Strategic research partnerships and decentralization: the drivers of ICARDA’s global drylands research agenda


The progress and partnerships in ICARDA’s global drylands science program and the Center’s decentralization strategy were the highlights of the 54th meeting of ICARDA’s Board of Trustees last week in Beirut. The Vice-Chair of the CGIAR Consortium Board, Ms. Lynn Haight, attended the meeting as an observer.

Opening the meeting, Board Chair, Dr. Camilla Toulmin, reviewed the history of ICARDA. When the CGIAR decided to establish an international center to serve the dry areas, and in particular the dry areas of the Middle East and North Africa, it signed an agreement with the Government of Syria in 1975 and with the Government of Lebanon in 1977, which established ICARDA as an International Center in each of those countries – the Center’s host countries. At the outset, ICARDA’s headquarters were in Lebanon. However, the civil war in Lebanon obliged the Center to move its headquarters to Syria, where it established its principal research station at Tel Hadya, near Aleppo, in northern Syria. “Now, when ICARDA has been obliged, through circumstances beyond our control, to leave our headquarters and research station at Tel Hadya, we were indeed very fortunate to be able to return to Lebanon”, she said.

Dr. Toulmin recognized Lebanon’s continued close partnership with the Center, as the host of ICARDA’s temporary headquarters since 2012. “We have long been a partner with the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI), and share facilities at Terbol station in the Bekaa Valley. LARI has also provided exceptional support during the temporary relocation of some operations from ICARDA’s headquarters in Syria to Lebanon,” she said. Likewise, the American University of Beirut, through its Faculty of Food and Agricultural Sciences, has offered land and facilities at the Faculty’s Agricultural Research and Education Center (AREC), which has enabled ICARDA to continue its research trials and seed multiplication for international nurseries of the Center’s five mandate crops.

In concluding, the Chair addressed the Syrian Host Country representatives on ICARDA’s Board. “May I assure you that we have not abandoned Syria. We all truly hope that the tragic events in your country will be resolved so that we may return there again. Tel Hadya in Syria will continue to be ICARDA’s headquarters,” she said.

Representing H.E. the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Akram Chehayeb, Dr. Michel Afram, the Director General of LARI, summarized the close partnership that LARI has enjoyed with ICARDA over the years, notably: training of more than 600 scientists and technicians, joint research on agro-biodiversity, crop-livestock systems, and water harvesting; and most recently supporting LARI’s success of boosting its national seed stock to 8000 tons of wheat, with a similar plan for legumes and barley.

The meeting’s Opening Session concluded with the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement between ICARDA and FAO, represented by Mr. Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, Assistant Director General and FAO Regional Representative, for expanded cooperation on drylands food security activities in the Near East and North Africa. ICARDA Director General, Dr. Mahmoud Solh, presented his report to the Board, including new developments in strengthening partnerships, achievements in collaborative research projects and in capacity development, and the Center’s participation in international conferences and other global events

In reviewing the cropping season 2013-2014 at the Center’s principal research sites, he noted that West Asia is experiencing one of the driest seasons in recent years. Records from Tel Hadya and Terbol stations, in Syria and Lebanon respectively, show that the cumulative rainfall is less than half the long-term average for this time of year. However, in North Africa and other regions where ICARDA is working the rainfall situation was close to the long term average. Most of the land at Tel Hadya has been planted to cover crops to maintain the long-term rotations needed in the experimental plots and the long-term trials on conservation agriculture. ICARDA’s genebank at Tel Hadya continues operation, with all its plant genetic material in safety duplication either at the Svalbard facility in Norway or other genebanks. The Director General highlighted two examples of research impacts in the previous season – namely on seed deployment of wheat rust resistant varieties to Ethiopian farmers and the outcome of the external review of the Food Security Project in seven Arab countries where remarkable impact was recorded on wheat production as a result of the sustainable intensification of wheat-based systems.

