Swapping recipes for bread-making is not something one would expect in the hallways of the Rabat, Morocco CGIAR International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). For the first time since the Independent Science for Development Council (ISDC) was established in 2019, ISDC visited as a group a CGIAR center in conjunction with the 19th Meeting of the System Council (SC19) and ISDC Science Forum and working meeting the week of 15 October 2023. ISDC members were impressed with the hospitality, professionalism, and passion for research of ICARDA and the Moroccan National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).
ISDC is an external, impartial standing panel of eight experts in science and development subject matters that provides independent strategic advice to the funders of CGIAR and the broader organization. Members had a full schedule in Rabat, including an ICARDA facility visit where ISDC interacted with scientists and learned about current research. The visit exposed ISDC to three laboratories in Rabat: Milling and Baking, Integrated Pest Management, and Seed Health.
Boosting Barley: Milling and Baking Lab
Barley is a nutrient-dense and multipurpose crop, grown around the world, including the Middle East and North Africa region, mainly in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Even if growing conditions are optimal, making barley profitable for farmers is challenging. Because of reduced rainfall and increased temperatures in the region from climate change, the development of new technologies to improve productivity is imperative. Increasing consumer demand for barley in the region is also critical because of its nutritional power and adaptability for dryer conditions. ICARDA is changing consumption behavior through bread made with barley.
ISDC members visited the Milling and Baking Lab at ICARDA and tasted some of the barley that has been developed from the 335 new elite barley genotypes distributed to 34 collaborators in 23 countries from the ICARDA Global Barley Breeding program. “I was inspired by ICARDA’s science-society approach in a politically and agroecologically challenging context,” said Suneetha Kadiyala, Professor of Global Nutrition, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Combating Pests: Integrated Pest Management Lab
“Less pests, more crops” is ICARDA’s message for its integrated pest management (IPM) research. ICARDA scientists research major diseases in cereals and legumes, contributing new knowledge and phenotypic data to aid the identification of sources of resistance in the accessions of landraces and wild species held in the ICARDA Genebank. “Research on IPM is more important than ever to achieve sustainable production systems with lower inputs of crop protection chemicals, while combatting emerging virulent diseases such as UG99 strain of wheat stem rust and invasive pest species such as hessian fly,” said Lesley Torrance, ISDC member and Director of Science at the James Hutton Institute and Emeritus Professor of Biology at the University of St Andrews.
Improving Yields: Seed Health Lab
High-quality germplasm is the basis for developing crops with improved yields, resistance to diseases, and tolerance to environmental stressors. “Our interaction with the scientists and technicians during our visit to the Seed Health Lab was truly enriching. We were highly impressed by the state-of-the-art techniques used and the wealth of expertise developed over the years, which have substantially improved operational efficiency, standardized processes, and the quality of germplasm health testing,” said Nompumelelo Obokoh, ISDC Vice Chair and CEO of the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions.
Along with the ICARDA visit, ISDC held a Science Forum entitled Innovation for Impact: Growing Gender Equality, Youth, and Social Inclusion. ICARDA and INRA hosted the Science Forum, which had more than 80 in attendance and more than 100 online. Science Forum videos and report will be available in early 2024. ISDC commended ICARDA’s comradery among the scientists and staff and looks forward to visiting other CGIAR centers in the future.
“Experiencing first-hand the excellent research CGIAR scientists conduct is invaluable for ISDC members. This ensures that our advice to System Council and the broader CGIAR community is well-grounded and relevant,” said Holger Meinke, ISDC Chair and Professor for Global Food Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. Hence, ISDC will conduct their next meeting in early 2024 in Nairobi, a major, global hub for CGIAR research.