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Harnessing the power of online learning

Friday, December 25, 2020

With an increased focus on online learning, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) also began concentrating on reaching a more diverse group of stakeholders in 2020 with its capacity development programs and activities using different tools and platforms.

Not only did the center increase the number of its offerings but it also diversified the range with special attention to youth and women. It continued equipping farmers, extension specialists, researchers, and youth, among others, with the skills, resources and tools to innovate and tackle the challenges facing agriculture and food production in marginal environments.

In particular the center continued providing venues for learning and collaboration through programs like the Arab Women Leaders in Agriculture (AWLA) and the ICBA Youth Engagement Society (ICBA YES) to foster the skill and creativity of women and youth to generate novel solutions for sustainable development and food security.

To this end, ICBA launched the Virtual AWLA Alumnae Association to connect AWLA fellows, facilitate their cooperation with one another and their peers from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

What is more, the center rolled out the Live with ICBA – a new series of online events and activities dedicated to capacity development and knowledge dissemination. Under the initiative, the center organized a number of live streams by scientists to showcase and promote various best practices, solutions and technologies for farming under unfavorable environmental conditions.

Many educational programs specifically targeting youth were also provided by the Emirates Soil Museum located at ICBA. A total of 1,632 people, including students, took part in virtual workshops and meetings while 1,164 joined in on-site tours and activities highlighting the importance of the sustainable management of soil and water resources and environmental protection.

ICBA also built partnerships and collaborated with other organizations to conduct several capacity development events.

The Emirates Soil Museum, for instance, ran the first edition of its Sustainability Winter Camp jointly with Eedama and was a featured partner and contributor at such events as the Ghaf Youth Majlis by the Connect with Nature; the Down to Earth by the Jameel Art Center; an online summer camp by the Ministry of Education and the Office of Food and Water Security; an online summer camp by the Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Center for Giftedness and Creativity; an online winter camp by the Dubai Municipality; and a World Soil Day event by the International Soil Reference and Information Centre and the World Soil Museum.

The center joined the global network of over 200 partners of the FAO elearning Academy, making it possible to extend the reach of its capacity development offerings and allowing its stakeholders to benefit from over 350 multilingual courses provided free of charge as a global public good through the FAO elearning Academy.

The courses cover a wide range of subjects, including water management, soil restoration, climate-smart agriculture, gender empowerment, sustainable food systems, nutrition, food waste and food loss management, and responsible management of natural resources.

ICBA also partnered with the Dubai Entrepreneurship Academy (DEA) to promote capabilities in the agricultural sector and create new entrepreneurship opportunities for youth in critical sectors, including agriculture.

As a result of capacity development work in 2020, 154 participants from different countries benefitted from in-person and online technical training courses. The center also trained 40 interns from universities in the UAE and abroad and offered four post-doctoral fellowships.

This work builds on two decades of efforts aimed at helping farmers and other stakeholders acquire necessary skills, resources, and tools for sustainable agriculture and development, as well as research and innovation.

Since 2000, ICBA has provided around 24 post-doctoral fellowships and some 160 internships. And 2676 people have taken part in specialized technical training programs.