Cooperation between AARINENA and EFARD
The Near East and North Africa Region is food deficit and for many years, it has been the largest net food importer among developing countries. As some 60% or more of the population of the region live in the rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood, the decreasing agricultural production is therefore not only affecting food security in general but also hampering poverty alleviation efforts.
The Region is physically a vast area with aridity as the prevailing feature making it the poorest region in the world in terms of water resources. It is rich in indigenous plant genetic resources, but most of its diversity is threatened by erosion. The Region also has a great wealth of livestock, representing, for example, 74%, 26% and 21% of the world total for camels, sheep and goats, respectively. The contributions of animal production to the national agricultural gross product differ greatly from one country to another and ranges from 16% to 81%.
In spite of the greatly improved incentives introduced through domestic policies and higher international prices, the region has only achieved limited success in the production of strategic crops, the diversification of the agricultural base and the enhancing of productivity of land and labor in the agricultural sector. While several factors have contributed to this state of agriculture, much of the onus falls on the agricultural research systems and technology transfer agents to halt, if not reverse, this situation. On the other hand, strengthening information exchange and communication among AARINENA’s members and between them and the outside world envisages the need for improving information exchange and communication through maximum use of internet-based services.
AARINENA’s main goal is strengthening national and regional agricultural research capacities to reverse the down trends in agricultural productivity and the natural resources base. It aim, through these project proposals, is to form an interaction among the countries of the Region and with the international research and development community. The establishment of such project proposals would contribute to the enhancement of agricultural and rural development in the Region through fostering agricultural research and technology development, and by strengthening collaboration within and outside the Region. All in order to achieve greater degree of self-reliance in food and agriculture, and to improve the nutritional well-being and overall welfare of the people of the Region, while at the same time sustaining and further improving the productive capacity of the natural resources base.
The most important proposals for collaborative research efforts that could be carried out by research groups in Europe and in AARINENA countries, working through different partnership modalities, are divided into five major themes: Genetic Resource Management (GRM), Natural Resource Management and Ecology (NRM), Commodity Chain, Policy Management and Institutional Development, and Information Management for Agricultural Research Development.
Genetic Resource Management (GRM)
1- Genetic Engineering for Stress Tolerance in Agronomic Plants in
the Arabian Peninsula Sub-Region.
Rationale: The Gulf States lie in the hot arid region of the Arabian Peninsula that is characterized by long hot summers, scarce fresh water and sandy salty soils. Food and feed production is highly restricted leading to total reliance on importation. Under such harsh conditions, traditional crop management practices and breeding methods are inadequate to sufficiently enhance local food and feed production. Much could be achieved by introducing modern techniques of genetic engineering and tissue culture and if they would be applied to agronomic crops capable of growing under arid climatic conditions.
Main activities: A prerequisite for this approach is to identify gene source for novel traits such as drought and heat tolerance, which involves detailed studies of the biochemistry and molecular biology of such tolerance in a model system. Once the basic mechanism of drought and heat tolerance are elucidated and the essential genes identified, the techniques of recombinant DNA can be applied to transfer elite genes to the target crops. In this research activity, a drought and heat plant- ziziphus is selected to study and identify the underlying biochemical and molecular processes operative under the drought and heat conditions that are prevailing in the subject region. In a subsequent phase, these genes will be introduced into selected agronomic crops to enable them to productively grow under drought and heat stresses.
Expected output: Main outputs of this research programme include the identification, isolation, and characterization of drought and heat tolerant genes as well as development of relevant technologies and methodologies. An important outcome of the study is on-job training of scientists and professionals from the sub-region on different aspects of tissue culture and genetic engineering.
2- Development of Biotechnological Research in the Maghreb States.
Rationale: In the North Africa region per capita food production has declined, the region is a net importer of food and food security is stated as policy objective in many countries. While currently the agricultural prices for some crops on the international markets are depressed, it is considered desirable for the countries of Maghreb to invest in domestic agriculture for the long run.
The need for more and better crop improvement strategies is apparent from the predictions of food shortages in the year 2020 in the Maghreb region. It is recognized that new crop varieties are a cheap, easy and environmentally compatible improved production technology for adoption by farmers. Molecular biology and tissue culture offer a range of techniques that can help to increase the efficiency of crop production systems when integrated in crop improvement schemes.
