ICARDA Syria Country Office established in 1977
ICARDA HQ (1977 - 2012)
Country manager: Majd Jamal
ICARDA’s work in Syria is made possible through the support of the Syrian government, European Commission, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), OPEC Fund for International Development OFID, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and World Food Programme (WFP).
ICARDA’s collaboration with Syria started in 1977, following two directions; emphasizing the building up of Syria's research capacity as a prerequisite for implementing a sound and productive research program and stressing the importance of increasing the productivity of dry-farming crops, mainly wheat and with emphasis on barley and chickpea, two important but ignored crops. The collaborative research and training program has been the vehicle used to implement ICARDA's strategy through joint research in the fields of cereals, food dry legumes, and forage crops; multidiscipline, multiperiod training courses; a stream of information in various forms of publications, and technical and financial support.
ICARDA had been headquartered in Aleppo, Syria, until its move in 2012 to Beirut, Lebanon, due to the Syrian conflict. Despite the ten-year crisis in Syria, agriculture remains a key part of the economy. The sector still accounts for an estimated 26% of GDP and represents a critical safety net for the 6.7 million Syrians, including those internally displaced, who remain in rural areas. The crisis in Syria is in its final stage. Investing in the recovery of the country’s agriculture sector in many areas will help reduce humanitarian assistance, stem migration, and encourage the return of displaced communities. If productive farming areas are neglected, recovery will be harder, longer, and more costly.
- In 1982, the ‘Ghab 1’ Chickpea was developed by ICARDA, the first variety with resistance to Ascochyta blight and improved cold tolerance. Four more winter sowing varieties followed in 2002 (Ghab 2, 3, 4, and 5), released by the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform. The latter also produced larger seeds.
- Since the establishment of ICARDA in Syria in 1977, with cooperation from the National Agriculture Research System, several varieties of ICARDA-mandated crops have been released in the country, including five Durum wheat, six bread wheat, six lentil, five chickpea, and three faba bean varieties.
- Three phases of the AFESD-funded project Food Security in the Arab World have been implemented in Syria since 2011. Even with some difficulties during the Syrian crisis, the project, which has recently partnered with OFID, has greatly impacted the ground in the Aleppo Governorate. The project's main objectives were to disseminate proven technologies, adaptive research under farmer conditions, capacity strengthening of all stallholders, and assess the impact of disseminated technologies.
- In collaboration with UNDP, in 2000, the Sanadiq system, a village-level micro-credit institution owned and managed by the Sanduq members themselves, was introduced in the Jabel al Hoss and Khanasser Valley areas. Through the system, small loans (typically US$500-700) were disbursed to small-scale enterprises to tide over seasonal cash shortages or as start-up funds.
- Disseminating stress-tolerant durum wheat varieties developed by the ICARDA/CIMMYT durum wheat improvement program for West Asia and North Africa through the national agricultural program in Syria.
- In support of the Syrian multiplication sector, field-based demonstrations and explanations were organized during the crops' vegetative, flowering, fruiting, and maturity phases.
- Capacity development for Syrian stakeholders is one of the major activities in the cooperation program. Since the establishment of ICARDA in Syria in 1977, to date, 3,704 Syrian farmers and researchers have been trained by ICARDA, mainly through the center level and project-based group courses (2,617) or through individual non-degree training and research internships (830) and individual degree training Ph.D./MSc (255). The number of Syrians trained by ICARDA has reduced dramatically since 2012 due to the Syrian crisis, which brought about logistical and traveling difficulties.
- In 2019, training courses on crop management skills and seed production with an emphasis on conservation agriculture for Syrian communities, researchers, and policymakers. The topics included: sowing rates, sustainable water management, weed control, pests and disease management, FAO concepts on Save & Grow, conservation agriculture, post-harvest treatments to reduce post-harvest wastes, and seed production practices.
- In 2019, and 2020 in collaboration with FAO with funds provided by the EU, ICARDA continued to rehabilitate Syria’s seed sector, producing 43.6 tons of basic seed of wheat, barley, chickpea, and lentil with farmers in Aleppo and Homs province and extending to Dier Al-Zour in 2020 to help multiply an estimated 1,550 tons of certified seed in the 20/21 season.
- In 2022 In Collaboration with JICA, a new project titled “Joint study on efficient agriculture water management” started to implement demonstrations on irrigation technologies in Farmers' fields and one Rural Garden at the Orantes River basin at the Governorate of Hama. The project will last for two years 2022-23.
- In 2022, in collaboration with WFP, a new project, "Strengthening Food Security & Resilience for Rural Households through Communal Assets, Rehabilitation, and Support to Farmers," will be implemented in 2022 in Maskaneh Shark east of Aleppo. The project will help farmers adopt new technologies and rehabilitate drainage channels in the project area.
- Growing winter chickpea increased estimated net revenue by over US$200/ha and on average, each 1 mm of rainfall produced 4.8 kg of winter chickpea compared to 3.6 kg of spring chickpea.
- An estimate of the impact of modern agricultural technology on wheat production in Syria suggested an increase of 1.66 million tons of durum wheat. This is equivalent to an increase in national income of about US$348. About 34% of this increase is due to the impact of the use of improved varieties, 24% to fertilizer, 23% to irrigation, and 19% to improvement in land and crop management practices.
- Syria became a self-sufficient country in wheat production in the late 90s due to the great expansion and application of new technologies. These technologies included those developed in cooperation with ICARDA, which relate to supplementing irrigation, releasing of new varieties, and improved agricultural practices, in addition to policies by the government to support the wheat sector.
- In 2019 and 2020, ICARDA implemented two FAO-funded training programs – Efficient Irrigation Techniques and Rainwater Harvesting – targeting more than 285 farmers, 53 extension agents, 50 researchers, and 12 policymakers from Aleppo, Damascus, Daraa, Deir ez-Zor, Hassakeh Homs, Hamah, Raqa and Swaida.