The Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) Technical Support Contract is a USAID-funded project that is implemented by J.E. Austin. The goal of MERC is to unite Arab and Israeli scientists through collaborative, developmentally relevant research projects. MERC scientists have worked together to develop technologies in several fields. They work to help farmers mitigate drought, poor soil and biological threats to their crops. Despite the difficult political landscape, they broaden access to clean drinking water and technologies used to purify water for irrigation, create more robust crops, disseminate land-based aquaculture technology, and provided better access to healthcare information and services.
MERC is an open-topic program, meaning that the researchers identify their proposal topics in any area of science they feel would most benefit their communities. Each proposal undergoes rigorous peer review as part of the selection process . The peer review panelists are researchers and scientists prominent in their fields and area carefully selected by J.E. Austin staff to match the proposal’s technical areas. If approved, this process improves the research through the suggestions made by the panelists. If the proposal is not approved, the MERC staff feedback and coaching on how to improve. The project staff also provides mentoring to the communities and scientists on how to both apply for research funding and carry out a successful project. Results from these research projects have influenced policies, impacted development and advanced science throughout the Middle East.
One of the most notable accomplishments of MERC is the founding of an international seed company that developed drought, infection, and heat resistant tomatoes. MERC has also established health care centers and counseling for people with genetic diseases in Palestine. In Bedouin communities and in Palestine, MERC scientists have installed wastewater purification systems for irrigation. Past projects have also developed land-based aquaculture systems which reduce pressure on natural resources in the Red and Mediterranean Seas and provides additional sources of protein to communities through the fish produced in this more sustainable way. Jordanian and Israeli oceanographers built artificial coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba to study coral growth and reduce pressure on natural reefs. In addition to these achievements, MERC has bred plant species with natural resistances to fungal and viral threats and distributed them to farmers. They have also studied zoonotic diseases to help people avoid infection. Other projects work closely with women’s groups to create income generating activities, such as the establishment cosmetic production activity which generates income through the use of regional plant extracts.