In some countries, biotechnology is already integrated into the national agricultural research policy and funds are committed to exploit biotechnological tools for crop improvement. The establishment of biotechnology laboratories is, however, expensive and difficult to achieve by some of the countries, but countries that are committed to the new technologies may be able to sustain the operating costs of a laboratory and the operating costs for the use of proven useful techniques. Thus, if some of the Maghreb countries are provided with established laboratory techniques and trained personnel, they would be able to exploit the biotechniques for their crop improvement schemes.
The Maghreb region is a net importer of food and food security is stated as policy objective in many countries. The project will contribute to food security through the development of crop varieties with stable and substantially higher yields, with tolerances to abiotic and biotic stresses and enhanced nutritional quality.
Main activities: Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of crop improvement programs in the region through the development and exploitation of biotechnological interventions.
The project will support the establishment of biotechnology laboratories in Maghreb countries, as well as with the transfer of biotechnological techniques to these countries. The project strategy encompasses five essential mechanisms for the successful transfer and establishment of a technology to the national programs. These aspects are difficult to cover in an individual country approach. Consequently, the project is conceived as a regional activity and is expected to have a regional impact; it is envisaged that NARS which already have, or will develop through this project, strengths in the application of biotechnology to crop improvement, will provide support to other countries in the region.
§ Establishment of biotechnology laboratories in Maghreb countries
§ Selection of appropriate techniques for national programs
§ Trained specialized personnel in national programs
§ Established research teams in national programs
§ Exchange of information on new developments
Partners involved: AARINENA, ICARDA, and National research programs in Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia.
3- Development of Wheat Cultivars for Durable Resistance to Leaf and
Stem Rusts in the Nile Valley and Red Sea Region
Rationale: Leaf and stem rust diseases represent the major biotic stresses affecting wheat in the Nile valley and Red Sea Region. They are considered the main factor limiting wheat production and longevity of high-yielding varieties. Yield losses due to leaf and stem rusts in Egypt are 11% and 23%, respectively. In Yemen, yield losses due to leaf rust are 15-20%, and to stem rust 20-30%. Therefore, it is essential to control these diseases in order to increase wheat productivity and stabilize production in the countries of the region.
Main activities: Breeding for disease resistant in general and for wheat rusts in particular is almost the only practical way to control rust diseases since chemical control is not economical, particularly for resource-poor wheat farmers, besides its detrimental effect on the ecosystem and the environment. Therefore, developing new cultivars resistant to leaf and stem rusts to be grown by farmers is the main objective of many wheat programmes.
The regional approach of research to wheat rusts is extremely important to curtail the impact of rusts on wheat productivity since rust spores are airborne and are carried by wind for long distances, thus contributing to their rapid spread across countries and from region to another. In addition, complementary research at the regional level makes better use of the limited human and physical resources available in the region.
Expected output: The main goal of the proposed research work on wheat rusts is to increase wheat productivity in the countries of the region by developing cultivars with durable resistant to the rapidly evolving leaf and stem rusts. To attain this main goal, a number of specific objectives need to be achieved. These include monitoring of the present status of leaf and stem rusts pathotypes and their frequencies. It is important to identify effective genes conditioning resistance against prevalent rust pathotypes, and generating systematic information on leaf and stem rust in the region to facilitate effective breeding programmes.
4- Development of Wheat Cultivars with Durable Resistance to Yellow Rust and the Identification of Wheat Yellow Rust Pathways in the Near East and North Africa.
Rationale: Yellow rust caused by the pathogen Puccinia graminis fsp. tritici is one of the most devastating diseases of wheat in the Near East and North Africa region, causing serious yield losses over wide areas. For instance, an average annual crop loss of 10 to 50% in Yemen and up to 60% in Egypt has been recorded in recent years. A wide range of virulent pathotypes is evolving in the region causing the breakdown of widely utilized sources of resistance in wheat. The dynamics of yellow rust in the region are not well understood and the pathways through which the pathogen is spreading are unknown. The knowledge of the yellow rust pathways is essential for the proper exploitation and management of available sources of resistance.
The project will contribute directly to improving food security in the region by improving and stabilizing the production of a major food crop, wheat.
Main activities: Exploitation and management of available sources of resistance to wheat yellow rust in the Near East and North African countries.
- Information on yellow rust occurrence and past pathotype dynamics assembled
- Pathway and movement of the rust among and within the participating countries determined
- Marker assisted selection for yellow rust resistance implemented.
- Resistant sources recommended to national breeding programs
- Improved wheat cultivars with durable resistance to yellow rust identified and developed
- Technical capability and capacity of research staff within the participating institutions of the national agricultural research systems (NARS) enhanced.
