Middle East Seed Industry News

This page features a compilation and selection of Middle East seed industry news briefs, summaries and leads, with an emphasis on events that impact or affect provinces, regions, counties, cities and locales in Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirites.

The news covers trends and events regarding seed regulation, testing, legislation, phytosanitary issues, intellectual property rights, biotechnology (genomics, gene-editing) plant breeding, agronomy and cropping, with original sources linked.

This page will be updated throughout the year, with most recent briefs listed first.


Q3 News

Saudi agricultural productivity improves: Aug 24: Production and marketing of fruit and vegetable crops in Saudi Arabia has developed significantly in terms of  both quantity and quality, according to an article citing the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture. Credit is given to emphasis on preserving food security, agricultural supply chain, and cooperation between governmental authorities through meetings, agreement and research, as well as the utilization of smartphone applications. One agreement cited the output of “seasonal agricultural products such as mangoes, bananas and papayas from Jazan, grapes from Qassim, in addition to figs, pomegranates and citrus fruits in season across the Kingdom.” See original news here

Drought threatens Syria and Iraq agriculture: Aug 23: Access to water, food and electricity for more than 12 million people in Syria and Iraq is under threat, according to aid groups. In Syria, farmers face the “worst drought in 70 years” while the situation in Iraq has been described as the “second driest season in 40 years”. The drought has affected some 400 square kilometers (154 square miles) of agricultural land around the Euphrates River basin, while water supplies have been depleted across large swathes of farmland in Iraq, where, in the Ninewa governorate, wheat production is expected to drop by 70%. See original story here

Iran orders 60K tonnes of alfalfa seeds in face of drought-induced fodder shortage: Aug 23: Iran has logged an order to import 60,000 tons of alfalfa seeds from Russia. Citing the National Livestock Farmers Union, the order included an initial batch of around 30,000 tons, and was made in response to a shortage of fodder linked to drought conditions in the country. The drought has inflicted some 670 trillion rials ($2.4 billion) in losses since the beginning of the current cropping year commencing September 2020. Original news here

Iran and Jordan suffering from drought: Aug 21: There are renewed concerns that Lake Urmia in the Iranian province of West Azerbaijan will disappear entirely due to ongoing drought conditions, which has prompted farmers in Iran, Iraq and Jordan to pump large amounts of water from the ground for irrigation. Meanwhile, Jordan has been described as one of the most water stressed countries in the world, where most Jordanians on lower incomes live on 40 liters a day. See full story here

Israel Wildflower heritage seed sowing campaign: August 17: Israelis are being encouraged by the Jerusalem’s Botanical Gardens to plant native wildflowers as part of the “Save the Wildflower Initiative” which includes a total of 35 species of ‘rescued wildflowers’, including  purple lupines, yellow anemones, rare triple flaxseed, pink thistle flowers and white sage, the purple bells of Boissier’s Barbbell and the Crusaders’ Sicilian Snapdragon. The seed project was named Nechama Rivlin, after the wife of former Israeli president Reuven Rivlin. She died in 2019 and was a great supporter of the Botanical Gardens. Full details here

Saudi saltwater farming startup gains seed momentum: Aug 16: King Abdullah University for Science & Technology (KAUST) based Red Sea Farms, which is developing a grow system for crops that relies primarily on saltwater as the primary irrigation input,  has raised $16 million seed money. More details here

Unrealized potential for organic ag in Iran: August 12: An editorial notes that there are already 43,000 ha of certified organic agricultural land in Iran, even though the adoption rate of ‘modern’ organic practices is less than 1%,Moreover, it is noted that about 86% of farmers in Iran are smallholders who manage close to 40% of arable lands, utilizing small-scale farming systems that may be considered as non-certified organic agriculture. See original story here

West Bank agriculture tussle: August 3: A tense situation in the West Bank affects agriculture trade, according to one report that notes of complaints of farmers’ fields being razed, and products being undercut at the market -- especially grapes and olives. Palestinians in the West Bank reportedly plant 64 million square meters (15,800 acres) with grapes, which provides work for about 10,000 Palestinian farmers, and yield about 50 million kg of grapes annually. Large quantities of these are exported to Israel, but Israel grapes have been barred for import into Palestine. Original story here.

Israel govt threatens fourth lockdown: July 22: The government has warned it may impose the country’s fourth COVID-19 lockdown as rising case tallies returned in July. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that about one million citizens over the age of 12 who have refused vaccination are ‘endangering the rest of the country. As in other countries, the Delta variant is being blamed for the resurgence of new cases. Cabinet recently proposed to reinstate from July 29 the so-called “Green Pass” system, limiting attendance at large events to those who are vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19, or who present a negative test result. The system was previously introduced but canceled by June 1. Under the system, unvaccinated people, or those who have not recovered from the virus, will be barred entry “unless they take a rapid virus test outside the venue or present a negative virus test taken in the previous 48 hours”. The system would not be applied to malls, trade areas, or public transportation.  In other related news, Ministers voted to add the United Kingdom, Georgia, Cyprus and Turkey to a list of countries Israelis are barred from traveling, which was proposed to be effective from July 30. It was reported on July 14 that a lockdown could be imposed over Rosh Hashanah holiday period, or the Jewish New Year, which this year falls on September 6-8. Israel’s three previous nationwide lockdowns since the start of the pandemic included limiting Israelis’ movements to be within a short distance to their homes, a ban from visiting others’ homes. Over 5.2 million of Israel’s 9.2 million citizens are fully vaccinated. More details here.

