An exciting time for wheat research: Incoming director highlights CIMMYT wheat breeding innovations

Alison Bentley, who will be joining the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) next month as director of the Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, joined wheat research colleagues at the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative Technical Workshop last week to introduce herself and offer her perspective on current prospects for wheat research.

Bentley, who currently serves as director of Genetics and Breeding at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in the UK, emphasized the efforts of CIMMYT and partner scientists in the Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat for Improved Livelihoods (AGG) project.

“AGG is unique, and it’s something that’s really close to my heart in harnessing innovations and deploying them in breeding to deliver genetic gains,” she said.

Bentley gave workshop attendees a sneak preview of new speed breeding facilities in CIMMYT’s Toluca experimental station, which will help wheat breeders reduce cycle time, saving costs and getting high yielding, improved varieties tested and in farmers’ fields more quickly.

“There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in wheat research and breeding,” she told the gathering.

See Alison Bentley’s full presentation from the BGRI Technical Workshop below.

Excellence in Agronomy 2030 initiative launched at African Green Revolution Forum

New research platform focuses on helping smallholder farmers sustainably increase production and adapt to climate change, reducing yield and efficiency gaps in major crops

Nine CGIAR centers, supported by the Big Data Platform, launched the Excellence in Agronomy 2030 initiative today at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) online summit.

The Excellence in Agronomy 2030 (EiA 2030) initiative will assist millions of smallholder farmers to intensify their production systems while preserving key ecosystem services under the threat of climate change. This initiative, co-created with various scaling partners, represents the collective resolve of CGIAR’s agronomy programs to transform the world’s food systems through demand- and data-driven agronomy research for development.

EiA 2030 will combine big data analytics, new sensing technologies, geospatial decision tools and farming systems research to improve spatially explicit agronomic recommendations in response to demand from scaling partners. Our science will integrate the principles of Sustainable Intensification and be informed by climate change considerations, behavioral economics, and scaling pathways at the national and regional levels.

A two-year Incubation Phase of EiA 2030 is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project will demonstrate the added value of demand-driven R&D, supported by novel data and analytics and increased cooperation among centers, in support of a One CGIAR agronomy initiative aiming at the sustainable intensification of farming systems.

Speaking on the upcoming launch, the IITA R4D Director for Natural Resource Management, Bernard Vanlauwe, who facilitates the implementation of the Incubation Phase, said that “EiA 2030 is premised on demand-driven agronomic solutions to develop recommendations that match the needs and objectives of the end users.”

Christian Witt, Senior Program Officer from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, lauded the initiative as a cornerstone for One CGIAR. “It is ingenious to have a platform like EiA 2030 that looks at solutions that have worked in different settings on other crops and whether they can be applied in a different setting and on different crops,” Witt said.

Martin Kropff, Director General of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), spoke about the initiative’s goals of becoming the leading platform for next-generation agronomy in the Global South, not only responding to the demand of the public and private sectors, but also increasing efficiencies in the development and delivery of solutions through increased collaboration, cooperation and cross-learning between CGIAR centers and within the broader agronomy R&D ecosystem, including agroecological approaches.

CGIAR centers that are involved in EiA include AfricaRice, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Potato Center (CIP), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

BGRI launches virtual global wheat conference Oct. 7-9

This press release was originally posted on the website of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI).

As the world grapples with a disastrous human health crisis, scientists will gather virtually October 7-9 to discuss strategies to safeguard the health of one of the planet’s most important food sources — wheat.

The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative’s (BGRI) virtual technical workshop will bring together scientists at the forefront of wheat science for cutting-edge training and knowledge sharing. Experts from global institutions such as Cornell University, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), and the John Innes Centre, with presenters from Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Australia, Finland, Mexico, the United Kingdom and United States, will lead in-depth talks and discussions on the most pressing challenges facing global wheat security.

Event registration is now open.

