SCIENCE FOR BETTER LIVELIHOODS IN DRY AREAS
For ICARDA, 2012 has been a time of change and evolution. We have been busy tackling the many issues of dryland agriculture and global food production against a backdrop of focusing our efforts as a force for change for people living in the world's drylands and our areas of scientific expertise.
The increased unpredictability of temperature extremes and extended droughts has the most severe impact on those living in dry areas and on marginal lands. ICARDA, with its expertise in an integrated agro-ecosystems approach to dealing with such challenges, which we have developed over the years with partner countries, is particularly well-placed today to provide effective and practical solutions for the challenges facing dry areas.
The world of research for development is evolving rapidly, as is the CGIAR Consortium, of which ICARDA is a member. In 2012, ICARDA made significant progress as the leader of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems. In the program's inception phase a broad range of partners came together to set research priorities and conduct detailed site characterizations in five target regions – extending from Central Asia to West Asia, and North and sub-Saharan Africa. The program is set for full funding and implementation in early 2013. ICARDA is active in ten other CGIAR Research programs – jointly with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in the Wheat Program, and as a partner in nine others
The conceptual approach of the Dryland Systems Program grows out of the experience and research accomplishments achieved over the past decades by many organizations and science programs, including CGIAR and its many national partners. ICARDA brings unique expertise to the Program – through its 35 years' experience in refining integrated agroecosystems approaches with more than 40 dryland countries – to develop improved crop varieties, effective water and land management practices, integrated crop-livestock production systems, and institutional and policy options.
This year, we are pleased to report progress in linking research innovations to results in farmers' fields in a number of areas. These research-for-development initiatives are testing technology and policy packages with farmers in their production situations. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa ICARDA leads the wheat component of the regional initiative on Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa (SARD-SC). The overall program is led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), with the Africa Rice Center and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and funded by the African Development Bank.
The project, Enhancing Food Security in Arab Countries, has helped increase wheat yields by 25% in project sites in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen. It has also introduced new technologies to some 6000 farmers through farmer field schools and travelling workshops.
In the tripartite India–Morocco–ICARDA Food Legumes Initiative, ICARDA facilitates the testing and sharing of practices and new varieties between these regions. A further notable innovation is the introduction of lentil during fallow periods of rice cultivation in West Bengal. This innovation for the region brings improved nutrition, new income-generating products, better soil health, and a new crop – producing up to 1.1 ton/ha of lentil, where nothing was previously produced, during these periods.
Those who know ICARDA have seen that 2012 has not been without its significant challenges. The positive steps that we report have been achieved against the backdrop of the situation in our host country, Syria, and the need for the Center to temporarily leave its main research station in Tel Hadya, Aleppo, and set up operations in a number of countries across the region. We have posted regular updates on our website informing you of the steps taken. The 2011/12 cropping season at Tel Hadya was successfully completed, including all field experimentation and seed increases. Our international nurseries were distributed, as planned. Most buildings and laboratories are safe, including the gene bank. All our gene bank accessions have already been safety duplicated in locations outside Syria. All e-mail and financial systems and our databases had already been transferred to the cloud and are fully accessible.
All expatriate staff were relocated by July 2012 and continue to implement their collaborative research programs and projects in more than 40 countries. This temporary relocation has gone smoothly, but such changes always place an additional burden on staff and their families and we sincerely thank them for their dedication and perseverance.
We would like to pay tribute to the Board Chair for most of 2012, Mr. Henri Carsalade, who maintained close communications with the Center throughout the year and devoted considerable time and energy to the oversight of ICARDA's contingency measures.
We would also like to recognize the unconditional support of our national partners who have opened their research stations and scientific research labs to ICARDA, enabling us to continue our research programs.
Given the on-going uncertainty in Syria, the Center also began developing its plans for longer term decentralization to integrated research platforms throughout the dry areas, building on our long-established partnerships with national programs. Elements of the strategy were approved by the Center's Board of Trustees in its meeting in October 2012, and will be further developed and implemented during 2013.
Overall, we have set ourselves a tough agenda with ambitious targets to meet. This is necessary if we are to make a real contribution to the goal of improving the situation of millions of people in the dry areas and to see a more productive and sustainable future. Our mandate – to tackle poverty, food insecurity, natural resource degradation, and climate change – has never been more relevant or important.