Friday, 29 August 2014

Private sector agroforestry: enhancing farmers livelihoods

On a recent trip to Lao PDR to visit an innovative, private sector led and community-focused forestry project, ACIAR RPM, Tony Bartlett met a passionate young Australian forester. 

Richard Laity has been working in Lao PDR, primarily with Burapha Agroforestry Ltd, but also with the Luang Prabang Teak Project. Richard has a forestry degree from the Australian National University, but since graduation has spent most of his time working overseas – particularly in Laos and Solomon Islands. He is particularly passionate about using forestry systems, involving eucalypts and teak to improve the livelihoods of poor farmers.

Richard showed us examples of the company’s work to produce high quality eucalypt and acacia seedlings, as well as some very interesting and successful examples of agroforestry systems supported by the company. Of particular interest to Richard is research on biocontrol of the Eucalypt gall wasp pest which is devastating many eucalypt plantings in the Mekong region.

Richard Laity talks to ACIAR project partners          Why aren’t all the trees like this one?
  at Burapha nurser

Richard’s main work is leading Burapha Agroforestry’s program to expand its plantation estate in Laos. The company has 6000 hectares of Eucalypt and Acacia plantations, most of which have been established in the past 3 years. They plan to increase the total plantation estate to 60,000 hectares, with plantings around Vientiane and Saynabouri in southern Laos. Not your run-of-the-mill plantation development, Burapha is developing agroforestry style plantations that actively engage local communities. They put considerable effort into working with communities to develop agroforestry plantings on land rented from local people, but still allowing them to farm this land and receive income from participating in the management of the plantations.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Researchers in Agriculture for International Development: A new network for young Ag scientists

Jack Koci discusses ‘Researchers in Agriculture for International Development (RAID)’ – a new Australian-based network of early-mid career agricultural scientists working in international development. 

RAID was established in late 2013 by a group of young scientists from around Australia. The group saw a need to promote international agricultural research for development, as part of an Australian career in agricultural research.

As Jack explains, “I grew up in a farming community on the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, and always knew I wanted to be involved in agriculture, but I had no idea in what capacity. Going through uni, I gained a keen interest in agricultural research to improve productivity and reduce environmental degradation, but was unaware of the amazing opportunities to apply my research skills in developing countries.”

Visiting an ACIAR funded rice trial in the Ayerwady Delta, Burma.

Working at ACIAR, over the past year, has opened Jack’s eyes to the rewarding opportunities that a career in international agricultural research for development can provide.

“Travel to developing countries and seeing, first-hand, the daily struggle faced by millions of smallholder farmers and their families, while also witnessing the amazing positive impact agricultural research can have on livelihoods and food security, has provided me with the motivation to dedicate my career to this cause. If it wasn’t for my time at ACIAR, I probably wouldn’t have even thought about this as a career pathway.”

Thursday, 21 August 2014

A personal bulletin from the International Horticultural Congress (IHC)

It’s been a roller coaster few days at the IHC2014 for ACIAR, beginning with the set up, and its usual furniture and technology problems…where can we hide the boxes!!  Phew, we finished setup 5 minutes before the fabulous IHC opening event – enough time for myself and Richard Markham, ACIAR’s Horticulture Research Program Manager to put on fresh shirts.  

The writer at the ACIAR booth
The 3,000 IHC2014 delegates are invited in and it’s time to meet and greet.  As an office based worker, it’s great, even funny, to finally put a face to a name you’ve emailed for a months or even years.   

The Pacific Community has a big presence and gorgeous display – not all display materials made it through Australian quarantine in time, but with billums, provincial dresses, woven bags on a large tapa (cloth made from paper mulberry tree) – it all makes beautiful centre piece for the walls of bamboo, grasses and leafy plants.   

Display by ACIAR partner Secretariat of the Pacific Community

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Biosecurity: international dimensions, threats and strategies

The topic of ‘Biosecurity: international dimensions, threats and strategies’ was addressed by ACIAR’s CEO Dr Nick Austin at a panel discussion hosted by the Rural Press Club of Victoria on 18 July 2014. In his presentation Dr Austin spoke about some of the significant contributions ACIAR-funded research has made to address issues of biosecurity internationally and in Australia. He also announced the funding of a new initiative to build plant biosecurity skills in eastern Africa. ACIAR produced a brochure highlighting the contribution of ACIAR partnerships with Victorian research agencies for the event.

A farmer field school in Fiji

Researchers rally round to save the 'Tree of Life' from sudden death

ACIAR's Dr Richard Markham describes researchers' efforts to conquer a mysterious disease destroying coconut trees in Papua New Guinea (PNG)...