“Right now we are witnessing the devastation that the global spread of disease can cause, and it underscores the continual threat that diseases pose to our most important food crops,” said Ronnie Coffman, vice-chair of the BGRI and an international professor in Cornell’s Department of Global Development and School of Integrative Plant Science. “Devastating wheat epidemics would be catastrophic to human health and wellbeing. October’s workshop is an opportunity for wheat scientists to converge virtually for the practical training and knowledge-sharing we need to fight numerous challenges.”

The three-day workshop in October will be broken up into sessions with keynotes from leading experts and presentations focused on key areas of wheat research:

  • Breeding technologies
  • Disease surveillance
  • Molecular host-pathogen interaction
  • Disease resistance
  • Gene stewardship

The BGRI is a strong proponent of responsible gene deployment to ensure the efficacy of disease resistant genes available to breeders. Since 2012, the BGRI has bestowed the Gene Stewardship Award in recognition of excellence in the development, multiplication and/or release of rust resistant wheat varieties that encourage diversity and complexity of resistance. The winners of the 2020 BGRI Gene Stewardship award will be announced at the workshop.

Maricelis Acevedo, associate director for science for the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project and researcher in Cornell’s Department of Global Development, said: “The BGRI has been at the forefront of developing the next generation of wheat warriors, especially in strengthening the technical and professional skills of women and men scientists from developing countries. We are taking a global approach to help reduce the threat of diseases that can overwhelm farmers’ wheat fields. Issues related to improving world food security, especially in the face of climate change, can only be addressed by a diverse and united global community.”

She added: “The BGRI’s technical workshop has long been the premiere meeting ground for wheat scientists around the world. It’s more important than ever that we come together to address the challenges before us.”

The BGRI 2020 Technical Workshop originally planned for June 1-4 in Norwich, United Kingdom was postponed due to COVID-19.

Wheat is one of the world’s largest primary commodity, with global production of over 700 million tons, grown on over 215 million hectares. Eaten by over 2.5 billion people in 89 countries, wheat provides 19% of the world’s total available calories and 20% of all protein.

Over the past 20 years, the global area under wheat production has not increased. To produce the required amount of wheat needed to feed the world’s growing population, researchers predict wheat yields must increase at least 1.4% per acre through 2030.

Wheat faces pressure from the changing environment and diseases, especially rust diseases increasingly prevalent in wheat-growing regions everywhere. The BGRI was formed in 2005 in response to a novel strain of rust discovered in East Africa known as Ug99 that posed risks of epidemic proportions to global wheat production. Norman Borlaug galvanized global scientists and donors in a bid to combat Ug99 and other disease pressures.

“The world averted disaster thanks to the commitment of researchers and farmers from all over the world who participated in the BGRI’s coordinated global response,” said Coffman. “With the backing of far-sighted donors, the BGRI focused on delivering rust-resilient varieties of wheat to farmers around the world, and dedicating our efforts to small-holder farmers in wheat-producing countries in Africa and Asia — men and women who do not always have access to new technologies and improved seed.” 

Registration page is now live.

The BGRI is a community of hunger fighters dedicated to protecting the world’s wheat. The initiative receives funding through the DGGW project, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

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Hunger fighters “Take It to the Farmer” in June 25 virtual event from the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative

CGIAR Research Program on Wheat Director Hans Braun will join wheat experts from around the world to discuss evolving partnerships and ways to improve access to new technologies and improved wheat varieties in a virtual event convened by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) next week.

The BGRI interactive virtual event “Take It to the Farmer: Reflections on Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat” will take place on June 25 from 10-11:30 a.m. EDT.  The event will present a series of reflections on what it means to deliver genetic gain in wheat to farmers and ways to improve the future impact of wheat research.

Wheat researchers and farmers have made significant progress over the past 12 years delivering on the promise of greater food security and nutrition globally. But there is still much work to be done.

