Friday, 20 May 2016

Why migratory fish are an important food supply and livelihood for millions of people around the world

For a huge number of fish and other aquatic animals, migration is a part of life. Atlantic salmon return to the same river they were born to lay eggs, whales swim from frigid Antarctic waters to the warmer climes to calf, and whale sharks never stop looking for food (covering thousands of kilometres in the process). There is a belief that fish migration only occurs between salt and fresh water (as in the case of our salmon) but fewer than 1% of species change habitat so drastically. Rather, the vast majority of migrating fish species feed in one place, then migrate to another to breed, all within the same system.

Tuna fishing in Indonesia. Photo: ACIAR
Within river systems, migrations usually occur in conjunction with increased flow. Spring thaws bring sudden inundations that signal a time to move. This has two advantages: firstly, greater flow means that it is easier to swim over barriers (such as natural rocky cascades); and secondly, new habitat becomes available. Flooding of river banks into grassland and forest provides important refuge for fish to breed in safety. A large number of migrating fish don’t swim upstream at all, instead they swim ‘sideways’ into recently flooded land. This is one of the reasons that the building of dams and smaller weirs is so damaging to migrating fish species. Not only are fish unable to move upstream, but the reduction, or removal, of these floods can remove the signal to breed entirely!

So why do we care? People need fish. In areas such as the Mekong, fisheries contribute immensely to people’s lives. In 2008 there were 3.9 million tonnes of fish caught in the Mekong, which added 12% to Cambodia’s GDP and 7% to Lao PDR’s. In many South East Asian and Pacific countries they are the primary source of animal protein and important micro-nutrients such as calcium and Vitamin A. Fish also provide important ecological functions such as regulating food webs and nutrient balances (mosquito control for example), seed dispersal, and regulating carbon fluxes. Not to mention that they can be good fun to catch!

Fish farming. Photo: ACIAR
Dam building, as well as smaller road crossings and water control are major threats to fish migration. “Fishways” and “fish ladders” are useful inventions developed to help fish navigate over and around low level barriers, but they aren’t a fix for high dams. A large proportion of fish don’t have the swimming power to climb these distances over dams (they work comparatively well for powerful north American fish like the salmon), and larval or newly hatched fish are often killed coming back down through turbines, and they still regulate the flooding that is so important to the fish life cycle.

A fishway during construction. Photo: ACIAR

Completed fishway under high river levels in Lao PDR. Photo: ACIAR
So what is ACIAR doing in the area of fish migration? ACIAR has a number of projects working on upstream and downstream migration past low level barriers on flood plains, such as irrigation structures, weirs, flood control devices and the like. These are generally less than six metres in height, about the maximum height that non-salmonid fish can swim up. See projects FIS/2009/041 and FIS/2014/041 for more details. These projects are not focusing on “big” dams (over 30 metres) as this is too high for almost all fish to climb. The only solution to these? Don’t build them on the main river channel.

World Fish Migration Day is celebrated globally on 21 May and this year's theme is 'connecting fish, rivers and people'. For more information, visit the event's website.

By Lachlan Dennis, Graduate Officer, Livestock Production Systems, ACIAR

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Australia’s longest running agricultural aid project in Timor-Leste comes to an end

The TimorAg2016 Conference was held in Timor-Leste in April 2016 and was a great celebration of the conclusion of the 16-year Seeds of Life (SoL) project.

The theme for the conference was ‘food security in Timor-Leste through crop production’ and discussions were held around factors affecting crop production in Timor-Leste and the success technical advances have made to improving productivity. Two days of oral papers and posters were delivered across a number of sessions focusing on food security, elements for agricultural development in Timor-Leste, crops and their environments, reaching a food surplus, and communication of agricultural innovations. There were 260 registered participants and the conference was conducted in both English and Tetum, with simultaneous translation.

Day two ended with local farmer Francisca Pinto sharing her story of success. Francisca became involved with the SoL project in 2009, initially as an on-farm-demonstration-trial (OFDT) farmer testing sweet potato and cassava varieties. She then became a Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) contract grower of certified seed and is now an active member of a commercial seed producer group named ‘Unidade Sameklot’. Francisca spoke of the direct impacts the project has had on her family and her life: they now have enough food to eat and enough corn to last them the whole year, sometimes they can’t even sell it all; her and her family no longer get sick for no reason; she has been able to fix up her house and cover the cost of education for her five children; and she is now able to cover the cost of cultural ceremonies, which can be very expensive. It was amazing to hear the impacts the project has had on this family’s life and how excited Francisca was to be contributing to her family’s income.

Francisca Pinto addresses the conference. Photo: Laura Carew, ACIAR

Friday, 13 May 2016

Developing the future of agriculture in the north of Australia

Opportunities and challenges for the future development of agriculture in Northern Australian were discussed at the recent Northern Australian Food Futures Conference 2016. The conference, held in Darwin on 12-13 April, had a strong focus on agricultural investment in northern Australia and effective partnerships between the public and private sectors. The Food Futures Conference brought together a range of domestic and international participants from government, industry and farming groups and provided an ideal environment to learn lessons from past experience and discuss the future of agriculture in northern Australia. 