- Collaboration and coordination within and between the participating countries and with other regional countries and centers of excellence strengthened.
Partners involved: AARINENA, ICARDA, National research programs of Iran, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Turkey, and Pakistan, and European Advanced Research Institutions: Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences (DIAS), Denmark, and INRA, France.
5- Dairy Sheep Breeding for Small Flocks Based on Simple Recording
Rationale: The main objective of this activity is to design cost effective breeding schemes for improvement in dairy sheep and goat production in marginal areas. Participatory farm recording will be used to identify management constraints, which would be corrected through peer group comparisons and provision of extension advice. Single visit milk records and dairy advised selection criteria (conformation, temperament, udder shape, fat, protein, etc.) to identify superior stock whose breeding value will be estimated through established computer programme.
Main activities: Field experience will be obtained by the application of three techniques, namely: artificial insemination, embryo transfer and marker assisted selection to determine the efficacy of such techniques and their costs and usefulness in the simulated breeding schemes.
Spreadsheet modeling of simulating breeding programmes will lead to the assessment of probable progress and likely cost benefit of different schemes using socio-economic data generated by this activity.
Expected output: Main expected benefits are as follows:
· Design of practical and acceptable recording or self-recording schemes that can be taken up by farmer groups, breeds societies, dairies and governmental organizations.
· Pilot information on the usefulness of the advanced techniques MAS and ET will be obtained.
· The link with the dairies will provide an example of producers responding to consumer demands for changes in the composition of their products.
· The success of the project will help maintain rural activities in mountainous and desert areas and the balance between man-animal-plant, which results in the much-appreciated “Mediterranean” environment.
6- Central and West Asia Yellow Rusts Regional Network
Rationale: The Network’s goal is the stabilization of wheat production and through the development of wheat varieties with durable resistance to yellow rusts, thereby reducing the impact of the devastating and widespread yellow rust epidemics. Past studies of the yellow rusts in the Region have been sporadic and there is an urgent need to gain a more comprehensive understanding of their pathotypes variations.
Main activities: Past studies need to be complemented with epidemiological investigations of pathogen movements in order to determine centres of origin of new pathotypes and thus provide an early warning system for farmers growing potentially susceptible cultivars. These studies will also underpin and actively contribute to breeding efforts aimed at developing durable resistance to yellow rust in wheat cultivars. It is proposed to establish a centre of excellence for yellow rust studies in the Region to provide scientific and technical support to member states. The capabilities of the participating national programmes need to be strengthened to enable them to be active contributors and beneficiaries of the Network.
Expected output: The project has set five specific goals to be achieved by the end of its duration. These are:
1. Identification of the prevalent virulence of the yellow rust pathogen, its pathway, its movement, its life cycle and sources of resistance;
2. Monitoring the effective host resistance genes, thereby establishing early warning for disease epidemics;
3. Development of improved yellow rust-resistant varieties for the participating countries;
4. Improvement of technical capabilities and capacities of participating scientists, and
5. Strengthening collaboration and co-ordination within and between the Network participating countries and with other regional networks and centres of excellence
The co-operating partners would include national research systems, universities from within and outside the Region, and regional and international agricultural research centres. Research institutes, academies of sciences, and universities to participate in the Network are from the following countries: Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Syria, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzistan, Tadjikstan, and Australia.
Natural Resource Management and Ecology (NRM)
7- Use of GIS and Modeling Techniques for Hydrologic Research and
Management of Water Resources
Rationale: The project endeavors to assist countries to upgrade and update their water resources assessment and management through institutional and manpower development that will be integrated in a broader scope with a technology transfer system by means of workshops, group and on-the-job training. Water resources, like any valuable resource can be most effectively developed and managed after its availability, quantity, quality, and movements are thoroughly understood and assessed. In most countries of the region, water resources are very scarce with characteristically very low rainfall and many of its parts have large unpredictable rainfall variations from year to year. Demand far exceeds supply of water, which calls for management and rational exploitation and use of surface and ground water resources. It also calls for protection of water resources from depletion and contamination as well as the protection of the environment from pollution and contamination.
Main activities: The application of mathematical techniques can be considered as an efficient tool for water resources management. The GIS system can be linked to the mathematical model using its geographical and spatial analysis capabilities in the modeling process.
