Speaking at the pre-ICAE (International Conference of Agricultural Economists) event organized by the European Commission, the European Association of Agricultural Economists (EAAE) and the International Agricultural Trade Research Consortium (IATRC), on 7 August, at the Expo Milano 2015, Dr. Mahmoud El Solh, Director General of ICARDA, presented innovative techniques for enhancing water use efficiency to improve agriculture productivity in chronically dry regions worldwide. More than 30 high level speakers from academia, major international and regional organizations and government representatives gathered at this event to provide a closer look at the various dimensions of the challenges facing food security globally.
Dr. Solh’s presentation, in the presence of distinguished audience, highlighted ICARDA’s collaborative research and experiences of nearly 38 years with partners from national programs and advanced research institutions to show that scientific innovation is the key to enhance waster use efficiency to increase agricultural productivity towards food security, while protecting our natural resources in dry areas. These include micro-catchment water harvesting techniques using the Vallerani plow which ICARDA’s scientists have upgraded with an inexpensive auto laser-guiding technology. This system has tripled the water-harvesting capacity, improved efficiency and precision and substantially reduced the cost of creating micro-catchments. ICARDA scientists have also developed a raised-bed and grain drill combination machine for irrigated areas to reduce surface irrigation water applied by farmers and increase wheat productivity. Researchers are also breeding crops for drought tolerance with higher water use efficiency, for example synthetic wheat, which is tolerant to excessive drought, and durum wheat genotypes which display drought tolerance under both rainfed and supplemental irrigation conditions. Given the complex nature of food security, the challenge for scientists and policy makers is to meet human food and nutritional needs sustainably. This requires a strategy to produce more food with less water. For this, water use efficiency and productivity, which is currently very low for major crops in most of the agricultural systems, needs to be increased, particularly in the drylands.
Examples from ICARDA’s collaborative projects demonstrate how research for development in the drylands - along with indigenous knowledge - can offer technically viable and economically feasible long-term solutions to combat food insecurity while enhancing economic growth, alleviating poverty and using natural resources sustainably. There are practical and sustainable solutions available which can help farmers contend with drought and the harsh environments, thus invigorating their livelihoods.
Dr. Solh emphasized the importance of bridging yield gaps in farmers’ fields to enhance food security and improve livelihoods through sustainable intensification and diversification of agricultural production systems.