From Sharqia to Rome to Fresno: Renowned irrigation expert comes to UC ANR – Food Blog


Atef Swelam starts as d irector of Kearney and West Side Research and Extension Centers

In the fields around the Egyptian city of Minya Al-Qamh, “port of wheat” in Arabic, a kid rubbed his eyes wearily as he assisted his dad water their crops at 2 a.m.– when they might access the limited water that reached their farm, situated at the tail end of the canal. The household, which had actually been farming the land around the town of Sharqia for numerous generations, hardly had adequate water to sustain their wheat and veggies.

Swatting in the darkness at the ceaselessly biting mosquitoes, a young Atef Swelam made a vow.

” I stated: ‘I will do my finest to not let anybody suffer like I have actually suffered, like my dad suffered– I will assist to enhance the lives of others,'” remembered Swelam, who went on to end up being a watering engineer enhancing water-use performance.

During the World Food Forum (Oct. 16-20), Swelam was acknowledged by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization as a “Water and Food Hero” for establishing watering strategies that conserve water and increase yields throughout the Nile Delta and beyond.

Swelam began on Aug. 10 as director of both the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier and the West Side REC in Five Points. Both centers belong to a network of centers run by University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.

” Our company, and more notably the neighborhoods we serve in the Central Valley and throughout California, are so lucky that Atef has actually joined our group,” stated Brent Hales, UC ANR associate vice president for research study and Cooperative Extension. “He brings not just a record of genuinely impactful research study and development however an authentic enthusiasm for discovering the requirements of individuals, dealing with them and establishing collective, science-based services.”

Making a distinction in the lives of individuals

After making his master’s degree in land and water management from the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari in Italy, Swelam went back to Egypt for his Ph.D. in farming engineering at Zagazig University. There, he advanced to end up being a teacher of watering and drain engineering in 2019; he was likewise a senior researcher and research study group leader with the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (CGIAR-ICARDA). Most just recently, Swelam was the farming research study officer of the U.N.-FAO’s Office of Innovation in Rome.

Swelam discussed that the required, function, objective and vision of UC ANR’s research study and extension network– and its strong track record for making an effect through co-creation with customers– attracted him to this position in California.

” I’m constantly wanting to make a distinction on the ground and in the lives of individuals,” he stated. “If you take a look at the places where all RECs lie, they are inside the neighborhoods themselves, and in the heart of the farming system.”

Swinging in between Kearney and West Side RECs, Swelam stated he feels he operates in an empowering environment, developed and supported by the management in addition to by the personnel at both centers– “a dynamic is which hard to discover in other places.”

Darren Haver, just recently called director of the statewide system of RECs, stated he will deal with Swelam to check out methods to protect the resources that the Kearney and West Side groups require.

” Atef brings a wealth of experience in performing research study in addition to working to enhance the research study and raise and outreach of others,” stated Haver, previously the director of South Coast REC in Irvine. “He plainly is dedicated to making a distinction in your area, nationally, and worldwide and we are thrilled to support him as his vision for these 2 RECs develops.”

Being a researcher and a farmer, Swelam feels he is on the exact same wavelength with both of RECs’ customers groups– growers and scientists. In his very first months on the task, Swelam stated he will learn more about the requirements of the grower neighborhood and the scientists at the RECs.

” What I like most about this task is that the REC system, with its research study for advancement method, supports the researchers, who remain in turn supporting the farmers and neighborhoods that are on the cutting edge in accomplishing food and nutrition security,” he discussed.

When customizing services to satisfy regional conditions, Swelam included that it’s necessary that neighborhood members are included so they feel a sense of ownership and are dedicated to sustaining its effect beyond the time limitations of a research study or extension job.

Innovative watering strategy utilized around the world

A popular example of Swelam’s community-based work is his long-lasting mechanized raised-bed (MRB) watering program, the innovation for which he has actually gathered various worldwide honors.

While he was a scientist at the CGIAR-ICARDA, Swelam led a number of jobs in between 2010 and 2020 to study brand-new soil and water practices at farm level. Through a task at his home town, he established an affordable, small maker to make it possible for growing wheat on raised beds. This remained in contrast to flat flooded land– the conventional, labor- and resource-intensive technique that produced watering inadequacies and triggered scarcities for downstream farmers like his dad, Haj Ibrahim.

With MRB, specifically positioned trenches in between the raised beds would hold precisely the quantity of water the nearby crops require and therefore leave more water for all. And while the strategy appeared appealing, Swelam needed to persuade hesitant farmers to embrace the practices– including his next-door neighbors and his own dad.

” He was extremely resistant to me in the start, since this was the very first time ever in Egypt utilizing raised beds for wheat growing … he even attempted to persuade individuals not to follow me,” Swelam stated, with a chuckle.

So dad and boy divided their fields, with one half planted and watered utilizing conventional techniques, and the other utilizing the raised-bed method. Slowly, as MRB started to show its worth, Haj Ibrahim warmed to the innovation and ended up being an active partner on the research study– even assisting the researcher when he was puzzled by experiment outcomes.

” My dad was my mobile library,” Swelam stated. “He was illiterate– he had actually never ever remained in a school– however his thinking and understanding about the genuine farming and farming system were far better than those of a teacher like me!”

After the preliminary research study trials produced successes in his town and the bigger governorate (a political department within Egypt), the strategy was duplicated in other governorates throughout the nation– which then drew in the attention of worldwide companies and other countries.

Overall, Swelam stated, the innovation assisted the growers minimize used water by 25% and cut farming expenses by 25%, while enhancing fertilizer usage performance by 30% and increasing yield by 25%.

Today, MRB is used by more than 2 million farmers in the Middle East and North Africa to a range of crops and is acknowledged as an excellent farming practice by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

” The greatest acknowledgment and benefit for me out of this impactful development is seeing the smiles on the faces of farmers,” Swelam stated.

Spreading finest practices throughout San Joaquin Valley

Swelam stated he intends to see likewise favorable outcomes for farmers here in California with a vast array of developments. He and other scientists at Kearney and West Side RECs will continue to make certain that the science and understanding produced at the centers reach farmers. He included that partnering with regional growers to enhance their on-farm practices is important on a host of problems, from insect management to water preservation.

” Whatever we do to enhance supply management at system level, if the water is not utilized effectively at farm level, then we lose whatever we had actually accomplished at that macro level,” he discussed.

Swelam included that investing extensive effort and time in establishing useful, cost-efficient services will settle in the long run as they end up being naturally embraced throughout the grower neighborhood.

” Farmers are competent and extremely smart with their farming systems,” he stated. “When they see or get gain from something, they promote it amongst themselves.”

Swelam’s dad was one example. After leading the resistance versus mechanized raised beds at first, he ultimately became its most singing supporter.

” He ended up being the greatest promoter for this innovation; he even promoted it on worldwide and regional television and radio programs,” Swelam stated. “I took pride in my dad.”

Haj Ibrahim passed away in 2017 and Swelam continues to commemorate his dad through his life’s deal with research study and extension– influenced by their long battles to bring water to their crops, and the shared accomplishment of their brand-new strategies.

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