Tuesday, 21 October 2014

ACIAR benefits Australian farmers

At ACIAR, we broker research partnerships between Australia and developing countries. These partnerships deliver benefits not only to the developing countries where we work, but also to Australia  such as strengthened biosecurity, access to germplasm for improved crop varieties, and capacity building for farmers and researchers alike.

As a sponsor of the 2014 National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) Congress, Nick Austin, CEO of ACIAR, welcomed the opportunity to talk to delegates about ACIAR.

It is sometimes commented that ACIAR is better known overseas than in Australia, so the opportunity to sponsor the congress is one step towards raising our profile domestically,” he said.

Day one of the Congress was also first day on the job for NFF CEO, Simon Talbot. Congratulating Simon on his recent appointment, Nick said he is looking forward to continuing a close working relationship under his stewardship.

ACIAR CEO Nick Austin and NFF CEO Simon Talbot (Photo: ACIAR)
Addressing the NFF congress at large, Nick reviewed ACIAR's role as part of Australia’s aid program, which has six core priority areas, including agriculture.

"ACIAR ’s mission is to increase the productivity and sustainability of agriculture for the benefit  of developing countries and Australia."

Benefits for Australia from ACIAR's partnerships:

Nick's address highlighted that one of the most important benefits to Australia revolves around biosecurity. Work with our counterparts in Indonesia, for example, on a national surveillance system for early detection of foot-and-mouth disease is extremely important. Keeping Indonesia free of the disease reduces the risk of the disease entering Australia.

Our work with mite pests of honey bees allowed better focusing of quarantine efforts, lowering the probability of destructive mites entering Australia.

Incidentally, the Minister for Agriculture, The Hon. Barnaby Joyce said at the Congress, “Make sure we keep biosecurity strong, otherwise we won’t have a honey industry”.

Keeping mite pests of honey bees out of Australia is essential for healthy honey and horticultural industries. (Photo: Saul Cunningham, CSIRO)

Nick talked about ACIAR’s work with biocontrol of banana skipper butterfly in Papua New Guinea. Here, the butterfly was controlled by a small parasitic wasp. Without biocontrol, the butterfly could have crossed Torres Strait into Australia, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to Australia’s banana industry.

Improved plant genetic material, though ACIAR’s investment in the International Agricultural Research Centres, helps keep Australian farmers competitive in world markets.
There are many examples where internationally sourced genetic plant material has been adapted to Australian conditions. Mung beans grown across much of northern Australia derive from the World Vegetable Center’s breeding program. Improved chickpea varieties from ICRISAT in India; disease-resistant barley from ICARDA in Syria; high-yield, semi-dwarf wheat varieties from CIMMYT in Mexico—these are all grown in Australia.

In closing, Nick noted that ACIAR's international relationships provide opportunities for Australia to be part of the global network sustaining agricultural innovation. ACIAR  is a small player but will strive to deliver for farmers in Australia and overseas.

By Georgina Hickey, ACIAR

National Farmers’ Federation 2014 National Congress

Partners Magazine November 2013—issue on ACIAR in Australia
ACIAR Impact Assessment Series Report No. 39—Benefits to Australia from ACIAR-funded research

Doing well by doing good – Crawford Fund Task Force 2013
Australia’s aid program

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Family farming feeding the world: World Food Day 2014

Today is World Food Day. While we acknowledge the number of people worldwide who go hungry everyday, we should not lose sight of the fact that the only acceptable number of hungry people is zero.

Food is one of humankind’s most fundamental needs — and is a basic human right.  Yet in spite of its importance, a staggering one in nine people worldwide go to bed every night hungry and chronically undernourished. The costs of hunger and undernourishment fall heavily on the most vulnerable.
  • 60% of the hungry in the world are women 
  • Almost 5 million children under the age of 5 die of malnutrition-related causes every year 
  • 4 in 10 children in poor countries are malnourished damaging their bodies and brains
It is possible to end hunger in our lifetime. The world produces enough food to feed every person on the planet. New figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) recently released 2014 State of Food Insecurity in the World indicate that global hunger is reducing – down by more than 100 million people over the last decade.

We are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.

Small oily fish, such as these herrings from Lombok, Indonesia, are nutritionally important as they contain highly unsaturated fatty acids and other micronutrients. Photo: Paul Jones
We congratulate the 2014 World Food Prize Laureate, the eminent plant scientist Dr Sanjaya Rajaram. He is being honoured for his scientific research that led to a prodigious increase in world wheat production – by more than 200 million tons – building upon the successes of the Green Revolution.

