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New Research and Educational Institute targets the more sustainable development of arid areas


A new research and educational institute targeting the more sustainable development of arid lands was launched at ICARDA’s Amman office recently - a collaborative effort with Jordan’s Higher Council of Science and Technology, and the country’s Hashemite University.


Launched in the presence of HRH Prince El-Hassan Bin Talal, the Arid Lands Academy will offer pioneering educational and research opportunities to develop the solutions that Jordan and the wider region will need to balance development with environmental needs in the years and decades to come.


The region is predicted to become one of the worst affected by climate change and is already suffering from severe natural resource degradation, increasing climatic variability, and rapidly depleting water resources.


The solutions developed at ALA will be crucial for Jordan - 80 per cent of the country’s land cover is arid and home to some 500,000 people. Adopting a participatory approach, the Academy will work directly with rural communities and include local people in the decisions that will ultimately affect their livelihoods and those of future generations.


Speaking at the launch, HRH Prince El-Hassan Bin Talal, commented:  “This tripartite partnership will achieve the goal that we have been pursuing for decades, which is providing desert areas with the support that will enable and empower their long-term development. By planning and proper organization, I am confident we will achieve food security for everyone.”


ALA’s specific objectives include:

  • • To provide an outstanding education that grants BSc degrees and Diplomas in the study of arid lands, in cooperation with internationally-renowned universities
  • • To attract scholars from Arab countries and the world to share their expertise regarding the sustainable development of dry areas
  • • To conduct joint multi-disciplinary research with international institutions and promote scientific research
  • • To act as a pioneer in addressing the problems of over-exploitation, implementing the more sustainable utilization of natural resources in participatory models with local communities
  • • Create an enabling environment for investment in arid areas and provide local communities with opportunities for employment and income-generating activities.  


The Jordanian ‘Badia’ – or desert – is of crucial economic significance to the Kingdom, contributing 60 per cent of its groundwater resources, most of its mineral resources, 70 per cent of its red meat, and 10 per cent of the country’s conventional energy.


Beyond Jordan, ALA plans to become a regional resource, adopting joint multi-disciplinary research with international institutions and attracting scholars from across the Arab World - and beyond. It is also committed to producing the next generation of scientists, providing a rigorous educational experience and offering degrees, diplomas, and certificates in the sustainable management of arid land resources. Courses will provide advanced theoretical and practical training in arid land ecosystems and will link biophysical studies with social, economic, and policy considerations.


The inspiration of HRH Prince El-Hassan Bin Talal, the Academy will be located at the Hashemite University and will build upon the success of the ‘Badia Research Program,’ initiated in 1992, which has been working with communities in Jordan’s arid areas to pursue sustainable economic growth. It will also draw on the experience of ICARDA, which adopts an integrated approach to agricultural research for development, introducing a combination of technologies, practices, and enabling policies in the pursuit of sustainable development.


“This is an exciting initiative that promises to not only conserve vital natural resources but also enhance the livelihoods of communities living in dry, marginal lands –in both Jordan and throughout the region,” says Dr. Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA’s Director General. “We are committed to pursuing a more sustainable model of development that protects the important economic contributions of arid lands and preserves them for future generations. The Arid Lands Academy will become increasingly important during the years to come, developing the solutions that will help enhance community resilience against a backdrop of rising temperatures and increasing water scarcity.”


The Academy will be an independent institution with a national board of trustees, and students will be enrolled in one of four departments at the Hashemite University: The Department of Range-Livestock Science and Management; The Department of Natural Resources and the Environment; The Department of Economic Development and Policy Analysis; and the Department of Rural Sociology.       

ICARDA Director General, Dr. Mahmoud Solh (far-right), signs an agreement to initiate ALA with the Hashemite University and the Higher Council of Science and Technology. HRH Prince El-Hassan Bin Talal is pictured in the back row (Center).




