than 1500 farmers. Five to seven new lentil varieties were tested in each project area, jointly by farmers and project staff. Demonstration plots now cover 527 hectares. Village-based seed cooperatives, established at every project site, produced more than 300 tons of high-quality seed. More than 150 training events (workshops, courses, field days) were organized, allowing thousands of farmers to become familiar with new lentil technologies.
One key objective is to introduce lentil as a second (extra) crop during the period when rice fields are normally left fallow. Lentil has been introduced in rice fallows on a pilot area of 180 hectares. A separate ICAR-ICARDA initiative has introduced lentil cultivation – for the first time – in two non-project states, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. Following excellent results this season, farmers in Meghalaya have requested seed of three lentil varieties developed by ICAR and ICARDA, to plant next season.
By simply replacing their traditional varieties with improved ones, farmers increased yields by 10-20%. Those who used new varieties together with improved management methods increased yields by up to 65%.
ICARDA provides vital support to plant breeding programs in developing countries worldwide: sharing improved genetic material through the International Nurseries Program, helping to maintain the genetic purity of new varieties, and providing seed stocks.
So far this year, ICARDA has received requests for materials from 97 organizations in 40 countries, from Australia to the Americas, Pakistan to Portugal. More requests are expected as national programs complete their data analysis for the recent harvest. Preparation and packaging of international nurseries is in full swing. The nurseries will be distributed for the 2012/13 planting.
Some 25 hectares at the Center’s Tel Hadya research station in Syria – and more plots at stations in other countries – are devoted to multiplication of nurseries, variety maintenance and seed production of select materials (elite lines for research, newly released varieties for multiplication). In 2012, several hundred genotypes were multiplied for distribution to partner organizations worldwide.
Breeding materials developed ICARDA research stations go through multiple stages of testing, after which the best performers are distributed, for further use by national research centers. These include elite nurseries, segregating populations, specialized disease nurseries and other materials with specific traits, of a range of crops: bread, durum and winter/facultative wheat, barley, faba bean, chickpea, lentil, grasspea and forage legumes.