“Take It to the Farmer” is the second in a series of virtual events from the BGRI. The June 25 event will feature videos from wheat farmers in the United Kingdom, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nepal, India and Mexico as they discuss particular challenges they face in their countries, as well as discussions with leading wheat experts about the impact of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) and Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) projects. Both projects received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK government.

“Over the last 12 years, wheat researchers have learned that it is not enough to have great research innovations and hope they make their way to farmers’ fields,” said Maricelis Acevedo, associate director for science for the DGGW project. “For agricultural innovations to make it the last mile into farmers’ fields, we have learned that is necessary to talk to the farmers, listen to the farmers, and work directly with the farmers. We are leveraging public-private partnerships, and tracking and exchanging germplasm across international boundaries in the ongoing fight to protect the world’s wheat.”

Bill Angus, principal of Angus Wheat Consultants Ltd and panelist in the June 25 event, said that collaboration is critical as the world engages with growing challenges to wheat production: “The UK is currently a yellow rust hotspot for evolving races of rust. With the BGRI, F1 Seed Ltd and CIMMYT, we are working to transfer resistance genes available in CIMMYT lines to UK germplasm and vice-versa. Our objective is to strengthen the wheat germplasm pool and optimize the use of resistance genes,” he said.

Angus added: “Researchers need a better understanding of what disease resistance genes we are using globally and then develop robust utilization strategies with seed companies to give wheat growers long-term security and options to combat ever-evolving races of rust. This is a great example of how public and private sectors can work together.”

Ronnie Coffman, BGRI vice-chair and director of International Programs in Cornell’s Department of Global Development, will provide the keynote address, “Impact of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat and Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat Projects: 12 Years of Research and Variety Adoption.” Coffman is the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor and international professor in the Department of Global Development and School of Integrative Plant Science.

Acevedo will host a panel discussion on evolving partnerships and ways to improve access to new technologies and improved wheat varieties. Panelists include:

  • Bill Angus, owner of Angus Wheat and international wheat consultant (Angus Wheat, UK)
  • Hans Braun, director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (CIMMYT, Mexico)
  • Anne Gichangi, senior research scientist and agricultural economist, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organizations (KALRO/Kenya)
  • Bedada Girma, technical coordinator, DGGW-Ethiopia, Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR/Ethiopia)
  • Chhavi Tiwari, assistant professor at Shri Vaishnav Institute of Agriculture, Indore, India, and 2014 WIT awardee
  • Vijay Vijayaraghaven, chairman of Sathguru Management Consultants (Sathguru/India)

Registration information is available here. The event will be livestreamed on Zoom and the BGRI Facebook page.

Borlaug Global Rust Initiative launches first virtual workshop

2020 Women in Triticum Award Celebration virtual event. Graphic: BGRI

The BGRI will launch its 2020 series of Virtual Workshops with a 2020 Women in Triticum (WIT) Award Celebration called “The Changing Face of Leadership and Research in Wheat,” in an interactive webinar Thursday, May 21 from 10-11 a.m. EDT.

“Our new Virtual Workshops are an opportunity for the global wheat community to engage with speakers from around the world,” said Maricelis Acevedo, associate director for science of the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project and faculty member in Cornell University’s Department of Global Development.

“In the time of COVID-19, we have to be creative and proactive. We are planning a series of virtual events as we continue our efforts to strengthen the world’s resilient to rust diseases,” she said.

The planned 2020 BGRI Technical Workshop in June in Norwich, UK was canceled due to the pandemic.

Acevedo invites everyone to join in the interactive Zoom webinar through the globalrust.org website, and/or watch the event live on Facebook at facebook.com/globalrust.

The 2020 WIT Early Career Awardees are Anna Backhaus (UK), Bharati Pandey (India), Yewubdar Ishetu Shewaye (Ethiopia), Paula Silva (Uruguay), and Peipeiu Zhang (China). The 2020 WIT Mentor is Evans Lagudah, from CSIRO, in Australia. Short videos about each winner’s work and their passion for wheat will be played during the celebration.