Expanding ICARDA’s strategic partnership with Iran


A recent delegation to Iran, led by ICARDA’s Director General, Dr. Mahmoud Solh, and Assistant Director General for International Cooperation, Dr. Kamel Shideed, provided an opportunity to strengthen the Center’s on-going partnership with Iran, consolidate past successes, and plan future collaborative activities. The visit, following an official invitation from H. E. Mr. Hojatti, the Minister of Jihad Agriculture, involved high-level meetings with Iranian officials and a field visit to the Dryland Agricultural Research Institute (DARI), located to the north-west of Tehran.


The meetings offered the chance for Dr. Solh, to update officials on the Center’s decentralization strategy and its recent efforts to boost dryland agricultural productivity and food security – particular emphasis was placed on ICARDA’s large-scale achievements in different countries across the world’s dry areas. These included efforts to enhance food security and wheat production across several Arab countries (funded by AFESD, KFAED, IDB, and OFID) and the wheat component of a wider program funded by the African Development Bank, SARD-SC (Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa).


H. E. Mr. Hojatti subsequently commented on Iran’s collaborations with ICARDA, and stressed the need for this partnership to be further strengthened and supported to effectively improve the livelihoods and food security of Iran’s farmers. To this effect, a new collaborative project on food security covering wheat, barley and chickpea is being developed. This area of collaboration, specifically requested by H. E. the Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Agronomy, Mr. Abbas Keshavarz, will focus on adaptive research and technology transfer targeting the increased production of the three commodities to enhance food security in two provinces – Kermanshah and Lorstan in the Karkheh River Basin.


In addition, a revitalized partnership will revolve around a new Agricultural Highland Regional Program which will develop sustainable and integrated agricultural production systems that contribute to food security and alleviate poverty while preserving natural resources and vulnerable ecosystems.


Program activities will encompass efforts to produce integrated technical, institutional, and policy options that are effective for achieving sustainable productivity growth, increasing farm income, improving natural resource management, and strengthening community resilience.


The visit included meetings with H.E. Dr. Eskander Zand, Deputy Minister of Jihad e-Agriculture and Head of the Agricultural Research, Education, and Extension Organization (AREEO), which included discussions on the implementation of CGIAR Research Programs, including the ICARDA-led CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems, and bilateral collaborative projects. Both AREEO and ICARDA Management acknowledged the effectiveness of the strategic partnership between the two institutions and stressed the need for growth. Finally, successful meetings were also held with Iran’s Deputy Minister of Economy and Finance, H. E. Dr. Mohammad Khazaei.        

H. E. Mr. Hojatti (right), Minister of Jihad Agriculture, and Dr. Mahmoud Solh (left), discussed a planned joint initiative on food security, covering wheat, barley, and chickpea.




ICARDA scientist wins prestigious international award


An ICARDA scientist has been awarded a prestigious international award from the International Branch of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), the largest organization in the world that serves the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and individuals in related disciplines.


Dr. Mustapha El Bouhssini, principle entomologist at ICARDA, has received the ‘Distinguished Scientist Award’ in recognition of his significant contributions to entomological research and a career devoted to sustainable agricultural research for development. He is a specialist in integrated pest management, applying cultural practices, biological control, botanical insecticides, and host plant resistance to boost the production of wheat, barley, chickpea, lentil, and fava bean.


This is the latest in a series of awards over the past decade. This year Dr. El Bouhssini received an Award of Merit for his research in Morocco on Hessian Fly resistance in wheat from the International Plant Resistance to Insects Working Group. He has also been selected to receive the 2014 Distinguished Alum from the Department of Entomology at Kansas State University (KSU) this Fall.


These follow an International Plant Protection Award of Distinction from the International Association for Plant Protection Sciences (IAPPS) in 2007 and a CGIAR Award in 2006 that recognized Dr. Bouhssini’s efforts to apply integrated pest management techniques in the fight against Sunn Pest.


In addition to his research at ICARDA, Dr. Bouhssini is an adjunct Associate Professor at KSU in the United States where he received both his Masters and PhD degrees. This position has helped initiate a number of important collaborative projects between KSU and ICARDA: one on Hessian Fly genetics, and the other on resistance in barley to Russian wheat aphid.


