A Green Light for Desert Farming Collaboration

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16 March 2022, UAE: Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, Representatives gave a thumbs up to the Integrated Desert Farming Innovation Platform concept presented by CGIAR at a KIADPAI / CGIAR side-event on March 14-15 during the 7th International Date Palm Conference in Abu Dhabi.

The side event, opened by Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, United Arab Emirates’ Minister of Climate Change and Environment, and Dr. Abdelouahab Zaid, Secretary-General of KIADPAI, brought together experts and stakeholders from all over the region to discuss collaboration and commitment towards an Integrated Desert Farming Innovation Platform (IDFIP) in West Asia and North Africa (WANA).

The side event was a unique opportunity to discuss regional and country-specific challenges with Ministers, NARS experts and other key stakeholders all together in the same room and to pinpoint clear objectives and a roadmap for the platform. Priority initiatives proposed aim to strengthen WANA’s pillar industries, such as date palm production, while deploying water and energy-saving innovations, especially in protected agriculture (greenhouse farming).

Capitalizing on private sector partnerships and technologies featured high in the discussion as a means to speed up innovation and technology transfer to the farmers themselves. Protecting the region’s threatened biodiversity through soil health initiatives and genebanks was a subject of clear concern given the speed of degradation of the region’s genetic resources. Finally, all sides agreed on strong capacity building with a view to involving regional higher-education institutions and farmer associations to train tomorrow’s experts and extensions service workers.

“The Integrated Desert Farming Innovation Platform will improve use the of natural resources such as wind and solar power for a food and nutrition secure region. This event is crucial for discussion to expand on these aspects.”

– H.E. Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, UAE.

The side-event was carried out during the 7th International Date Palm Conference. Every four years, the conference provides opportunities for date producing and manufacturing countries to share scientific knowledge and experience on various aspects of date palm production, protection and marketing, as well as support international technical cooperation in various fields of the date production chain.

“Innovation can only flourish in partnerships. We ask for your expertise & commitment towards transforming livelihoods in the region.”

– Mr Aly Abousabaa, CGIAR Regional Director of Central and West Asia and North Africa, and ICARDA Director-General.

Participants also identified several hurdles that could hinder the platform’s development if not addressed early on. Firstly, the speed of climate change may outstrip the innovations is of great concern and a driver of the urgency of the platform development. This was reflected in the strong attendance at the event. Questions also remain surrounding funding mechanisms for the platform and the careful balance of time, effort, and funding needed to convince farmers to swap out-of-date technology and practices for new but unfamiliar climate-smart innovation. Market access and marketing for new products will also need to be developed so that farmers who produce more can actually sell more. And concerns related to lack of accessibility to markets, training, and technology due to language barriers will need to be considered during the platform’s development.

“The newly-launched Integrated Desert Farming Innovation Platform platform is based on solid scientific and technical foundations and will boost the development and adoption of climate-smart crops and enhanced water management systems in this climate-vulnerable region.”

– H.E Dr. Abdelouahhab Zaid – Secretary-General of KIADPAI

The assembled participants also provided input to the Abu Dhabi Declaration – a framework for an eventual formal commitment to the platform – and advised on four to six months for platform design, overseen by ICARDA, CGIAR’s dryland research center based in MENA. This begins with achieving a fine-grained understanding of regional challenges and country priorities, along with a simultaneous stock-take of available and currently in-research innovations throughout the region. Considerations pertaining to monitoring, governance, management, and capacity building must also be settled upon.“The platform will benefit small and national entities, organizations and institutions, as well as the farming communities we serve, all within the wider scope of regional collaboration”

– H.E Dr. Abdulredha Bahman – Senior Agricultural Advisor – Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development

The event proved a solid and encouraging start, and the basic principle of the Integrated Desert Farming Innovation Platform has been met with support from all parties. With COP27 just around the corner, the high-level discussions surrounding the adoption – and ratification – of the Abu Dhabi Declaration are sure to gain momentum in the coming weeks and months.

It is a given that dryland farmers, especially those operating in marginal desert ecosystems, will need unified and bold support in fresh technology and innovation if they are to have any hope of sustainable farming activities as climate change intensifies. The Abu Dhabi Declaration – and its associated Integrated Desert farming Innovation Platform – will help them do just that. Eng. Aly Abousabaa, CGIAR CWANA Regional Director and ICARDA Director-General, and CGIAR wish to thank Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri and Prof. Dr. Abdelouahab Zaid for their kind attendance and support in bringing regional ministers, NARS representatives, and experts to the side event.

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