The hour-long event will also feature a keynote address by World Food Prize president Barbara Stinson on “The Importance of Gender in Assuring Global Food Security.”

Sarah Davidson Evanega, who initiated the WIT Award in 2010, will talk about “The History of the BGRI WIT Award.”

An interactive WIT Panel Discussion with four former WIT winners will be moderated by Hale Ann Tufan (2010), the 2019 winner of the Norman Borlaug Field Research and Application Award from the World Food Prize.  The panelists will discuss “The Future of Wheat Research: Aspirations and Visions.” The online audience can submit questions. Panelists include:

  • Sandra Dunckel (2013), from KWS UK Ltd.
  • Sarah Battenfield (2014), from Syngenta in the U.S.
  • Mercy Wamalwa (2016), from Egerton University in Kenya
  • Sarrah Ben M’Barek-Ben Romdhane (2017), from the Regional Field Crops Research Center of Béja, in Tunisia

More details are available on the BGRI website.

Combating wheat blast in Bangladesh and beyond

Researchers trained as part of global response to the threat of wheat blast.

The Bangladesh Wheat and Maize Research Institute (BWMRI), in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), recently trained 25 scientists from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Zambia and Afghanistan on germplasm screening and field surveillance of wheat blast.

The training course took place on March 1-10 at Bangladesh’s Regional Agricultural Research Station in Jashore.

Wheat blast, a fearsome fungal disease first reported in Bangladesh in 2016, is a huge threat to food safety and security in South America and South Asia. Directly striking the wheat spike, wheat blast can shrivel and deform the grain in less than a week from the first symptoms, leaving farmers no time to act.

To mitigate the threat of wheat blast, a Precision Phenotyping Platform (PPP) was established in Jashore in 2018 to screen wheat germplasm for the disease. The platform has been a reliable source of screening for wheat lines around the world and has proven a great success towards taming the wheat blast disease. Currently around 5,000 wheat lines from Bangladesh, China, India, Japan, Mexico, Nepal and Pakistan, are being tested under natural and artificial inoculated conditions.

Participants of the training course gained hands-on experience in disease scoring and evaluation at the facility. Field visits were also arranged to nearby wheat blast hotspots, including wheat blast affected fields in Meherpur, to see how resistant and susceptible cultivars perform under natural epidemic conditions.

“Bangladesh is our neighboring country and wheat blast is a very concerning issue for us. I am very lucky that I have been nominated for this training. Now I am very clear about wheat blast symptoms as well as other confounding diseases in the field,” said Dr. Deepshikha, a wheat pathologist from Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (GBPUA&T), Pantnagar, India during the field visit in Meherpur.

Participants also visited Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University (BSMRAU), in Gazipur where Dr. Tofazzal Islam, Department of Biotechnology Professor, is leading independent wheat blast research activities including mutation breeding and the use of nano technology and probiotic bacteria in controlling wheat blast.

Since day one, the Government of Bangladesh has been very proactive in combatting wheat blast. Government initiatives include declaring “wheat holidays”—or temporarily banning cultivation in target areas — building awareness, collaborating with international donors and research organizations, and fast tracking the release of resistant varieties.

Despite the progress made in wheat blast monitoring research, scientists are still struggling to figure out the right epidemiological criteria for managing this disease. While disease pressure in Bangladesh has been low in the last three years, wheat blast has been observed in newer districts, signifying the expansion of the pathogen in the country.

Participants at this year’s wheat blast training course. Photo: Md. Babul Anwar, BWMRI

The knowledge gained in the training course will allow participants to refine blast research in their respective countries. They will also be able to raise awareness back home concerning the threat of blast and alert farmers based on the experience Bangladesh has adopted in the last four years. 