Lebanese guests and partners

A range of partners from Lebanon’s government, FAO, agricultural research, academia, civil society, communities were present at the meeting, including: Mr. Mohamad Abu Zeid representing the Ministry of Agriculture; Ms. Gloria Abou Zeid, President of the Executive Committee of the Green Plan of the Ministry of Agriculture; FAO Assistant Director General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa, Dr Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, Dr. Lara Hanna-Wakim, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik; and Dr. Lamis Chalak the Faculty of Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences of the Lebanese University.

Increased cooperation for food security in the Near East-North Africa Regions. Abdessalam Ould Ahmed FAO Assistant Director General and Regional Representative (right) and ICARDA Director General., Mahmoud Solh (left) sign a Memorandum of Understanding, in the presence of ICARDA Board Chair, Camilla Toulmin (center).


ICARDA’s strategic decentralization: Building a distributed and responsive global research architecture

ICARDA’s strategic decentralization: Building a distributed and responsive global research architecture

ICARDA’s Director General, Dr. Mahmoud Solh, provided an update on the implementation of the Centers’ decentralization strategy and on the resources mobilized to support new equipment and facilities to replace those no longer accessible at Tel Hadya. The decentralization was developed as a strategic priority for the center in 2012 and validated in a series of consultations with the Board of Trustees, staff and a wide range of partners in the countries where ICARDA works. The strategy builds on ICARDA’s long tradition of close partnerships with the national agricultural research systems. Following this plan, the strategic decentralization of ICARDA will achieve increased efficiency and performance of its global drylands research program. More proximity to partner countries and their research teams is expected to enhance the delivery of science to benefit the countries and their smallholders, and ensure that ICARDA remains flexible to adapt to changing needs in all locations.


Today, five months after its adoption by the Board, the decentralization strategy is being implemented. ICARDA’s research program is being carried out in three research platforms (in Morocco, Ethiopia and India) and three Thematic Research Locations (in Egypt, Turkey/Central Asia and the Sudan) beside headquarters activities in West Asia. Each is linked to a specific agro-ecosystem and livelihoods focus, and linked to relevant CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) in which ICARDA is a partner. Partners in the host countries have donated in excess of 500 hectares of land, as well as the use of offices, laboratories and other facilities on their research stations.


How does the implementation of the strategic decentralization of the Center’s research operations fit with the CGIAR reforms and ICARDA’s role as the leader of the Dryland Systems program and its participation in other CRPs? Says the Director General: “The strategy and operations are entirely in line with enhancing ICARDA’s contribution to the implementation of the Dryland Systems CRP in the five targeted regions – and with the other eight CRPs in which ICARDA is involved.”


Lebanon: Temporary Headquarters, Beirut, and Terbol Research Station




Lebanon and ICARDA today

Lebanon and ICARDA today

ICARDA’s temporary headquarters has been located in Lebanon since 2012, hosting the Director General, and the Center’s directorate and corporates services, including the Finance Department, the Project Development and Grant Management Office, in addition to the research staff located at ICARDA’s research station at Terbol in the Beqa’a plain. Partnerships have been expanded with the Ministry of Agriculture and longstanding partners Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI) and the American University of Beirut (AUB). This has strengthened ICARDA’s research collaboration and infrastructure in Lebanon to provide important support to the Center’s global research program.


The partnership with LARI has expanded to include more use of land at Terbol Station, additional space for laboratories, offices and greenhouses, and the use of LARI’s livestock keeping facilities. Cooperation has also been strengthened for legume and cereal pathology. ICARDA research facilities at Terbol Station have been expanded with four new laboratories, namely for Seed Health, Doubled Haploid for Wheat Breeding, Pathology and Virology.


The partnership with American University of Beirut (AUB) and its Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences has expanded to include the use of facilities at its Agricultural Research and Education Center (AREC), including: Genebank and genetic conservation facilities; rooms for seed preparation and storage; land for trials and seed multiplication (33ha); and office space, trainee rooms and accommodation.