This year’s World Food Day’s theme is Family Farming: Feeding the world, caring for the earth. There are 570 million farms globally, of which 85% are family owned and have the huge responsibility of producing half the world’s agricultural production.

Family farming has a crucial role to play in eradicating hunger and poverty through providing food and nutrition security. Family farms also contribute to improving livelihoods, sustainably managing natural resources, and stimulating economic development through interacting with a range of input, market and processing activities that rely on agriculture, especially in rural areas.

The FACASI project is introducing two-wheel tractors to reduce drudgery (particularly for women) and help farmers sustainably intensify their farms in eastern and southern Africa. Photo: Frédéric Baudron/CIMMYT
While we focus on farming families, we should not lose sight of the fact that globally, women farmers provide 43% of agricultural labour, with percentages as high as 60% in some African countries and 70% in South Asia. They are on the front lines of ensuring food security for their families. Yet women farmers are greatly disadvantaged in this role. Key constraints faced by women farmers are insecure rights to land, poor access to inputs such as water, seeds, fertilizer, machinery and credit, and lack of access to extension services.

Empowering women farmers will generate significant food security gains. If women had the same access to resources as men, they could significantly increase yields on their farms and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by up to 150 million.

Today, on World Food Day, the Alliance for Agricultural R&D for Food Security announced its first project. It aims to ensure that new crop varieties better meet the needs of African smallholders and their customers. The official launch took place at the World Food Prize event in Iowa, USA.

The initiative brings together the Australian International Food Security Research Centre (AIFSRC) in the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) and the Crawford Fund.

Speaking in connection with the launch, SFSA Director Dr Marco Ferroni emphasised: “Progressing research and breeding results through to millions of smallholder farmers is essential. Today, plant science often fails to create impact at scale. However, solutions are within reach, and the private sector plays a central role.”

ACIAR is focused on agricultural research to support family farmers, particularly women, around the world. ACIAR works across the whole value chain with research focused on developing better crop varieties (such as Seeds of Life in East Timor), sustainable intensification of agriculture and strengthening market opportunities.
Thanks to Seeds of Life, farmers in Timor-Leste have access to new varieties of staple crops such as maize. Photo: Sarah Vandermark/ACIAR

In Laos partnerships have helped build vegetable research and extension capacity through activities such as farmer training and support for government extension services.

Women buying and selling vegetables at a market place in Laos. Photo: Tony Bartlett/ACIAR

So on this World Food Day, let us celebrate the critical work done by family farmers, both men and women, in feeding the world. Let us also celebrate and be inspired by the current and past World Food Prize Laureates – and strive to improve the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. And let us not lose sight of achieving zero hunger in our lifetime.
By Mellissa Wood and Bronnie Anderson-Smith, Australian International Food Security Centre, ACIAR

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Fijian women take the lead on cocoveneer

ACIAR is funding innovative research and training to help Fijian scientists conduct research on how to produce high-quality veneer products from ‘senile’ coconut stems. On this International Day of Rural Women we would like to highlight this important project that is building the capacity of Fijian women and enhancing livelihoods in the South Pacific. In many Pacific Island countries there are vast areas of coconut palms  that are too old to produce fruit, which provide little use to farmers. However with ACIAR’s help, Fijian locals are developing a better understanding of how to turn unused resources into a higher value, profitable product.

Eric Littee (QDAFF) , with Sainiana (measuring veneer), Temo and Elenoa from Fiji Department of Forestry.
Photo: Tony Bartlett.

In August this year, Australian researchers began training Fijian project staff on how to use new spindle-less lathes and are now conducting research trials on how to produce high-quality cocowood veneer. ACIAR  supported the acquisition of a spindle-less lathe for the Fijian Department of Forestry’s Timber Utilisation Division complex at Nasinu.  Australian researchers from the Univeristy ofTasmania and Queensland’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry worked together to identify, purchase and modify the equipment needed for research. Lathes purchased from Malaysia were modified to include safety features that complied with Australian requirements.

A spindle-less lathe works on the basis that the log is rotated against a peeling knife. Pressure is applied by multiple rollers positioned against the log surface. The aim is to produce veneers of consistent thickness with a smooth surface. This is relatively straight forward when working with small diameter, eucalypt logs which have a more uniform density. Challenges arise when working with coconut stems as these have very different anatomical properties to trees, and are very dense on the outside but are less dense in the centre.

The Fijian co-ordinator Ms Moana Masau pulling coconut veneer sheets from the clipping machine.
Photo: Tony Bartlett.
Fiji’s Conservator of Forests, Mr Samuela Lagataki, says that these days about half of recruits coming into the Department of Forestry are women. When ACIAR visited the Timber Utilisation Division’s facilities to watch some of the first processing of coconut veneer, the local women were very interested and active in the research. As soon as the veneer sheets started to come off the lathe, the women enthusiastically lined up to learn how to measure and record the thickness of the sheets.  