The training was made possible by support from investors including the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR), the CGIAR Research Program on WHEAT (CRP WHEAT), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Krishi Gobeshona Foundation (KGF), the Swedish Research Council (SRC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

An environmental look at WHEAT research

As we recognize the 50th year of Earth Day, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) looks back on recent impactful research to increase crop productivity while conserving natural resources.

WHEAT and its lead research partner, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), are proud of our research to move the needle on improving the environmental sustainability of farming and food production.

Plant resistance to insects

The 24th biannual session of the International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) workshop, held at CIMMYT headquarters this year, featured innovative insect resistance solutions to the global threat of crop pests. Their goal: to reduce the use of pesticides.

Conservation agriculture

WHEAT and CIMMYT research has consistently shown the wide-ranging benefits of conservation agriculture practices such as zero tillage, crop rotation and soil cover – for crop performance, water use efficiency, farmer incomes and climate action. This research helps governments in South Asia — a global “hotspot” for climate vulnerability – develop policies to prioritize and encourage these techniques.

Appropriate fertilizer use

Research by WHEAT scientist Tek Sapkota has identified the optimum rates of nitrogen fertilizer application for rice and wheat in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India — minimizing dangerous greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining crop productivity.

Reducing residue burning

A  study  by a global team including WHEAT scientist ML Jat shows that replacing rice residue burning with no-till farming practices raises farmers’ profits, cuts farm-related greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 78%, and lowers the choking air pollution that plagues the region each winter. These findings support Indian government policies including a US$166 million subsidy to promote mechanization such as the Happy Seeder.

Earth Day 1970 gave a voice to an emerging public consciousness about the state of our planet. With the same consciousness, we at WHEAT continue to work on research solutions to sustainably increase the production of nutritious wheat for improved livelihoods throughout the world.

The value of research on plant resistance to insects

This article and video were originally published on the CIMMYT website.

Crop pest outbreaks are a serious threat to food security worldwide. Swarms of locusts continue to form in the Horn of Africa, threatening food security and farmer livelihoods ahead of a new cropping season. The devastating fall armyworm continues cause extensive damage in Africa and South Asia.

With almost 40% of food crops lost annually due to pests and diseases, plants resistance to insects is more important than ever. Last month, a group of wheat breeders and entomologists came together for the 2

4th Biannual International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) Workshop, held at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) global headquarters outside Mexico City.

Watch Mike Smith, entomologist and distinguished professor emeritus at Kansas State University explain the importance of working with economists to document the value of plant insect resistance research, and why communication is crucial for raising awareness of the threat of crop pests and insect resistance solutions.

Related stories:

Insect resistance workshop focuses on legacy, importance of collaboration

Community celebrates nearly 50 years of achievements; highlights ways to meet future challenges

Workshop participants pose in front of CIMMYT Headquarters in Texcoco, Mexico. Photo: Alfonso Cortes/CIMMYT

It was 1974.  In the United States, the environmental movement was in full swing, with the first celebration of Earth Day, the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s revolutionary book, Silent Spring. Around the world, the public was gaining awareness of the danger of overuse of pesticides, as a small group of crop breeders and entomologists decided to get together in what would become the first International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) workshop.

Today, the need for insect resistance is even greater. The UN, which has named 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health, estimates that almost 40% of food crops are lost annually due to plant pests and diseases. The losses due to insects total up to $1billion a year for wheat alone.  Climate change is another factor affecting the population and geographical distribution of pests.

Last week, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) hosted IPRI’s 24th biannual session, convening entomologists, pathologists, breeders and nematologists to validate past work and highlight innovative solutions.  To name a few:

  • South Africa’s Agricultural Research Council has developed 43 new cultivars of wheat that are resistant to Russian Wheat Aphid.
  • CIMMYT precision scientists are using high-tech cameras on drones or planes to measure individual plants for signs of biotic stress, to allow farmers advance notice of infestation.
  • North Dakota State University’s mapping of the Hessian Fly H26 gene has revealed two clear phenotypic responses to Hessian fly attacks, bringing breeders a step closer towards developing resistant wheat varieties.
  • CIMMYT-designed Integrated Pest Management (IPM) packages are helping farmers from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and cropping systems effectively fight the devastating maize pest fall armyworm through a combination of best management practices.

