“For the People of the World”

May 7, 2019

Clarisa Collis photographs genebank hero, Ahmed Amri of ICARDA

For around 25 years, the Crawford Fund has been supporting Australian journalists to experience agriculture for development projects ‘in the field’ through ‘seeing is believing’ visits. Over the years, projects have been seen in around 20 countries but it was good to recently add another country to the list!

With the financial support of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFAT) Council on Australia Arab Relations, Crawford Fund organised a visit to the International Center for Agriculture Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Morocco for Gregor Heard, national grains industry reporter for Australian Community Media Agricultural Publishing. Joining Gregor and Cathy Reade, the Crawford Fund’s Director of Outreach, was Coretex’s Clarisa Collis, the Fund’s 2018 Food Security Journalism award winner.

The Crawford Fund’s trip to ICARDA was timed to coincide with a visit by Professor Richard Trethowan, from the University of Sydney and leader of the CAIGE Project, and breeder Allan Rattey from Intergrain. CAIGE is a collaborative breeding program between Australia,  the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and ICARDA that is supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).  CAIGE members visit CIMMYT and ICARDA to choose lines they then test with the goal of selecting the best varieties for Australian farmers.

Clarisa Collis and Gregor Heard at ICARDA

The journalists’ program also included field visits and interviews around ICARDA projects supported by Australia’s ACIAR and GRDC.

“The program was developed to provide the journalists with an opportunity to meet researchers, breeders and farmers to explain a diverse set of projects having real impact and of interest to Australia,” said Cathy.

“We owe ICARDA a big thank you for taking us to their Marchouch research farm of enhanced wheat and barley varieties, then out to the Meknes region to visit farms using conservation agriculture methods, and to Kenitra to see the innovative ‘Farming with Alternative Pollinators’ work, as well as to ICARDA Headquarters.”

The group enjoyed a visit to the ICARDA Genebank which is particularly special, not just for the unique landraces and wild relatives of cereals, legumes and forages collected from drylands around the world. It has material from the first ever withdrawal from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, necessary after war threatened its genebank in Aleppo, Syria.

“We maintain this for the people of the world,” explained Dr Ahmed Amri, head of ICARDA’s genebank in his interview with Gregor and Clarisa. He noted there have been approximately 20,000 accessions from Svalbard planted this year at the Marchouch research farm. The elite lines in the field at Marchouch were of particular interest to the CAIGE group. Dr Amri also reported the good news that the ICARDA genebank in Syria is the only building at the old headquarters that has not been looted.

This trip to ICARDA was welcomed by the Australian Ambassador to Morocco, Berenice Owen-Jones who visited ICARDA and later met with the journalistss.

“It is a delight and an honour to visit ICARDA and attend the opening of the training session on Wheat Breeding.  I’m also very pleased to be associated with the visit of the Crawford Fund, journalists and plant breeders from Australia,” she said.

The trip also provided opportunities to discuss with Australian embassy and Austrade staff the latest developments and issues in the Australian-Morocco relationships with particular reference to agricultural trade.

Stay tuned for Clarisa Collis’s features from her visit – Gregor Heard has filed the following national reports in the Australian Community Media agricultural weekly papers during  his first week back:

And a quick reminder that the Fund’s 2019 Food Security Journalism Award is currently open, offering another journalist a ‘seeing is believing’ visit.