ICARDA’s International Nurseries and trials of its mandated crops (wheat, barley, faba bean, lentil, chickpea and grass pea) are prepared and distributed from AREC. New ICARDA facilities in Terbol and AREC provide critical services to the decentralized ICARDA: Ensuring seed health quality of cereals and pulses crops produced and distributed (free of seed-borne fungi, nematode, viruses, bacteria, parasitic weeds and insects); ensuring the safe movement of genetic resources and breeding germplasm within International Nurseries and Trials, and distributed to countries worldwide.



Research team at the newly-equipped ICARDA seed health lab in Terbol - screening seeds for diseases before release to partners and other ICARDA research locations.







Terbol research station: barley trials (above); crossing (below).



Decentralization: an ideal research setting - for various agro-climatic zones in dry areas globally

All together, the research facilities and operations in different Platforms and Thematic Research Locations offer ICARDA the opportunity to address the challenges facing different agro-climatic zones of dry areas worldwide – Mediterranean, coastal, arid and semi-arid – including low and high altitude areas to ensure wide and specific adaptation for various agro-climatic situations in dry areas globally.


West Asia – Jordan

West Asia – Jordan Building resilience on marginal lands – integrated crop-rangeland systems and water harvesting.

ICARDA’s cooperation with the Government of Jordan started in 1977 and has recently been expanded to include a broader range of activities, facilities and the hosting of one of the CRP Dryland Systems Action Sites, focusing on resilience. The National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension (NCARE) has provided ICARDA with land and facilities at its Mushaqar Research Station, for use by ICARDA’s programs on integrated water and land management and sustainable intensification of production systems. ICARDA also enjoys access to other NCARE stations in different agro-ecological zones for conducting international research trials – for wheat improvement, for barley improvement, drought research, livestock research and research on salinity management. In addition, a long-term trial on conservation agriculture is in progress at the Mushaqar Station.


A long-term Conservation Agriculture trial is in progress at the Mushaqar station in Jordan.



North Africa Platform

North Africa Platform Rainfed cereal-based systems: intensification & diversification

ICARDA’s research platform in Morocco has been established under an agreement signed with the Minister of Agriculture in 2013. This platform focuses on the intensification and diversification of rainfed cereal-based production systems, addressing the improvement of cereals, legumes, integrated pest management (IPM) and stress physiology. A further agreement was signed in 2013 with the Office National de Securite Sanitaire des Produits Alimentaires (ONSSA) to facilitate the safe movement of germplasm in and out of Morocco, including phytosanitary and quarantine measures.


Under this partnership, Institut National de la Recherche Agronoique (INRA) is providing ICARDA with 100 hectares of land for field trials at its Marchouch Station, as well as offices, laboratory facilities for pathology, seed health, physiology, virology, entomology, cereal quality, and other facilities. ICARDA has also been provided with office and laboratory space at INRA’s Rabat-Guich station and space for green houses for physiology, biotechnology, quality, pathology, virology and entomology, as well as access to other INRA stations in different agro-ecological zones including: Annoceur (double season, shuttle breeding), Allal Tazi (diseases), Jemaa-shaim (drought, insects), Tassaout (irrigated, drought) and Douyet (food legumes)


Sub-Saharan Africa Platform Mixed integrated crop-livestock systems

ICARDA’s Small Ruminant research team is based at ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, and works closely with the CRP on Livestock & Fish. The Sub-Saharan Africa Research Platform has been established under agreements with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR). A further agreement has been signed with the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute for the exchange of germplasm and collaboration. The platform’s primary research focus is on mixed integrated crop-livestock systems serving Ethiopia and sub-Saharan Africa countries. An ICARDA legume pathologist is also located in Addis Ababa, and ICARDA’s ongoing research partnership with EIAR includes the use of facilities at five EIAR research stations for work on wheat, chickpea, lentil, faba bean, small ruminants, soil and water.


Food legumes research in Morocco: five research sites for biological nitrogen fixation; herbicide tolerance; suitability for machine harvesting; earliness; diseases and insect pests; heat tolerance; Orobanche tolerance; off-season nurseries.