A recurring theme was the importance of collaboration between entomologists and breeders to ensure breakthroughs in resistance genes are taken up to develop new varieties that reach farmers.

“There is a disconnect between screening and breeding,” CIMMYT Global Wheat Program Director Hans Braun told attendees.  “We need more and better collaboration between disciplines, to move from screening to breeding faster.”

Communicating to farmers is crucial. Pesticides are expensive, harmful to both human health and the environment, and can lead to crop resistance.  However, they can appear to be the quick and easy solution. “IPM also means ‘integrating people’s mindsets,’” said B.M. Prasanna, director of CIMMYT’s Global Maize Program.

B. M. Prasanna describes the Integrated Pest Management toolbox of solutions for fall armyworm. Photo: Alfonso Cortes/CIMMYT.

National policies instituting strict quarantines pose another serious barrier to the exchange of seeds required for testing and research.

To mark the workshop’s 24th anniversary, Michael Smith, entomologist at Kansas State University and longtime IPRI participant, offered a brief history of the event and the field—from the first insect-resistant wheat developed in the early 1920s to the wake-up call of pesticide abuse in the 1960s.

Michael Smith, Kansas State University, U.S.

“We’ve grown, we’ve made enormous technological changes, but ‘talking to people’ is still what we’re here for,” he stated. He added a challenge for his colleagues:  “We need to tell a better story of the economic benefits of our science. We need to get to the table in an even more assertive way.”

He also shared some lighter memories, such as the sight of imminent plant scientists relaxing in leisure suits at the 1978 session. A traditional mariachi serenade and traditional Mexican cuisine ensured that more memories were made in 2020.

Leonardo Crespo-Herrera, CIMMYT wheat breeder and workshop moderator closed with encouraging and provocative words for the group.

 “The ultimate objective is to reduce the use of pesticides,” he said, adding: “How do we get this research out of the lab and into the field?”

Leonardo Crespo, CIMMYT wheat breeder and workshop moderator. Photo: Alfonso Cortes/CIMMYT.
Workshop participants toured CIMMYT’s Germplasm Bank. Photo: Alfonso Cortes/CIMMYT.
CIMMYT Global Maize Director B.M. Prasanna and CIMMYT Global Wheat Director Hans Braun. Photo: Alfonso Cortes/CIMMYT
The workshop also included a demonstration by CIMMYT Wheat Chemistry, Quality and Nutrition Laboratory Head Maria Itria Ibba. Photo: Alfonso Cortes/CIMMYT.

First cohort of Arab Women Leaders in Agriculture graduates

This press release was originally posted on the website of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA)

  The CGIAR Research Program on Wheat joined the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture for the graduation of the first cohort of fellows of the Arab Women Leaders in Agriculture (AWLA) program.

In celebration of International Women’s Day the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) hosted today a graduation ceremony for the first cohort of fellows of the Arab Women Leaders in Agriculture (AWLA) program.

Funded by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, AWLA supports women scientists from the Middle East and North Africa.

Being the first of its kind, the program is managed by ICBA and is designed to empower women researchers to spearhead positive changes in agriculture and food security while addressing the challenges they face in their careers.

The first cohort included 22 women scientists from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia. They completed a 10-month program from 2019 to 2020, which was delivered through 12 online R&D modules and face-to-face workshops in Tunisia and the UAE.

Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Managing Director of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and Chairperson of ICBA’s Board of Directors. Photo: ICBA

Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Managing Director of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and Chairperson of ICBA’s Board of Directors, said: “International Women’s Day is an important occasion when we celebrate women and girls around the world and showcase their invaluable contributions to different fields, including science. Unfortunately, women are still underrepresented in research and development around the world, but more so in the Middle East and North Africa. This is despite research showing that gender-balanced teams improve innovation and productivity and that women are critical to innovation. That is why it is great to see how programs like AWLA are creating opportunities for women scientists from across the Middle East and North Africa and equipping them with skills and tools to grow in their careers and make greater contributions in their communities and countries.”