Project team with the new Spindle-less lathe and trial peeling of coconut stems.
Photo: Greg Nolan, UTas.
The project’s co-ordinator in Fiji is Ms Moana Masau,  who is employed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). With the support of ACIAR, Moana is now half way through a Graduate Certificate in Timber Processing and Building, conducted by distance education with the University of Tasmania. Moana has an active role in trialling the first veneer processing using the new spindleless lathe.

This ACIAR project has another 2 years to run and there is still plenty more research to be done in the area of cocoveneer production. Over the next 2 years these young Fijian women and the rest of the project team will play a leading role in developing an innovative high-value product that will enhance livelihoods and options for landowners to revitialise the land occupied by these senile coconut plantations.

Producing coconut veneer on spindle-less lathe. Photo: Tony Bartlett.

Senile coconut plantation. Photo: Tony Bartlett. 

By Tony Bartlett, ACIAR Research Program Manager for Forestry

Friday, 10 October 2014

Volunteering in Vanuatu

A year in Vanuatu as an Australian Volunteer for International Development (AVID) is a great opportunity to learn more about food security issues in the Pacific, meet unforgettable people, learn Bislama and climb many volcanoes.
I had the privilege of working with several NGOs, most notably Care International in Vanuatu and Adventist Development and Relief Agency Vanuatu, on food security projects across four islands—Araki, Efate, Futuna and Malakula.

Fitu, a gardener and weaver from Mission Bay, Futuna, presented me with a beautiful basket that she made as a farewell gift. Photo: Bronnie Anderson-Smith
In Araki and Malakula, I helped write and run nutrition training—learning a lot about the three food groups in the Pacific and also some insight into their language—givim poawa (carbohydrates), bildimap bodi (protein) and blokim sik (fruits and vegetables).

The workshops were attended by people of all ages, all eager to learn more about food and nutrition. We mapped out the incredible diversity of food available in the coastal and island communities, including food from the sea, river, forest, bush garden, home garden and the small store.

Even rural communities are seeing an influx of store food. Junk food, lollies, rice and noodles are contributing to the rise in non-communicable diseases. Participants were surprised to learn that these new ‘Western’ foods were less nutritious options than the food they farm, hunt or gather.

Farmers with produce from their home gardens used in the cooking classes. Photo: Bronnie Anderson-Smith
The hands-on cooking classes were especially popular. Dishes included chicken and fish soups and stir fries. People were keen to learn how to use some of the new vegetables they were now growing, such as carrots.
Vanuatu has three national languages, Bislama, English and French as well as over 110 Indigenous languages. Getting a handle on Bislama gave me the opportunity to work more effectively with colleagues, run trainings and develop resources.

I developed a ‘Climate Smart Agriculture Handbook’ for the Climate Change Adaptation Project in Futuna. The project is helping Futunese communities increase their resilience to climate change by working with them to improve their food security. The project includes climate smart agriculture, nutrition training and food preservation (using traditional techniques and solar food driers). The manual I developed focused on soil fertility strategies, organic pest and disease management, and planting and saving seed. Saving seed is a new skill required to grow the annual vegetables that have been introduced to diversify diets (propagation of traditional crops is mostly vegetative).

Ladies in Futuna with the recipe book I compiled. Photo: Bronnie Anderson-Smith

I also worked with a local NGO, Wan Smol Bag, to put together a recipe book with key messages on nutrition. These resources will continue to be used in Futuna and, as the project expands, to other islands in Tafea province.
Both resources were a hit, and it was fantastic to see people using them at the Agriclimaptation (Agriculture Climate Change Adaptation) Festival—the highlight of my year away.

Some of the weavers and judges from the weaving competition. Futuna is famous in Vanuatu for producing some of the finest weaving. Photo: Bronnie Anderson-Smith
The festival was the culmination of Care International in Vanuatu's climate change adaptation work on Futuna. It brought together all the communities on the island as well as guests from the provincial and national governments, NGOs and representatives from nearby islands. It was an incredible week celebrating local produce, custom dancing and music, garden tours, weaving and fishing as well as art, poetry and essays from the island’s students. Guests also ran several workshops on food preservation, seed saving, managing the crown-of-thorns starfish and much more.
Seeing the communities put the sustainable agriculture, food preservation and nutrition training into practice, with real pride and ownership of their new-found knowledge, was incredibly rewarding.

I played a very small part in these projects but I’m very grateful for the openness of my colleagues and the communities I had the privilege to work with, and for everything they taught me.