The two-day conference was a high profile event. It began with an address by Senator Matt Canavan, Federal Minister for Northern Australia, who spoke about the government’s investment in northern Australia and the importance of agricultural to the development of the area. 

Panel Session: A perspective from the top. L-R Matt Brann, ABC Country Hour (facilitator); The Hon Gary Higgins, Minister for Primary Industry and Fisheries (NT); The Hon Leanne Donaldson, Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries (QLD); The Hon Brendan Grylls, member for Pilbara (WA). Photo: ACIAR

Friday, 6 May 2016

Research to reduce papaya diseases in the Philippines saved from a cyclone

Cyclones present an ever-present threat to lives and livelihoods in the Philippines, and can also severely disrupt agricultural research efforts. An ACIAR-funded project to increase the profitability and sustainability of papaya production in the southern Philippines and Australia suffered an early set-back when a cyclone destroyed research infrastructure and field plots. More recently, plants waiting for disease screening narrowly escaped destruction.

In the Philippines the focus of research is integrated disease management (IDM) of Bacterial Crown Rot (BCR) which is caused by bacteria of the genus Erwinia. Aspects of IDM that are being investigated include identification of Erwinia strains, disease transmission, identification of resistant strains of papaya plants, natural defence mechanisms, and in-field management.

A developing theory for the transmission of BCR is that it is spread with windblown rain between plants and that infection is facilitated by wind damage, which provides an entry point for the bacteria in previously disease-free plants. So both dwarf plants (which are likely to suffer less damage from strong winds) and those with less susceptibility to the bacteria will most likely suffer less from the disease.

Aira Waje screening papaya breeding lines for resistance to BCR disease under glass-house conditions in the Philippines. Photo: David Hall

Thursday, 5 May 2016

New video identifies insights into developing PNG’s fresh vegetable supply chains

A project video has been released about ACIAR’s project SMCN/2008/008 Increasing vegetable production in Central Province for Port Moresby Markets. This project is led by a team from the University of Tasmania with members from the National Institute of Agricultural Research (NARI) and the Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA). The video highlights the potential contribution to poverty alleviation of these projects and the challenges faced by working in this highly diverse country.

Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) agriculture involves 86% of PNG’s population. This project addressed some of the major problems in PNG’s vegetable growing system: production problems associated with appropriate varieties, soil management and irrigation, the lack of coordination and targeted marketing in chains, poor quality, high levels of waste and exploitation of growers. Specifically it aimed to develop coordinated; formalised supply chains from Central Province into supermarkets and hotels in the capital Port Moresby; as well as supply the huge influx of foreign workers in the resources boom. It had a specific goal of improving the role of woman in PNG supply chains. This was the first such project in this province which has a very different culture compared to other major vegetable growing regions.

Soil Scientists visit village near Goroka. Photo: Laurie Bonney

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Agroforestry project impacting local farmers in Eastern Indonesia

Many farmers in Indonesia have either adopted high-value timber-based agroforestry systems or are involved in the collection and sale of non-timber products, often from remnant forest areas. While the agroforestry systems provide many benefits to the farmers, such as the ability to generate cash when they have large expenses, the trees take a number of years to reach a saleable size and these systems do not provide regular sources of income that farmers need. 

To address this important issue, ACIAR is funding the four-year “Kanoppi” agroforestry project in Eastern Indonesia which is conducting research to foster integration of timber and non-timber forest products in agroforestry systems and improve smallholders capacity to market high value products from these systems. The project is managed by the World Agroforestry Centre’s regional office in Bogor and involves collaboration with a with many Indonesian research and development partners, as well as with scientists from the University of Western Australia. The project also has two NGO collaborators, Threads of Life and World Wildlife Fund.

The landscape near Pelat on Sumbawa. Photo: Tony Bartlett, ACIAR

Friday, 29 April 2016

ACIAR project leader announced as Australia’s ASPIRE award nominee

Congratulations to Associate Professor Lee Baumgartner, an ACIAR project leader, on his nomination for the prestigious 2016 APEC science prize for innovation, research and education (ASPIRE) Award. Dr Baumgartner supervises a series of ACIAR-funded fish way projects in Laos and has won the nomination for his work on food security and fisheries in developing nations. The recognition is due to the ground-breaking work in conjunction with Lao scientists in designing and implanting effective fish passage solutions to increase fisheries production, household income, food security and biodiversity.

From left: Professor Warren Bebbington, Vice Chancellor, University of Adelaide; Professor Bob Vincent FAA, University of Adelaide.; Matt Murray, Economic Counsellor, Embassy of the United States of America; Australian nominee Associate Professor Lee Baumgartner, Charles Sturt University; and Christopher Pyne MP, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science. Photo: T. Edwards, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.