Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The war in Syria and Global Food Security

Wild barley cultivars grown in ICARDA
Of all the implications of the civil war in Syria, probably very few of us have thought about the effect of the uprising on world agriculture and food security.

While this may strike you as strange, Syria houses one of the world's foremost research institutes - ICARDA, International Center for Agriculture in Dry Areas. Among other activities, ICARDA holds seeds from over 100,000 accessions of wild and cultivated crops in its gene bank, including 55,000 cereals. As part of Fertile Crescent, Syria contains  As reported in The Independent :

"As the birthplace of agriculture – the Euphrates is only 70 miles to the east – Aleppo is also the headquarters of the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (Icarda), one of the finest institutions of its kind in the world. It increases food production in Asia and Africa in an area containing a billion people, 50 per cent of whom earn their living from agriculture. Donors include Britain, Canada, the US, Germany, Holland, the World Bank – you name it. And its 500 employees are still operating in Aleppo.

Alas, its principal research station at Tel Hadya, 20 miles from Aleppo, was raided by gunmen who stole vehicles – to use them as "technicals" mounted with machine guns – along with farm machinery and computers. Mercifully, Icarda's gene bank is safe and has been duplicated outside Syria. The Syrian government moved a military checkpoint closer to Icarda's property at Tel Hadya – the Syrian ministry of agriculture was always one of the more progressive offices in Damascus – but what use this will be in the coming days, we shall see."

The uprising in Syria also reflects on a similar research center in Israel - The Institute for Cereal Crop Improvement (ICCI) at Tel Aviv University. The ICCI holds seeds from about 20,000 accessions fo barley, wild wheat and wild wheat relatives. Both Syria and Israel are located within the Fertile Crescent, the center
Resistant and susceptible wheat cultivars
infected with yellow rust
 of origin of a number of wild ancestors of major crops such as wheat, barley, oats, legumes, olive, almond and more. These wild species, still growing in this region, serve as a rich gene pool for crop improvement with tolerance to drought and salinity and with resistance to different diseases. While direct contacts between ICARDA and the ICCI are for political reasons impossible, both institutes are part of the global effort to fight wheat rust disease funded by the Gates Foundation. All efforts must be made to ensure that the collections in both institutes are immune to toe regional conflicts that plague the Middle East.

(Thanks to Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog for leading me to The Independent article)

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