Expected output: The long-term objective of the activity is the strengthening of national capacity building through qualitative and quantitative improvements in the methodology of processing the available hydrological data for the assessment, planning, development and management of water resources in the countries of the region. Expected project output include:
· An increased number of qualified specialists and technicians in the field of water resources management and related areas such as data acquisition, processing, modeling and water planning computations.
· Increased information exchange between countries and sharing of appropriate knowledge and technology in the field of water resources management studies.
· Improved exchange of information and experience between water resource institutions in the Region.
8- Water Management and Increasing Water Use Efficiency for
Sustainable Agricultural System.
Rationale: Water is a scarce resource of great strategic importance for most countries of West Asia and North Africa (WANA). At present agriculture accounts for some 80% of total water consumption, but with increased industrialization and urbanization and growth in population, water is increasingly allocated away from agriculture. The scarcity of water has in some countries reached the point where supplies of fresh water are mainly for domestic and industrial use with agriculture pushed more and more towards using brackish and saline water. This situation prevails already in the Gulf States and it will not be too long before other countries find themselves in similar predicament.
Main activities: Averting the threat of water shortage to the region’s agriculture will depend on greater efficiency in the use of available irrigation water as well as finding new less conventional sources and supplies of water. What in fact is needed is a long-term research programme to deal with the various aspects of irrigation water shortages to generate new and innovative technologies. The present project aims at profitable agricultural production in the dry areas of the Region through efficient and sustainable utilization of conventional and non-conventional water supplies- rainfall, groundwater and surface sources. The project has five research themes, namely: on-farm water use efficiency; water harvesting; utilization of urban treated wastewater; groundwater husbandry, and use of saline water. Most of the activities will be of strategic and applied research nature including generating and testing of production techniques with enhanced output per water unit and development of environmentally friendly agricultural systems. The project will be building on indigenous knowledge along with using modern techniques to identify, quantify and demonstrate a range of water harvesting and utilization approaches.
Expected output: The project will assist in building a much-needed information and databases relative to irrigation water availability and use. It will generate methodologies, techniques, measures that constitute important elements for developing future strategies and plans of action for better water management and increased water-use efficiency for sustainable agricultural production systems in the Region.
9- Integrated Feed/Livestock Production Systems using Non-Conventional
Feed Resources in the Al-Mashreq Region
Rationale: Livestock production, and especially the production of small ruminants, represents an important economic activity throughout the sub-region, contributing to rural incomes and national economies. Three main production systems can be distinguished within the livestock sector: traditional extensive production system in the low rainfall areas; semi-intensive production of dairy cattle, dairy goats and sheep, and lamb fattening, and intensive production enterprises involve higher inputs and outputs. Despite the fact that the production of barley has increased the region has been unable to satisfy feed demands; the "feed gap" is increasingly being met by imported feeds.
Main activities: In short, feed, both its availability and quality, is a major constraint to increased productivity and production. There is ample evidence of the availability of alternative, non-conventional, feed resources in the region, including crop residues and agro-industrial by-products. The incorporation of treated crop residues and agro-industrial by-products into small ruminant feed resources would contribute to alleviating the shortage in roughages, enhancing the nutrition of small ruminants, reducing the imports of concentrates, and relieving the pressure on natural pastures and rangelands. Technologies and processes for some alternative feeds and conventional by-products, such as the treatment of straw, multi-nutrient feed-blocks and cactus production, are available but would need to be adapted to local conditions.
Expected outcome: The development of local feed supplies will lead to an increase in feed availability and lower feed costs. Improving the productivity of small ruminants will lead to an increase in national output, reduce the unit cost of production, and make a positive contribution to food security. Development of the local feed industry will also contribute to national output and employment.
10- Integrated Pest Management in Cereal and Food Legume Based Cropping Systems in the Maghreb Countries.
Rationale: Diseases, insects and weeds are major limiting factors of cereal and legume production in the Maghreb countries, where they cause at least 30% yield loss. The demand for agricultural products has grown rapidly over the past two decades and, given an annual demand increase of 4%, these countries will be importing 40% of their needs by the year 2010. The control of these pests would be greatly enhanced by an integrated pest management system that includes host plant resistance, cultural practices, safe chemicals and biological control.
The project will contribute directly to improving food security in the region by improving and stabilizing the production of a major food crops, wheat and legumes (chickpea, lentil and faba bean).
Main activities: To enhance the productivity of cereal and legume farming systems in the Maghreb countries by the development of sustainable and ecologically sound integrated pest and weed management packages that reduce crop losses caused by major pests in the different agroecological zones and cropping systems of the region.
