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).