The coconut has been called the 'Tree of Life' in recognition of the many products and services that it provides to support the lives and livelihoods of coastal and island people around the Tropics.  Traditionally, people have drunk the ‘water’ and eaten the flesh from coconuts as part of their staple diet; they have used the fronds to thatch their huts and the ‘wood’ for construction and utensils. Since time immemorial, groves of palms have protected coasts against erosion and shaded other crops and livestock against the tropical sun. Now, those iconic silhouettes of palms against a blue sky are being reduced to bare poles by an unfamiliar disease – Bogia coconut syndrome.

Trouble in paradise - trees at various stages of decline from Bogia coconut syndrome
Although copra and coconut oil, facing competition from other, cheaper-to-produce edible oils, are no longer the main source of wealth in the Pacific countries, in PNG almost one-third of households, some 1.5 million people, still depend on coconuts for a significant part of their food and income. There was thus a ripple of concern when rumours surfaced, several years ago, of a mystery disease killing coconut palms – and reportedly other crops – in a remote site in Bogia district on the north coast of PNG’s mainland, part-way between Madang and the border with Indonesian West Papua. Initial samples sent for molecular analysis indicated that a phytoplasma (a parasitic bacterium) similar to that causing Coconut lethal yellowing in Africa and the Caribbean was associated with the disease; however, the disease did not appear to be spreading, so there the matter rested for a while.
Trees of Life reduced to bare poles from Bogia coconut syndrome

More recently, in 2009-2010, an outbreak of the disease at Furan village, just outside the busy city of Madang, attracted a great deal more attention, with the fear that trade might now spread the disease rapidly along the coast and through the islands. The national quarantine authority, NAQIA, imposed a ban on the movement of agricultural commodities out of the area, and researchers from the Oil Palm Research Association (OPRA) and the Cocoa Coconut Institute Limited (CCIL), with support from ACIAR, launched a scoping study to investigate the cause of the disease.

Although reports of the disease affecting a range of staple food crops proved to be an exaggeration, the phytoplasma was found in Sago and Betel nut palms (with similar yellowing symptoms) – both of which are economically important species in PNG. Meanwhile, another research team found a similar phytoplasma in bananas (but occurring over a much wider area than the Bogia coconut syndrome outbreak). The phytoplasma has also been found in several sap-sucking insect species but the tests were not sensitive enough to show whether these had been merely feeding on infected palms or whether they were capable of actively spreading the disease.

Intense debate on how to save the coconut genebank
Last week, researchers from Australia (Charles Sturt University and University of Queensland) and PNG (CCIL, OPRA, NAQIA and the National Agricultural Research Institute – NARI) got together in Madang to launch a larger project, to delve more deeply into the mysteries of the disease.

They will need to prove that it really is the phytoplasma that is killing the palms, establish how it differs (if at all) from the organism killing bananas, and find out how the phytoplasma is spread. Once this knowledge is in place, it should be possible to work out more targeted measures to limit the spread of the disease and manage it within the outbreak areas.

The researchers also started to wrestle with an additional ‘crisis within a crisis’: the international coconut genebank for the South Pacific lies within the quarantine area and so can no longer serve its function of preserving and distributing the genetic resources of coconut, for PNG and the region. Researchers from CCIL and NARI are testing the palms to see whether the collection itself is still free of the disease. If it proves to be so, NAQIA will lift the quarantine restrictions enough for coconuts to be moved out of the danger area to a quarantine island, where the germinating seedlings will be tested again and, if still ‘clean’ can be used to establish a new genebank.

ACIAR and the Global Crop Diversity Trust are standing by to provide technical support and offer alternative solutions if necessary.

By Dr Richard Markham, manager of ACIAR's Horticulture and Pacific Crops research programs

More information:

For more information, refer to the final report of ACIAR's scoping study PC/2011/056 Identifying potential vectors of 'Bogia Coconut Syndrome' in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, which will be published soon on the ACIAR website.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Local breadfruit-production technology boosting Pacific industry potential

The news is good for breadfruit farmers in the South Pacific interested in small-scale commercial production. They can now have ready access to high-performing breadfruit seedlings, thanks to new technology and training on how to transplant and establish seedlings generated using a locally-perfected tissue culture system.  

Course participants learn how to transplant seedlings at the
breadfruit training, CePaCT Fiji
The training was conducted at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) at Narere, Fiji, and involved local Ministry of Agriculture staff, and representatives from private nurseries and Nature’s Way Cooperative. They gained hands-on experience transplanting the sought-after breadfruit seedlings, and also learnt techniques to help ensure transplants successfully establish in the field.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Better breeds, feeds and disease management - improving pig production in Lao PDR

ACIAR research is helping smallholder pig farmers in northern Lao PDR improve their livelihoods, through reducing pig mortality and lifting productivity.

Livestock are one of the main sources of income for rural farmers in Laos; for example, smallholders in Sophoun village in Phongsalay province make almost 35% of their cash from pigs. Thanks to this project, these farmers are now aware of the importance of better breeds, feed and disease management to help their animals prosper and grow.

Mixed-bred pig in well-constructed pen (photo: Emma Zalcman)