- A comprehensive regional data base on the distribution, prevalence and characteristics of pests occurring in the Maghreb and on IPM components available.
- IPM options for major pests of cereals and food legumes in the Maghreb
- Established pilot sites in different agro-ecological sites for farmer participatory testing of IPM strategies.
- Established Farmer Field Schools at the selected sites.
- Project impact assessment including assessment of rate of adoption of IPM technologies, economic returns of IPM packages, and environmental benefits of the approach.
- NARS capacities in formulation and implementation of IPM options strengthened.
- The control of pests and diseases by IPM methods will increase yields, reduce variability in production and lower costs, resulting in increased farm incomes, as well as reduce the hazards in rural areas associated with excessive insecticide use.
- The widespread application of IPM methods is expected to have an impact on national cereal and legume production, increasing production, reducing year-to-year variability in production and improving grain quality, which will benefit consumers and contribute to improving food security in the region.
Partners involved: AARINENA, ICARDA, and participating institutions from Maghreb countries: Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia.
11- Regional Network for Date-Palm in the Near East and North Africa
Rationale: The establishment of a Regional Network for Date Palm in the Near East and North Africa comes as a direct response to the growing felt need for increasing communication and exchange of experiences among date producing countries. The participants in an expert consultation to examine this matter held in Teheran in October 1999 further confirmed the need for such network. Indeed, most of the dates producing countries are looking forward to this initiative. As shown by previous experience - the FAO implemented NENADATES Date Palm (1978 - 1988)- such mechanisms are highly successful in providing information and development initiatives that strengthen the date industry in these countries.
Main activities: of the proposed Network are briefly:
· Collection and dissemination of information on production, marketing and processing technologies;
· Collection, conservation, evaluation and utilization of germplasm;
· Study the socio-economic aspects in the date-palm regions and its impact on ecological conservation;
· Assisting NARS in date palm production and marketing policies and the formulation of national networks to increase collaboration among national institutions.
Expected output: The proposed network is expected to contribute to the development of sustainable production systems that increase the efficiency and economic viability of small and medium-size low-income date growers, especially women farmers. In addition, the date palm is a useful plant for the prevention of soil degradation of the land so it will help to prevent desertification. The creation of a regional network would be a mechanism that would facilitate the conservation of the genetic resources and the diffusion of technological packages that would contribute to the development of date producing countries. The Network will serve to link the various initiatives in different regions of the world dealing with date palm and encourage participation of any country / institution / organization that are interested to collaborate in this area.
It is envisaged that technical working groups will be formed to undertake specific tasks, e.g. production and protection, post harvest and processing technologies, and socio-economic and commercialization. For each working group, a specialized institution in different countries will be identified to participate. Participation in the working groups is open to any interested scientists, organizations, and associations as well as to researchers from the private sector.
12- Regionalizing Agricultural Research within Countries in the Maghreb Region
Rationale: There are several factors, which favor the regionalization of agricultural research. Many countries are trying to increase the democratic content of their governments by decentralizing public structures to the regional level. In addition, agricultural research is reacting to concerns over natural resource management (NRM), by putting more emphasis on these issues, which are best-undertaken in regional perspective. The ability of countries to import and test new agricultural technologies has increased rapidly and many believe that strong adaptive research programmes are the only way to guarantee that research results are effectively translated into useful technologies.
Main activities: In spite of common constraints and common objectives the process of regionalization in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia is leading toward different organizational, structural and institutional models as well as to different operational mechanisms. Mauritania has just been through the development of a research Master plan in which also regionalization is a consideration. Libya has built its research programmes around regional approach. Malta has a very small research system but is also struggling with questions of user involvement, sustainability and the need for adaptive research. For the Maghreb countries, it will therefore be highly beneficial to pool their recent experiences, to analyze them in greater depth and to develop more effective, efficient and sustainable models for regionalization of agricultural research.
Expected output: The project is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the agricultural research systems of the countries, in pursuit of enhanced contributions to income generation and distribution, food security and sustainable natural resource management. The current project will allow the countries of the Maghreb region to explore and pursue the process of decentralization towards the regions of their agricultural research systems in a collaborative fashion. Countries will learn from their neighbours and will benefit in the implementation of regionalization processes from the knowledge that will be obtained through a set of well-chosen sub-projects.
