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ICARDA's former Director General given Ministerial Position in Egypt


ICARDA’s former Director General, Prof. Dr. Adel El-Beltagy, has been assigned Egypt’s Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, a decision that follows the country’s recent elections and cabinet appointments. Leading ICARDA between 1995 and 2006, Prof. El-Beltagy oversaw a period of rapid expansion when partnerships with national institutions and advanced research institutions were developed and strengthened.


The appointment promises to enhance an already strong partnership that has evolved over several decades. A member country of the CGIAR, Egypt has hosted ICARDA’s Regional Program for the Nile Valley since 1979 and a number of other bilateral and regional collaboration projects. The country is also playing a key role in the Center’s on-going decentralization strategy, providing a research site for the ICARDA-led CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems, which is focused on the sustainable intensification of irrigated production systems. In October, ICARDA will hold its next Board of Trustees meeting in Cairo.   


Prof. El-Beltagy has a long and distinguished career in agricultural research for development. Prior to his time at ICARDA he was President of Egypt’s Agricultural Research Center (ARC) and was subsequently made the Under-secretary of the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation.


In addition to ICARDA, his international experience has extended to the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR) and the International Dryland Development Commission (IDDC), which he currently leads. He also serves as President of the Governing Board of the International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM).     


Speaking after hearing of the appointment, ICARDA’s Director General, Dr. Mahmoud Solh, commented: “I have congratulated H. E. Dr. El-Beltagy on behalf of ICARDA, and wished him all the success in his challenging responsibilities as the Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation at this important stage in the development of Egypt. During our conversation, he kindly expressed a willingness to host and welcome the ICARDA Board to Egypt and inaugurate the next Board of Trustees meeting in October.”


Prof. El-Beltagy, former ICARDA Director General and now Egypt's Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, has a long and distinguished career in agricultural research for development



Decentralization: Morocco research platform moves forward


One of the key components of ICARDA’s on-going decentralization is a research platform in Morocco, focused on the intensification and diversification of rain-fed cereal-based production systems. Building on an existing relationship with Morocco’s Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), the country is also hosting a research ‘action site’ of the ICARDA-led CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.


The decentralization of ICARDA’s research and capacity development provides a unique opportunity to strengthen the Center’s existing organization, providing an opportunity to grow and enhance alignment with national priorities and the activities of CGIAR Research Programs.


Morocco’s role within this overall decentralization strategy was recently confirmed during a visit by ICARDA’s Director General, Dr. Mahmoud Solh, who visited the country to brief partners on planned research activities and sign an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Fisheries to facilitate and support the implementation of the research platform in Morocco.    


Subsequently invited to speak at a Symposium organized by INRA on the subject of smallholder and family farming in the world’s dry areas, Dr. Solh used the opportunity to elaborate on ICARDA’s planned research activities in Morocco and the implications of sustainable intensification for the productivity and future livelihoods of the country’s smallholder farmers.   


Also discussed was progress of the India-Morocco Initiative for the development of legume-crop farming, a collaboration between India, Morocco, and ICARDA, which aims to improve legume yields through south-south research partnerships and the dissemination of proven technologies such as productive legume crop technologies.   


The visit coincided with a number of other national events. Dr. Solh attended the Annual Conference of the Green Morocco Plan, an effort to stimulate investments in sustainable agricultural projects, which was inaugurated by Morocco’s Minister of Agriculture and Marine Fisheries, H. E. Aziz Akhannouch, and the 9th Morocco International Agricultural Fair, held under the patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI.


Dr. Mahmoud Solh (far left) attending the 9th Morocco International Agricultural Fair in Morocco.



Knowledge exchange builds farmer resilience to climate change


ICARDA recently facilitated a farmer-centered knowledge exchange involving producers from both Jordan and Iraq – part of an on-going initiative to strengthen community resilience to climate change. The exchange brought three families from Iraq where they interacted with technical staff and shared information with Jordanian producers, enhancing the knowledge and skills that both groups will need to sustain production against a backdrop of rising temperatures and more variable rainfall.


Producers in both countries face an uncertain future. The ICARDA project, funded by IFAD, is therefore working with barley and livestock producers in an attempt to reverse worrying trends now inflicting agricultural production systems. A serious drought in 2008, for instance, caused a significant loss of barley in both countries: the area devoted to barley production decreased by 50% in Jordan, and by 675,000 hectares in Iraq.


Exchange programs were tailored to the requirements of male and female farmers: the men’s program promoted proven crop and livestock management techniques, and the women’s demonstrated methods to improve dairy production and processing. Women were instructed on various milk processing techniques: the preparation of sheep milk, skimming milk, processing yogurt, and butter production.


The Iraqi women visited two Jameed producers – a type of traditional dried yogurt that forms a core part of the Jordanian diet and is the basis of the national dish, Mansaf – and participated in practical observations of other dairy products, including labaneh, white cheese, and ghee. The benefits of utilizing a milk cream separator were subsequently discussed and this technology was demonstrated to the visiting women.  


The male farmers observed a number of proven techniques which hold significant potential for barley and livestock producers in Iraq. These include zero tillage, the practice of not plowing farmlands and leaving crop residue in the field for improved soil fertility and water conservation, along with appropriate crop rotations, which could help farmers to mitigate the worst effects of drought. They also studied the application of hormones to synchronize ewes for timely lambing and improved twinning rates.


The challenges farmers face in the region was discussed at length: feed shortages, prevalent diseases, and product marketing. In a subsequent visit to the University of Muata, the farmers were informed about suitable feed strategies and efforts to improve sheep productivity. Finally, participants observed the progress of protected agriculture initiatives in the Jordan Valley and the application of water-saving technologies such as drip irrigation, and later visited the town of Madaba where wastewater is being treated and used safely to irrigate home gardens.


Iraqi farmers observed the application of hormones to synchronize ewes for timely lambing and improved twinning rates



Identifying the constraints that hold back the adoption of new technologies


Understanding adoption constraints is a vital consideration when extending new innovations and technologies to farmers, helping to identify the appropriate strategies and policies needed to achieve wider uptake. It is one of the key objectives pursued by ICARDA’s Social, Economic and Policy Research Program (SEPR).


Part of an attempt to promote conservation agriculture technologies across North Africa and Central Asia, SEPR scientists recently held a training workshop in Algeria to equip participants with the knowledge and skills to more effectively assess and conduct analyses of conservation agriculture adoption.


Conservation agriculture, the practice of not plowing land and leaving crop residue in the field for enhanced soil fertility and moisture, is a proven means of balancing yields and reducing costs, and holds significant promise for the world’s dry areas.


The three-day workshop, delivered to agricultural economists, including seven women, had a number of objectives, including: create a forum for group collaboration; share, discuss, and advance methods to analyze and interpret data; determine common issues and opportunities for publishing research results; and enhance the skills of participants so they can fully understand the quantitative and qualitative analysis of data using SPSS software.


Knowledge gained from the workshop will inform on-going research activities in Tunisia, Algeria, and Tajikistan, assisting in the development of baseline data on farming, tillage practices, feeding strategies, and crop residue management; conducting an economic evaluation, including a financial risk assessment on conservation agriculture technologies; and the monitoring of constraints and adoption via follow-up surveys.


Taking a gender-sensitive approach, the workshop will also help participants to identify limitations and advantages to determine whether conservation agriculture can decrease the labor burden on women. The participants will be encouraged to collect survey data and conduct interviews with men and women to provide insights into this important aspect.


The workshop, delivered to agricultural economists, will help to promote conservation agriculture across North Africa and Central Asia