By Bronnie Anderson-Smith, recently returned Executive Officer for the Australian International Food Security Research Centre, ACIAR.


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

First official Ba Women’s luxury jewellery launched in Suva

If you have ever searched for locally-made, high-quality jewellery in Fiji, chances are you were pretty disappointed. The truth is most available luxury items have been produced en masse outside of the South Pacific. And, given the items aren’t local, the sale of these imported products has limited livelihood benefits for Fiji people.

However, the ACIAR/Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (PARDI) project, ‘Assessing potential for developing the mother-of-pearl (MOP) handicraft sector in Fiji: Empowering women’s’ groups and livelihood development in Fiji’ has tackled this issue and is turning it around.

New mother-of-pearl (MOP) jewellery handcrafted by members of Fiji’s *Ba Women’s Forum(BWF), was launched at an event staged in Suva in September at the well-known Tappoo ‘Market Place’ retail outlet. The jewellery range encompasses 20 variations of fashion wear and 14 variations of everyday wear items. For the first time since the PARDI research project began in 2013, fashion connoisseurs and retail representatives had the opportunity to view and purchase the jewellery, and discuss being part of the new venture.
Models showing off the mother-of-pearl jewellery handcrafted by the Ba Women's Forum.
Traditional and modern artistry are integrated into the new jewellery designs with dominant use of the MOP shell. Products are made from local materials to enhance ‘Fiji-made’ accreditation. The uniqueness and quality of these products position them in the premium value of +FJ$100 for the fashion range and +FJ$50 for everyday wear. 

The Suva launch means this range of jewellery items is now available for purchase by the general public. Interest is such that, in addition to the original stockists Tappoo, other retail outlets would like to stock the jewellery and well-known cruise ships are happy for Ba Women to sell products to tourists visiting Fiji.
The newly released Fiji-made mother-of-pearl jewellery is professionally presented with the Ba Women’s Forum's story about hand-made, local merchandise printed on the inside cover of their boxes.
How do these developments translate in terms of potential opportunities for the local economy? The ACIAR/PARDI project has identified an annual market value of around FJ$4 million for Fiji’s MOP handicrafts and pearl sector, of which currently only around 10% is met by local production.

Prior to the MOP launch, the project involved a rolling series of workshops on MOP jewellery product development. Local women’s group, the BWF, and the local Ba Town Council have worked closely with PARDI, jewellery designer Marie Erl, and Fiji-based fashion designer Robert Kennedy.
Ba Women's Forum team from left: Ms Marie Erl, Dr Maria Doton (Chair of BWF), Vani Saurara (trainee) and Theo Simos (project manager, University of Adelaide).

This project is providing an excellent opportunity to empower mature-aged, unemployed women and men. Trainees have achieved a basic level of capability, and will participate in further training to expand their jewellery-making skills and to develop their business and marketing capacity.

The long-term future of the MOP project will depend on further research funding to train interested locals and value-chain representatives towards the establishment of business models, and their own jewellery-making companies for sustainable and profitable livelihood benefits.
Vani Saurara (Ba Women's Forum trainee) and model Kirsten.
 ‘Assessing potential for developing the mother-of-pearl (MOP) handicraft sector in Fiji: Empowering women’s’ groups and livelihood development in Fiji’ is led by James Cook University’s Professor Paul Southgate and Adelaide University’s Research Associate Theo Simos. It builds on work undertaken by the University of the South Pacific’s Dr Anand Chand and his project team.
* Ba is a town in Fiji, 37 kilometres from Lautoka and 62 kilometres from Nadi, inland from the coast of Viti Levu, Fiji's largest island.
For more information contact:
Research Associate, Theo Simos – M: 0417816160 or theosimos@bigpond.com
PARDI Communications, Julie Lloyd – M: 0415 799 890

Links for further information:
The ACIAR/PARDI handicrafts project is part of a suite of pearl projects led by James Cook University. More information can be found in ‘Fisheries Profiles 2014

Associated stories and YouTube link are listed below:
PARDI news articles on mother-of-pearl (MOP) handicraft and jewellery training in Fiji
ACIAR blog on opening up industry opportunities
PARDI YouTube supporting the role of Pacific women

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The JAFs are in town

This week the JAFs are in town. Short for John Allwright Fellows, JAFs are postgraduate (PhD and Masters) scholars supported by ACIAR’s John Allwright Fellowship scheme, which aims to enhance research capacity in ACIAR’s partner-country institutions.
Every year around September the new awardees gather in Canberra to meet each other and ACIAR staff, and to take part in a workshop on communicating research.

