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The “Knowledge and Technology Exchange for Enhanced Quality of IFAD/ICARDA Operations in the Near East and North Africa Workshop” was opened by Mahmoud El Solh, Director-General of the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) and Nadim Khouri, Director of the Near East and North Africa Division of IFAD in Aleppo, Syria, last evening (Monday, 26/10/09). About 70 workshop participants, including staff members of the two institutions and other experts and resource persons from IFAD supported projects in NENA, attended the opening ceremony.

In his opening speech, Mahmoud El Solh, Director General of ICARDA said the workshop will deepen the strategic partnership between ICARDA and IFAD. “This is our opportunity to learn from IFAD colleagues on the sustainable agricultural development aspects because our research agenda should target such aspects, El Solh said.” “At the same time,” he added, “I am happy to see so many Country Programme Managers who can see what ICARDA has to offer of technologies that may facilitate their work in development.” He affirmed that there are many technologies that are winning grounds quickly, some others are really new and some technologies that need more fine tuning to meet the needs of the ultimate target group, which is the resource poor farmers.

On his part, the Director of IFAD’s Near East and North Africa Division, Nadim Khouri, thanked the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic and ICARDA for hosting and organizing the workshop. He said “the objective of this learning event is to update our knowledge on enhanced rainfed agricultural production systems.” “About 80% of cultivated land in the world is rainfed while about 60% of the food produced is produced by systems that do not rely on irrigation,” he said. Large numbers of resource-poor rural people live in dry areas, with limited opportunities to enhance their capacities to improve food production and standards of living. He added: “We understand that poor people have their own strategies to move out of poverty and the best strategy we can have is to understand their strategies and help them realize them and multiply their assets.”

Khouri further stated: “We basically have US$ 300 million that are going to come out of IFAD funds for the region over the next three years.” On the basis of 1:1 dollar cofinancing, IFAD could attract a similar investment from co-financiers of its projects, bringing the total external funding to US$ 600 million. Kouri said: “Normally, the largest co-financing comes from the recipient countries and beneficiaries of development projects themselves. So if our investment starts with US$300 million by the end we will have about US$1 billion basically entrusted in us and our partners to decide how to allocate in the next three years.”

Khouri emphasized that helping the most vulnerable, IFAD’s target group, requires greater efforts to make best use of available resources, knowledge and technologies to enhance the quality of the Fund’s interventions in the region, which is facing increasing challenges under climate change conditions. The learning event should help the staff of the Near East and North Africa Division further enhance their capacity to reflect upon the newly acquired knowledge and to boost the impact of IFAD’s operations.

The opening ceremony was followed by a dinner reception, which provided and initial opportunity for the experts and staff members of the two institutions and participating resource persons from IFAD-supported projects to meet and exchange views on various issues under consideration.

Most of the participants expressed satisfaction that the workshop will strengthen country capacities in the NENA region on the latest agricultural packages available from research. Many indicated that it would also would help align ICARDA operations with the Country Strategic Opportunities Papers (COSOPs) and IFAD loan projects. The workshop should also help foster a strategic partnership between IFAD and ICARDA country programmes and take stock of joint initiatives and assess future collaborations.

On Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The first day for the workshop started with a PowerPoint presentation by the Director General of ICARDA, Mahmoud El Solh on research outputs and approaches to enhance food security and improved livelihoods in dry areas. The presentation dealt with constraints leading to food insecurity and poverty in Dry Areas; technologies towards food security and better livelihoods; approaches for technology transfer; and ICARDA’s Strategic Plan 2007-2016 on Agricultural Research for Development in Dry Areas. He underlined that the severest impact of climate change will be in the NENA region. He underlined the need for new technologies to face the challenge of ever scarcer water resources. In this regard, El Solh highlighted the importance of developing more drought tolerant varieties of crops; improved management of water resources; and alternative solutions to traditional irrigation including the use of supplementary irrigation methodologies in rainfed areas.

Following a plenary discussion, a group photo was taken for all participants who then broke into four working groups dedicated to discussing in depth the following areas of work:

• Group 1: Improved agricultural productivity and food security – Crops
• Group 2: Improving agricultural productivity and food security – Livestock
• Group 3: Water and natural resource management and climate change
• Group 4: Value chains, microfinance and market diagnostics

Each of the four groups attended and discussed presentations by ICARDA scientists, IFAD experts and resource persons. Following a couple of hours of discussions, the working group formulated their findings and presented brief reports to the plenary.

Focusing on crops, the first group presented what has been identified as the main challenges in this area. This includes, among others, the challenge of enhancing research for development and expanding its coverage to larger scale projects as well as the challenge of scaling up innovation and technology dissemination and outreach. The group also identified a number of constraints to overcome, such as the need for expanding the lack of awareness and “buy-in” at the national level; lack of capacity to indemnify products and creating enabling system of support linked to markets and a disconnect between National Agricultural Systems (NARs) and the national priorities. The group also highlighted the weakness of marketing systems and trade issues as well as the need to develop alternative crops, including alternatives to the cultivation of poppies, and the need for policy reforms to enable small farmers to compete for market opportunities.

The report of the second group, which focused on livestock, indicated that the discussion was based on the experience of the IFAD-supported Mashreg-Magreb project, which has developed animal feed technologies and helped establish community development organizations and approaches. The group outlined the needs for improved feeding technologies and alternative fodder and feed resources, improved milking and cheese processing with a focus on shifting market demand. Among others, a range of approaches were discussed for enhanced adaptation rate of such technologies.

Addressing water and natural resources issues, the third group affirmed that a new water productivity concept has emerged with the climate change challenge and increase severity of water scarcity. It recommended that new policies and strategies at different levels should be accommodated to improve farmers and nomads productivity ensuring good life quality and livelihood. Land productivity and water productivity concepts are to be seen together during the design and implementation phases of projects. The group also underlined the importance of mapping of resources and management of natural resources using GIS, indicating that ICT is important to have a role in transfer of technologies to farmers and nomads within search Institutes and projects. The development of technologies for scaling up and adoption requires engagement of research and development projects to fill in the gaps in production.

Dealing with value chains, markets and diagnostics, the fourth group focused its discussions on the analysis of the value-added chains of Onions and Pomegranate and the constrains facing small producers. It concluded a series of recommendations, including, among others, the possibility of increasing the use of seed capitals and start-up capital to introduce and develop the activity, institutionalization of small farmer groups and their role in processing, transfer of resources and empowering of small growers in the value-chain.

Following this first half a day of brain storming, the workshop participants moving their debates to the field visiting three ICARDA supported projects.