South Asia Platform

South Asia Platform Strengthening food legume systems

This platform is currently being set up with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), to focus on food legumes and natural resource management research. Key activities are:


  • Accelerating more productive and nutritious food legume varieties using genomics.
  • Improving rangeland and pasture productivity, research on crop-livestock systems, alternative feed resources and water productivity in arid regions.
  • Developing efficient seed production and technology delivery systems for smallholder farmers.
  • Partnerships, capacities and knowledge sharing to enhance R4D impacts.


The main Research Platform for Food Legume Research is in ICAR’s Amlaha station in Madhya Pradesh (71 ha), with a satellite site (40 ha) in Kalyani, West Bengal, which will serve eastern India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The principal natural resources management research is being done with the Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, which is also an action site of the Dryland Systems CRP.



Government of India endorses ICARDA South Asia Research platform: Dr. S. Ayyappan, Director General, Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (center left) with ICARDA Director General, Mahmoud Solh (center right).



Egypt Thematic Research location

Egypt Thematic Research location High-input irrigated systems

The Egypt thematic research site builds on many years of partnership between Egypt and ICARDA, to focus on high-input irrigated agricultural systems. This includes research on irrigated wheat improvement at the Agricultural Research Center’s (ARC) Sids Research Station and irrigation management at the water benchmark site in the Nile Delta. The Sids Station is part of ICARDA’s innovative Spring Wheat Shuttle Breeding Program that involves Morocco for rainfed agriculture, Ethiopia for wheat disease screening and Sids for irrigated wheat where the crop expresses its highest yield potential. The Sids Station is also used for faba bean breeding. Investment is planned for field equipment, seed cleaning and storage facilities to support seed multiplication for wheat and faba bean. The Sakha Research Station is being considered for crop disease evaluation and on-farm water management research.



The biotechnology lab of Egypt’s Agricultural Research Center and ICARDA works on molecular characterization, double haploid breeding, biodiversity analysis, among other areas of expertise.



Turkey Thematic Research location

Turkey Thematic Research location Winter Wheat, Winter Barley and wheat rust diseases

As part of an expanded research cooperation agreement signed in 2013, the Turkey-ICARDA Regional Cereal Rust Research Center was created in Izmir, hosted at the Aegean Agricultural Research Institute. Now being completed, the center includes a bio-containment facility and advanced pathology lab facilities to allow receipt of foreign isolates and diseased samples of rust from across Central and West Asia and North Africa and other locations. Some 16,000 wheat genotypes from ICARDA, the Turkey-CIMMYT-ICARDA International Winter Wheat Improvement Program and NARS partners are in rust resistance field trials in Izmir.


Winter barley reseach is active in Ankara, Sanliurfa and Erzurum. Twenty ha of land in Sanliurfa and 5 ha in Ankara have been made available. Turkey has expressed willingness to allocate furrther lands, lab and office space. Four International Nurseries have been distributed from Turkey in 2013. Distribution of Winter Barley, Spring Barley and Pathology nurseries started in 2013 will continue to be distributed from Turkey in 2014.



Turkey-ICARDA Regional Rust Center, works closely with national rust laboratories in Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Morocco, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Ethiopia and Kenya. Key activities: coordinated breeding for durable resistance; pathogen monitoring and awareness; effective seed production systems; capacity development and training.



Sudan Thematic research location

Sudan Thematic research location Heat Tolerant Wheat and food legumes

ICARDA’s two decades of research partnership with Sudan has helped the country develop new heat tolerant wheat varieties that made production possible for the first time South of Khartoum, where temperatures reach 50C. Sudan’s expertise in developing wheat cultivars with resistance to heat stress is the focus of this research platform. This has made wheat an attractive crop in the South of Khartoum where heat stress once prevented its cultivation. Heat tolerance is very important in the context of adaptation to climate change and activities will be expanded here of for adoption in other ICARDA platforms and countries. Most recently, heat tolerant wheat technologies from Sudan have been transferred to Nigeria, where they are at the center of a national plan to improve wheat yields in hot areas (from 2 tons/ha to 5-6 tons/ha) and reduce the country’s import dependency. More such partnerships are planned.



Farmer field day – heat tolerant wheat trials..