Nascimento Nhantumbo (Mozambique) and Khamtan Phonetip (Lao PDR)
This year there are five women and 17 men from 12 different countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Mozambique, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The research topics are diverse. For example, Ms Risa Antari (Indonesia) is studying the effect of nutrition on bone growth in cattle at the University of Queensland. Mr Muneer Rehman (Pakistan) is investigating plant hormones to control citrus colouring at Curtin University. While Mr Khamtan Phonetip (Laos) is at the University of Melbourne to research the best way to dry plantation eucalypt wood using a solar kiln.

Ritika Chowdary (India) and Muneer Rehman (Pakistan)
They’ve had a jam-packed week so far. Day 1 was spent at ACIAR house, where they spent most of the day in the main conference room, meeting the research program managers and learning about ACIAR’s communications and impact assessment programs.

They also received insights and learnt of some of the challenges associated with completing a JAF from Muhammad Sohail Mazhar from Pakistan. Sohail is in his fourth and final year of his JAF-sponsored PhD on avocado bruising at the University of Queensland.

Ratih Damayanti and Dwiko Budi Permadi (Indonesia)
The next 3 days are spent offsite at a scientific writing workshop, run by Drs Margaret Cargill and Kate Cadman from the University of Adelaide. This is an intensive course where the students learn how to write scientific papers and deliver engaging presentations about their work.
Finally, on Day 5, the students will reward ACIAR staff with the presentations they have been preparing during the week.

JAF Week 2014 participants with ACIAR CEO Nick Austin.

But it’s not all work. There is plenty of time to play as well. Last night the students and ACIAR staff enjoyed a noisy and delicious dinner in Kingston. And after the presentations on Friday the students will be taken on a tour of Canberra. Then it’s back ‘home’ – to their Australian tertiary institutions – to get stuck into their studies.

By Georgina Hickey, ACIAR

More information:                                                                                                    

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Building on a decade long partnership — Afghanistan government agencies lead wheat trials

Improved wheat varieties are contributing to Afghanistan’s food security and economic growth.  Australia has been a major supporter of wheat varietal improvement, working in partnership with Afghanistan government agencies for well over a decade.

This program of improving wheat yields is implemented through an ACIAR brokered partnership between ARIA (the research institute of the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock - MAIL) and CIMMYT (the CGIAR centre dedicated to wheat and maize improvement, ACIAR project CIM/2011/026). 

Wheat is the staple commodity in Afghanistan – in excess of 20 million rural people (or about 7 million households) depend directly on the crop. On average about 1.17 million ha of irrigated wheat is grown each year, while up to 1.38 million ha is planted and not irrigated,or rainfed, depending on the season. Rainfed systems are the most challenging to improve because of the associated risk and their very low productivity.

Afghanistan’s wheat yields face significant challenges – low yields from both irrigated and rainfed crops have been further challenged by susceptibility to disease. Of concern are the common strains of yellow rust and the looming regional threat from the aggressive UG99 strain of stem rust.

A ten year partnership ARIA/MAIL, CIMMYT & ACIAR

Research progress has been slow but solid, broadening the range and quality of the wheat varieties available for field trials.  On a recent visit to Afghanistan, it was very impressive to visit the Darulaman Research Station, as a guest of ARIA Director General Mr Obaidi and of CIMMYT.   The MAIL/ARIA team took the lead in describing all of the work undertaken – it was clear that they have full ownership of the wheat trials. 

The MAIL/ARIA team led by Director General Obaidi (second on left) at Darulaman Research Station in Kabul

In 2013, Australian sponsored research resulted in the release of 7 improved wheat varieties. The wheat lines released included irrigated varieties with the potential to produce over 6t/ha, and rainfed varieties with the potential to produce 3.8t/ha.

These yields are about 10% better than any current variety and are more than double the current average yields of 2-3t/ha for irrigated wheat and 1-1.5t/ha for non irrigated wheat.

Assisting adoption of new varieties

The MAIL/ARIA program is managing trials in 10 locations representing 4 major agro-climatic zones of Afghanistan. To accelerate adoption of the new varieties, the project has established 4 technical support hubs where the varieties and appropriate wheat growing methods are tested on farmer’s fields and demonstrated to farmers.

Rainfed wheat production in Char Kent, Balkh Province

Adoption of new varieties is, however, very slow. It is constrained by factors such as – seed availability and quality, timeliness of distribution, cost of seed, and localised agro-climatic requirements.

ACIAR estimates that adoption could reach up to 20% of the planted area in the medium to long term. If this occurs then up to 1.5 million households will benefit.

David Swete Kelly undertakes Monitoring and Evaluation on behalf of DFAT for the Afghanistan Research for Development Program