Berlin, March 2015: Federal Minister of Agriculture Christian Schmidt pays tribute to the Director of the seed database ICARDA – International Center for Agriculture Research in Dry Areas, Dr. Mahmoud El-Solh, and awards him with the Gregor Mendel Prize. Dr. Mahmoud El-Solh, together with his staff in Aleppo, has brought the world's unique seed database out of the war torn country. By taxis to the Turkish border, on donkeys to Jordan, and always under the risk of death. Aleppo was about to be taken by rebels.
Berlin, November 2017: Aleppo is now a completely destroyed city. Literally no stone is left on the other. The pictures of the children who had to persevere the hail of bombs went around the world. Dr. Mahmoud El-Solh, now former director of ICARDA, but still dedicated to the FAO, is back in Berlin. Invited to the Global Food Summit, which took place on November 29 and 30, 2017. Similar to two and a half years ago, there are questionsmarks about the situation in Syria.
Syria, after all, was before the war a country that was not only self-sufficient with staple foods, but could even export wheat in good years. Now millions of desperate people flee from war and hunger. Will the country ever be able to restore its pre-war situation? Dr. Mahmoud El-Solh doubts this. According to his experience, it takes more than 40 years to rebuild a well-functioning agriculture in post-war and crisis areas.
However, a small hope remains: In all the war madness, it is almost a miracle that the former seed bank of ICARDA in Aleppo is still intact, even though the building is now abandoned and looted. But the staff and citizens remaining in Syria protected the seed database, and rebels – regardless of their political orientation – did not destroy it. ICARDA had a great reputation in Syria. The seed database could thus become a nucleus for the reconstruction of Syrian agriculture after the war. The ICARDA seed bank is the largest collection of barley, faba bean and lentil seeds and all varieties of hard wheat and bread wheat. The collection is a unique resource for scientists and breeders looking for plant material for national and international breeding programs to develop drought tolerant, disease and pest resistant varieties.
ICARDA is active in more than 40 countries worldwide, especially in the Middle East and Africa. ICARDA is researching the best farming methods and seeds for dryland farming in arid areas. The focus lies on improving the situation of small farmers and women.
Dr. Mahmoud El-Solh was a speaker at the Global Food Summit on 29 and 30 November 2017 in Berlin.