13- Strengthening National Seed Policy and Production Systems
Rationale: Few countries in the Region could claim well-developed formal seed supply systems complete with seed laws and operating certification and evaluation systems. At the other end of the spectrum are countries with virtually no formal seed supply system and where only a very small amount of seed of the most important crops is produced without hardly any seed quality control. The remaining countries are at varying in-between stages of development. Like in most developing countries, formal seed enterprises in the AARINENA Region will supply only small portion of the total required seed of major cereal crops with the remaining requirement coming from farmer seed retention or exchange among neighbouring farmers.
The reasons for such poor performance in the Region are many and complex - weaknesses in the agricultural research and extension systems, outmoded production and processing facilities, limited technical and managerial capacities and lack of trained personnel. While these constraints are real and very serious, it is increasingly clear that much of the weaknesses in the seed sector are due in major part to policy and management related factors.
Policy makers and professionals are groping with a number of complex policy and socio-economic issues including: privatization, legislation and seed regulatory measures, and conditions for balanced development of the formal and informal seed supply systems. Privatization is perhaps the most debated topic in the Region and for the majority of the countries it is no longer a question of whether or not to privatize the sector, rather it is a question of when and to what extent.
Main activities: In collaboration with national and international organizations, ICARDA has developed the WANA Seed Network that is currently the main hub of a number of national and regional activities. It is mostly concerned with collecting and dissemination of information within the region with the Seed Unit of ICARDA acting as a Secretariat. Regional and sub-regional co-operation is seen as important, thus the recent agreement to launch a Near East and North Africa Seed Consultative Forum (NENA-SCF). The main activity is to strengthen these initiatives and assist countries in formulating policies and strategies for seed production and distribution.
Expected output: Improved collaboration among countries of the Region with the view of improving national and regional technical and managerial capacities and creating a cadre of trained personnel. Introduce improvements in policy and management related aspects of national seed industries.
Information Management for Agricultural Research Development
14- Development of an Agricultural Information System for West Asia and North Africa
Rationale: Agricultural production is becoming increasingly knowledge-based and science intensive. New strategic research areas have emerged and developed, with significant effects on the potential to produce food in a sustainable way. Among key areas of knowledge that may play an important role in increasing the capacity to cope with problems of poverty, resource degradation and food security is Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Given the complexity of the knowledge involved and the investment requirements in reproducing processes that may lead to new products the role of ICT in active knowledge exchanges is widely acknowledged.
AARINENA, like other regional fora, recognized that “Access to information requires appropriate information and communication infrastructure, equipment, instruments and networks. Adequate capacities will be needed at national and regional levels to effectively link up with the global knowledge system. But considerably more effort is needed in this vital area”.
Main activities: As a result of discussions between AARINENA, FAO and the NARS Secretariat of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), AARINENA decided to develop a WANA Agricultural Information Strategy and a project proposal to establish. A consultant from the region has prepared RAIS document, which was discussed and approved by AARINENA Executive Committee.
15- VERCON- Using the Internet to Improve Research-Extension Linkages
Rationale: Knowledge and information through agricultural research are essential for improving food security. Nevertheless, to be useful, agricultural knowledge and information must be effectively communicated to farmers. A time-tested means of effectively reaching farmers is extension. However, weak linkages between research and extension often result in systematic knowledge and information “bottlenecks” that limit the effectiveness of research to contribute to agricultural development.
Main activities: With the Internet, there is now a new and potentially powerful tool for improving communication between research, extension and even farmers. The Virtual Extension and Research Communication Network (VERCON) employs this potential to establish and strengthen among and within the human and institutional elements of agricultural research and extension systems. The VERCON’s innovative nature is its capability to achieve effective linkages by connecting geographically dispersed people and enhance two-way communication, managing a large volumes of data, and rapidly collecting, processing and dispersing information in a variety of ways.
Expected output: The VERCON concept, developed by FAO, aims at improving linkages between agricultural research and extension institutions through two fully integrated and co-dependent components: the human component and the technological component. The human component is a network (e.g., staff of research and extension institutions, faculties of agriculture education, NGO workers and in some cases agricultural producers themselves). The network is committed to strengthening collaboration; communicating, sharing information and supporting improved agricultural production. The boundaries of the network are flexible and can expand to include more stockholders or can contract to focus more closely on specific actors and their information requirements and functions. The actual technical component is developed in collaboration with the users. The functions are selected based on their ability to improve current pathways for communication and information sharing, as well as creating new pathways.