Past and Current Research Projects USAID has Funded through MERC

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Palestinian women coping with breast cancer in Israel and the West Bank (Project Complete)

Background: There is growing awareness that psychological reactions to illness are culture-related; however, lack of empirical knowledge on the psychological reactions of specific ethnic groups impede efforts to provide appropriate psychological support, which is imperative for cancer patients’ well-being and quality of life.
Aims: The overall aim of this research project was to gain insight into the ways by which Arab breast cancer survivors in Israel and in the West Bank react to and cope with breast cancer, and its implications within their particular cultural and social context.
Methodology: A mixed method approach was utilized, combining both qualitative (focus groups) and quantitative (structured questionnaire) methodologies. Participants were Arab women (Muslims and Christians) in the West Bank and Israel, who were diagnosed 1-5 years prior to the study with primary breast cancer (stages 0-III) and were currently cancer-free.
Outcomes: The study found significant differences in coping mechanisms between the more individualistic society in Israel and the more collectivistic society in the West Bank. Multiple recommendations for practitioners and future studies’ design were developed, including encouraging patients’ emotional sharing, strengthening personal relationships, and considering the importance of a patient’s faith, optimism, hope, and distraction in developing coping strategies.
Implementation: Throughout the project, several workshops and conferences were conducted with Israeli and Palestinian stakeholders, aimed at providing knowledge and tools to students, researchers, and healthcare professionals for both psycho-social research and interventions for caregivers.

Stock enhancement and production of the grey mullet fry: A sustainable choice (Project in Progress)

Background: Grey mullet is the most consumed fish in Egypt after tilapia and is popular across the Mediterranean. Unlike many other fish, the only current source of mullet fry is from wild capture – placing pressure on wild mullet populations and hindering production of the fish in commercial aquaculture.

Aims: A research consortium from Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, and the U.S. are collaborating, together with observers from Jordan and Algeria, to develop protocols to advance and improve production of high-quality juvenile fish, and promote the use of hatchery-sourced fry in aquaculture and mariculture around the Mediterranean.

Methodology: 100,000 grey mullet fry were produced in Israel and transferred to the partner countries for release and recapture experiments to assess where, when, and how to release the fry to reduce mortality. The team is also evaluating locally-developed feed to promote fry growth and quality.

Outcomes: Early stages of this project have focused on training researchers and extension professionals and experiments are underway to define the optimal procedures for successful releasing operations, including fry diet, release location, and seasonal timing.

Implementation: This project is still in progress.  To date, researchers and extension professionals have been trained on mullet reproduction, and fish tagging and restocking. It is intended that the outcomes from the project will support responsible stock enhancement practices and provide a basis for the development and scaling of fry production hatcheries in the region.

Greywater reuse for smallholder agricultural development in off-grid communities in Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan (Project in Progress)

Background: Decentralized wastewater management has long been criticized for the monitoring challenges posed by household or community-level treatment systems. Meanwhile, many “off-grid” communities in Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan still lack sanitation infrastructure and at the same time lack a reliable source of water for irrigation.
Aims: Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian scientists are working together on long-term monitoring of eight previously-installed small-scale greywater treatment and reuse systems in Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. The partners are developing an online platform to remotely monitor effluent quality and associated impacts on soil and agriculture, and conducting a cost-benefit analysis of the shift from freshwater to recycled effluent irrigation for each site.
Methodology: A combination of manual sample collection/analysis and a remote automated monitoring probe is being employed to monitor effluent quality and quantity, and its effects on soils. An interdisciplinary, collaborative approach to software development is being used to design a web-based portal for active reporting and monitoring, and archiving data for future analysis. A questionnaire is being used to assist in the cost-benefit analysis. 
Outcomes: Once launched, the web-based platform will enable real-time remote monitoring of “off-grid” greywater systems’ quality and flow data from anywhere in the world, and ensure effluent conforms to local standards for agricultural reuse. The combined outcomes from this project will assist policymakers in approving greywater reuse standards.
Implementation: This project is still in progress, but is expected to conclude with a series of stakeholder meetings to share the outcomes and discuss the development of national and regional greywater treatment and reuse standards for agriculture.

