Throughout 2021, ICARDA and its partners joined forces on a new collaborative project – the Integrated Desert Farming Innovation Platform – that optimizes regional knowledge, expertise, and funding to transform approaches at systemic level. With a foundation built on international and regional partnerships, the platform offers a central hub for sharing of scientific innovation and agricultural solutions, including from ICARDA’s ongoing research, that will address agri-food systems gaps to strengthen the whole. The platform is also developing a mechanism for fast-tracking adoption and scale-out of new approaches based on the needs and market demands of countries, including jobs and income, all the while strengthening food and nutrition security.
There is a focus, for instance, on managing increasingly scarce water resources, developing climate-smart crops, and implementing integrated crop and livestock system, all high regional priorities that unless addressed, reduce the impact of other available innovation. Through soil health initiatives and the strategic use of genebanks, the platform will also protect the regions increasingly fragile biodiversity.
In addition, the platform boosts and emulates pillar industries such as date palm production and improves access to wind and solar power and water/energy-saving innovations, especially in greenhouse farming. Capitalizing on the new potential of information technology, artificial intelligence, and digital extension services is also a priority to inform policy and drive adoption
The Integrated Desert Farming Innovation Platform is not a magic bullet because the region’s needs and its farming communities are complex. But its pragmatic overarching function is to share inter-country resources and capacities to understand needs better and address weak links in areas such as market access or policies that can render other efforts inoperable. Doing so will address gaps in knowledge and expertise, equipping the region’s farmers, researchers, and extension agents with the skills and know-how they will need to keep pace with climate change and transition to more sustainable and resilient food systems. By definition, farmer associations and regional higher education institutions prioritize partners, firmly putting them in the driving seat.
ICARDA’s key role is to mobilize CGIAR-wide innovations and assets, along with the expertise of over 3500 global food system scientists. CGIAR can also offer a unique and trusted network of international partners who have collaborated for decades to help the global agricultural sector adapt to the new climate reality.
As the platform takes shape throughout 2022, ICARDA and its partners will explore fundamental frameworks, including funding mechanisms to develop innovations at the required pace, convince farmers to substitute conventional technologies and practices with scientifically-proven alternatives, and how farmers can better access markets and technologies.
We launched the Integrated Desert Farming Innovation Platform in early 2022 during the Khalifa International Award for Date Palm and Agricultural Innovation, attended by representatives from ICARDA and CGIAR and ministers and officials from over 15 CWANA countries.