Food security journalist visit to ICARDA in Morocco

March 22, 2024

Cathy and Brett meet with Australian Ambassador (far right) Michael Cutts, and Austrade Country Director Oussama Alaoui.

For over 30 years, the Crawford Fund has been arranging visits by Australian journalists to  experience and report on agriculture for development projects, as part of its efforts to spread good news stories about the impact and mutual benefit of agriculture for development.

The Crawford Fund welcomed the financial support of the DFAT Council on Australia Arab Relations (CAAR) to arrange for the winner of the Crawford Fund Food Security Journalism Award, senior ABC news journalist Brett Worthington, to travel to Morocco for a visit developed to showcase work by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).

The program included visits to headquarters outside of Rabat, to the Marchouch research station and to farmers’ fields in the Kenitra region, with interviews around projects of global significance and including those supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

Brett interviewing INRA Director General and ICARDA Board member, Dr Faouzi Bekkaoui (left). Brett inside the ICARDA genebank with Manager, Dr Athanasios Tsivelkas (right).

“ICARDA is an international organization undertaking research-for-development to provide innovative, science-based solutions for communities across the non-tropical dry areas in Africa, the Middle East, Southern Europe, and Asia,” explained Cathy Reade, Director of Outreach at the Crawford Fund, who has organised the Fund’s visits for journalists to over 20 countries, and accompanied Brett on the trip.

“With ICARDA’s assistance and the involvement of many researchers, we were able to develop a great program for Brett, with briefings by world-leading researchers on projects such as Australian funded work on developing hybrid wheat and on disease management of faba bean, lentils and chickpeas; climate smart breeding; genebank regeneration trials; farming and alternative pollinators; desert farming innovations, new state-of-the-art breeding technologies, through to the importance of cacti to Morocco!” said Cathy.

“It was terrific for Brett to meet researchers, breeders and farmers and learn about the work going on in Morocco and its impact globally and in Australia,” she said.

Brett learning about wild pollinators, with Youssef Bencharki (centre) and farmer.

A visit to the ICARDA genebank and regeneration trials were a highlight as ICARDA is now almost finished regenerating material from the first ever withdrawal from the Svalbard ‘doomsday’ Global Seed Vault in Norway, necessary after war threatened ICARDA’s main genebank previously in Aleppo, Syria.

Brett and Cathy also had the benefit of hearing from the Australian Ambassador to Morocco, Michael Cutts and the Austrade Country Director, Oussama Alaoui on the latest developments in the Australian-Morocco relationship.

Meeting with Dr Faouzi Bekkaoui, the Director General of INRA – Morocco’s National Institute for Agricultural Research – and a member of the ICARDA board, provided Brett with an overview of agricultural research in Morocco, as well as details of work on prickly pear – a scourge in Australia that is so important to farmers in Morocco.

In addition to the significant social media effort mounted by the Crawford Fund around the visit, Brett is filing stories throughout the ABC, including the stable of Country Hour programs around the country, on Radio National and on News Radio programs.

To date, you can hear samples of the stories on Prickly Pear (at 39m16s) here and written up on the ABC website here, as well as on wild pollinators (at 47m20s) here and on the ABC website here.  The extended interview on Radio National with Dr Michael Baum, Deputy Director General of ICARDA, on concerns with increasing food security due to conflict and climate change is (at 44m30s) here.

 And look out for further reports and a digital feature on ‘food security and ICARDA’ to roll out in April.