Etiology, epidemiology, and control of mango malformation disease (Project Complete)

Background: Mango malformation disease (MMD) is common in nearly all mango-cultivation countries worldwide, and is one of the most important constraints to production. The disease, caused by the fungus Fusarium mangiferae, was first reported in Egypt in 1934 and Israel in 1968.
Aims: The main goals of the research were to: a) Evaluate seed and fruit infection, and study mite/fungal pathogen interaction, b) implement cultural control of malformation and determine susceptibility/tolerance of various mango genotypes to the disease, and c) investigate the population biology and diversity of pathogenic Fusarium species
Methodology: Scientists from Israel, Egypt, and the U.S. worked closely together to establish the most appropriate technologies for diagnostics and understand the epidemiology and control of the disease. Israeli and Egyptian students conducted part of their theses on the disease epidemiology, fungal-mite interactions, and molecular typing of the Egyptian isolates.
Outcomes: Seed and fruit infection studies indicated that the pathogen is not likely transmitted via seed, suggesting that implementation of cultural management practices would reduce disease and increase yields. Furthermore, susceptibility/tolerance studies of various mango genotypes showed that certain cultivars in Egypt exhibited resistance to MMD.
Implementation: During the project, a pamphlet was distributed to approximately 7,000 Egyptian farmers that described the cultivation of disease-free seedlings. The project had a direct impact on mango production by elevating yields, reducing disease, and enabling the establishment of healthy, new mango plantings.

Developing an applied tool box for sustainable ‘reefs of tomorrow’ in the Red Sea (Project Complete)

Background: Coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba are among the most diverse in the world, provide ecosystem services, and are an important driver of ecotourism in Jordan and Israel, but human pressure, commercial activities, and pollution are causing the reefs to degrade at an alarming rate.
Aims: With belief that the future of coral reef biodiversity depends not only on what can be saved but also what can be created, a team of Jordanian and Israeli researchers worked at the molecular, cellular, whole organism, and ecosystem levels to develop a toolbox of methodologies for rearing corals more resilient to environmental changes and restoring denuded coral reefs.
Methodology: Experiments were carried out to evaluate the resilience, adaptation and responses of various coral species and genotypes to environmental changes (e.g., sediments, pollutants, and solar irradiation). Manipulating coral chimerism was evaluated as a management tool for producing corals tolerant to aggravated environmental factors, and experiments on the use of cryopreservation of corals for creating a coral germ bank were also conducted.
Outcomes: This research led to significant conceptual advances in the discipline of reef restoration. Both molecular and biochemical biomarkers, including the use of DNA damage, proved to be a useful and sensitive tool for detecting the presence and sub-lethal effects of pollutants on corals. Advances were made regarding cryopreservation techniques for the first coral “germ line bank,” but the end product remains to be achieved. This project also provided a unique opportunity for training young marine scientists in all aspects of modern coral research.
Implementation: This study initiated new regional participants into regional collaboration on reef restoration, significantly expanded the scope and scientific sophistication of coral research in Israel and Jordan, and led to the publication of more than 17 peer-review journals/books. Both Israeli and Jordanian authorities are committed to reef restoration and rehabilitation in the Gulf of Aqaba and the results of this research will be adapted into future management plans.

Willow (Salix spp.):  A new forage resource for semi-arid zones (Project Complete; Follow-on Project Ongoing)

Background: The herbaceous vegetation grazed by livestock in the Middle East is limited in availability and nutritional quality since it depends on the quantity and timing of seasonal rains. As a result of an earlier domestic research effort to improve the quality of willow branches available for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, the lead Israeli researcher sought other applications for a collection of native, wild willow species (Salix spp.) from across Israel. The Israeli researcher connected with researchers in Jordan and they jointly developed a proposal to investigate the willow’s suitability as a forage for sheep and goats.
Aims: Growing willow trees in an economically and ecologically sustainable manner in semi-arid regions as a forage source with enhanced nutritional and nutraceutical properties.
Methodology: Experiments on the suitability and safety of producing willows for fodder with treated wastewater were conducted and the animals’ milk and meat were tested for potential uptake of contaminants. The nutraceutical effect of the willow fodder on the immune status of goats was also evaluated. Various willow genotypes were assessed for their production of biomass and resistance to plant disease.
Outcomes: Jordanian and Israeli researchers established plots of native willow trees irrigated with recycled water, and in locations where other forage plants are unable to grow. In these marginal agricultural lands, they found that willow can rapidly produce substantial biomass and has the added advantage of tannin production associated with decreased parasitic infection. Results from this research indicated that feeding willow to goats maintains both goat health and milk quality while inhibiting nematode infection.
Implementation: Outreach activities have generated interest and lead to adoption of the practice by farmers who have been impressed both with the rapid growth of trees on relatively little recycled water and how happy the goats and sheep are to consume the willow leaves. The researchers were recently granted a follow-on award to further evaluate the potential for storage and production of silage from willow leaves.

Last updated: July 14, 2021

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