During the course of his career, Dr. El Bouhssini has trained over 200 scientists and technicians from North Africa, and West and Central Area in the area of integrated pest management.


Speaking of the Award, Dr. Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA’s Director General commented: “This prestigious recognition is due to Dr. El Bouhssini’s professional dedication, commitment and remarkable contributions to agricultural research for development. ICARDA is certainly very proud of this recognition.”       

Dr. Mustapha El Bouhssini, principle entomologist at ICARDA, has received an international award from the International Branch of the Entomological Society of America (ESA)




Dryland Systems: Raising livestock production


As a mainstay of dryland agriculture, the ICARDA-led CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems has initiated efforts to raise livestock production among rural communities, with much of this activity taking place in the Program’s research ‘Action Site’ in Karak, Jordan.


Recent workshops and training programs have introduced the latest scientific methodologies and practices to improve performance and help communities and countries reap the economic benefits of higher productivity.


One three-day training on data collection, monitoring, and data valorization of sheep and goat flocks brought together field specialists from Palestine, Iraq, and Jordan, introducing participants to baseline scientific methods to monitor and record flock performance – local breeders across the Middle East tend not to dedicate enough efforts to monitoring flock performance, which reduces the chances of increasing their productivity.


A data record and management system for sheep and goats was also presented and participants were trained on the storage and management of information and techniques of field delivery of genetic progress – from natural mating to artificial insemination. The training course was the first phase of a ‘knowledge-dissemination’ process which aims to build networks of breeding programs for small ruminants across Dryland Systems’ action sites.


In a separate initiative, a group of Jordanian economists and water and soil specialists traveled to the same region where they were introduced to best-bet grazing management practices that ensure cost-effective fodder production and the sustainability of pastoral resources.


Effective grazing management incorporates the nutritional requirements of animals and phases of shrub progression – achieved through the collection of data and baseline information on the productivity of pastoral resources, its seasonality, and the exploitation levels of appropriate pasture.


Discussions were held with local farmers on the challenges they face and the potential ways of overcoming these challenges. A representative from the University of Jordan subsequently introduced to members of the local community best grazing practices and how to achieve annual fodder savings.    Moving forward, Dryland Systems will disseminate this knowledge through flyers, posters, brochures, and a short documentary.        

Recent capacity development initiatives have introduced the latest scientific methodologies and practices to improve livestock production in the Dryland Systems ‘Action Site’ in Karak, Jordan.




Reviewing the performance of wheat and legume varieties in Tunisia


A ‘travelling workshop’ in Tunisia recently visited on-farm demonstration sites of an ICARDA-managed initiative to strengthen the performance of wheat-legume production systems across North Africa and West Asia. Funded by the European Union and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the project is introducing a package of technologies, interventions and improved high-yielding varieties of food legumes and wheat.


The workshop brought together farmers, Ministry of Agriculture officials and scientists from national research institutions to observe the progress of crop trials. Participants interacted with local farmers who expressed satisfaction with the performance of introduced crops, the activities conducted on their farms, and expressed interest in continuing with the trials.


Farmers were encouraged by preliminary results from the 2013-14 growing season. In the semi-arid region of Neber, for instance, the introduction of recommended technology packages and improved varieties of faba bean and chickpea achieved yield increases of 40% and 30%, respectively, over conventional farmer practices. Farmers were able to take advantage of favorable growing conditions, including the good distribution of rainfall.


Extending new varieties and innovations to more farmers is also being pursued, and over the course of the Project, on-farm demonstrations have evolved into Farmer Field Schools. These events are monitoring how farmers can best manage their food legume and wheat crops to achieve higher yields and deal with challenges and constraints.


Around 20 farmers and extensionists attend each Farmer Field School and participating farmers are expected to transfer their acquired knowledge and demonstrate new technologies to neighboring farmers. Progress of the initiative can be followed at         

A field trial in Neber where faba bean and chickpea yields have increased by 40% and 30%, respectively, over conventional varieties