Saltwater irrigated crops address food insecurity in Saudi Arabia: July 16: A Saudi startup, Red Sea Farms, is nurturing new breeds of crops that are irrigated with seawater. The initiative, which is based on the campus of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), near Jeddah, includes cultivation in greenhouses as well as in open fields, including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, celery, eggplant and green beans, with plans to expand the crop range this year to include around 30 fruit and vegetables. Red Sea Farm received $1.9 million in funding from KAUST, started off with a 2,000-square-meter greenhouse on the university campus. It is now working with a new 10,000-square-meter greenhouse. See full story here

2020 News

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Iran 95 percent seed self-sufficient, claims Ag Minister: According to an article citing Iran’s Minister of Agriculture, Kazem Khavazi, Iran “has achieved self-sufficiency in producing nearly all varieties of seeds.” The minister, quoted here during a conference on December 13, claimed that “agricultural seeds consumed in the country, except the vegetable seeds, are produced by the local experts at the Seed and Plant Improvement Institute and the Dryland Farming Research Institute.” The Minister went on to say that the country is now above 95 percent self-sufficient in producing seeds, and would become self-sufficient in producing vegetable seeds by March 2022, though the article did not disclose the current figure for self sufficiency in vegetable seeds. 

ICARDA Syrian seed conservation, distribution highlighted in paper: NOVEMBER 2020:
The dedicated seed conservation and distribution efforts of the International Center for Agriculture Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in recent months and years are thoroughly documented in a paper recently published in the journal Nature. In the 9 November published paper, linked here, or without a paywall here, it is detailed how ICARDA managed to safety duplicate a bulk of its collection before 2014-2015 when it had to vacate its Gene Bank in Telhadia, Syria due to war. In the period that followed, samples were safe-kept at other gene banks, including the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, and since 2015 ICARA staff rebuilt their collections and resumed distribution of seeds to users internationally from their new premises in Morocco and Lebanon. The regenerated seeds include wheat, chickpeas, lentils, alfalfa and other endemic varieties were stored in Svalbard as a backup for ICARDA's own collection. More than 30,000 samples have been regenerated annually since 2016, and by the end of the regeneration season in 2019, 83,702 accessions were already available to the users of the ICARDA collection.

Food crisis looms in wake of blast that destroyed port: August 2020: Damage to Beruit’s Port and its onsite grain silos resulting from the devastating explosion on August 4 that killed hundreds and injured thousands, has compromised Lebanon’s already-dire food security. According to the The World Food Programme (WFP), “120,000 metric tons of the country’s staple food stocks stored at the port — including wheat, soy and other beans— have perished”, which will cause food prices to skyrocket. The WFP, behest of the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs, has responded by allocating a total of 5,000 food parcels, each able to feed five people for one month. In addition, the WFO will continue to offer assistance to 107,000 Lebanese through electronic debit cards that can be used to purchase US$40 worth of food per month. According to the WFP, “even before the explosion, food security in Lebanon was a cause of serious concern, with one million people already living below the poverty line”. 85% of the Lebanon’s food needs are met by imports, which have seen a sharp decline in the six months up to April. According to Reuters, of the grain that was destroyed at what was Lebanon's only large grain silo, there was about 15,000 tonnes of privately-owned wheat, while Lebanon consumes up to 40,000 tonnes a month of the staple grain. According to World-Grain.com, the 120,000-tonne capacity figure derives from “48 big cells with a capacity of 2,500 tonnes per cell, 50 small cells with a capacity of 500 tonnes per cell and a suction speed of 600 tonnes per hour.”

Jordan to upgrade National Seed Bank: August 2020: Officials and seed industry stakeholders  in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan recently signed a collaboration agreement to upgrade the country’s National Seed Bank. The news was revealed in a LinkedIn post by Dr. Nizar Haddad, the Director General of Jordan’s National Agricultural Research Center, who wrote: “In the honorable presence of H.E. the President of the Royal Hashemite Court, Yousef Al Issawi, H. E. the Minister of Higher Education & Scientific Research, Dr. Mohi El Din Touq, H.E. the Minister of Environment & Acting Minister of Agriculture Dr. Saleh Al Kharabsheh, Chairman of the Hashemite University Board of Trustees Dr. Yasin Al Husban, and the Secretary General of the Higher Council for Science & Technology Dr. Diaa Al Din Arafa, I was honored to jointly sign with Dr. Fawaz Al Zboun, a collaboration agreement for upgrading the National Seed Bank. See post here

Covid closed borders proves boon for Iraqi agriculture productivity, but crops rotting: August 2020: Closing Iraq’s borders due to fear of the spread of coronavirus has been credited to the revival of the agriculture sector through increased farm productivity to supply demand in the domestic market, which had been relying on imports for 17 years. AI Monitor reports on July 21, citing this DW video report. However, according to this report on August 9, some locales, such as in the Yazidi community in the Sinjar district of northwest Iraq, have not benefited as many crops have been left to rot due to the restrictions on movements domestically.