For her part, Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of ICBA, said: “We are delighted to see the inaugural cohort of AWLA fellows graduating on such a special occasion – International Women’s Day. The AWLA fellowship program was able to open a door of opportunities for 22 Arab women scientists by providing them with soft skills to positively impact their communities and countries.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA). Photo: ICBA

“I want to thank the Islamic Development Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, and the International Atomic Energy Agency, for their exceptional support for the program. I would also like to thank the Council for Australian-Arab Relations for supporting the study tour of two AWLA fellows,” Dr. Ismahane Elouafi added.

Dr. Tarifa Alzaabi, Deputy Director General of ICBA, remarked: “As we are celebrating International Women’s Day, it gives me a great pleasure to congratulate all AWLA fellows and commend them for the exceptional dedication they demonstrated during their AWLA journey. AWLA is a unique program that significantly contributed to our efforts to empower women in science and agriculture. AWLA extends the right skills and opportunities to fellows to boost their intellectual collaboration by exchanging ideas, good practices, and stories on how women can make a difference in agriculture. Moreover, the program offers new perspectives on research and leadership to make a positive difference not only in the professional lives of fellows but also towards the prosperity of agriculture across the nations and regions they represent.”

Cake-cutting at the graduation ceremony. Photo: ICBA

Ms. May Ali Babiker Eltahir, Manager at the Women and Youth Empowerment Division, the Islamic Development Bank, commented: “AWLA, through empowering young Arab women working on food, nutrition and water security issues, has contributed to the pillars of the IsDB Women’s Empowerment Policy, namely improving women’s access to services and resources and promoting women’s agency and participation.”

Mr. Hassan Damluji, Deputy Director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “Empowering women to take up leadership positions in all fields, particularly critical sectors like agriculture and science, is an essential lever towards achieving gender equality globally. AWLA is a wonderful example of partners coming together to deliver concrete solutions that help break down barriers for Arab women researchers”.

“Women make up an important part of the agricultural labor force in MENA, and any solution to the region’s critical food security challenges should ideally be evidence-based and innovative, making use of all talent by being gender-inclusive and by greatly improving cross-border collaboration,” said Mr. Victor Kommerell, Program Manager for the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (CIMMYTICARDA, and partners). 

“I am confident this cohort of AWLA graduates from 6 countries will have a powerful impact on the future of agriculture in the region,” Mr. Victor Kommerell added.

Dr. Farah Baroudy Mikati, an AWLA fellow from Lebanon, who works as an agricultural engineer at the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute, said: “The spirit of AWLA reminded me about my ambitions and strength, especially after seeing that things like research for impact exist and can succeed. Before AWLA, I used to give less importance to some managerial knowledge, but now I consider it as a priority. In addition, I started learning project proposal writing skills through this program. In general, AWLA made me aim for more even in harsh conditions!”

“During the program, the fellows got the opportunity to learn through interactive online and classroom training, coaching and mentoring, and continuous assessment. The fellows worked on a variety of individual assignments in addition to four team-based capstone projects that connect and translate their learning and impact as the golden thread,” Mr. Ghazi Jawad Al-Jabri, Capacity Building Specialist at ICBA and AWLA Coordinator, said.

AWLA’s long-term goal is to improve food security and nutrition in the region through empowering women researchers and helping them realize their full potential. The program contributes to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on Gender Equality (SDG 5), Climate Action (SDG 13), Life on Land (SDG 15), and Partnerships for the Goals (SDG 17).

a wheat-themed place setting at the AWLA graduation ceremony. Photo: Victor Kommerell/CIMMYT