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.

Funded by ACIAR’s PARDI (Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative) project and conducted by CePaCT research technician Arshni Shandil, the training is part of a larger endeavour, known as the Pacific Breadfruit Project, which aims to develop commercial breadfruit production systems for the Pacific Islands.  

Trainees view potted breadfruit seedlings prepared for the
Pacific Breadfruit Project
According to Valerie Saena Tuia, Coordinator of CePaCT’s Genetic Resources, improvements in seed production and the quality of plant material at CePaCT are largely due to the use of a new bioreactor system. The optimised tissue culture methodology produces plantlets that are more vigorous, sturdier, taller and more easily acclimatised in a screen house than plantlets grown under the previous system.

“For the first time in local history, CePaCT is able to produce large volumes of quality breadfruit plantlets for commercial farming,” said Ms Tuia.

“The regional breadfruit industry will benefit from this local service. The quality and production level is comparable to high-performing plant crop industries in more established economies.

“For farmers interested in establishing and managing small-scale commercial breadfruit orchards, this is great news.” said Ms Tuia.
The course included a visit to CePaCT’s regional breadfruit
field collection based in Suva, Fiji
The recent skills training also included a visit to CePaCT’s regional breadfruit genebank collection established with varieties from Samoa, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Fiji and Vanuatu. This collection is crucial to expansion of the local breadfruit industry and is growing with funding support from the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Australian International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative project.

This latest training helping the industry develop a productive plant-breeding process complements other activities in the Pacific Breadfruit Project, such as increasing farmers’ business awareness.

By Julie Lloyd, PARDI communications

More information:
ACIAR’s Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (PARDI)  

Valerie S. Tuia, Coordinator – Genetic Resources (email:
Julie Lloyd (ph: 0415 799 890)

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)
The project team has worked with farmers to trial interventions such as growing improved-breed pigs, vaccinating against classical swine fever, deworming, providing supplementary forage and improving housing (e.g. well ventilated with an ad lib water supply).

Results show that such interventions can achieve over double the average daily weight gain when compared with indigenous breeds raised in traditional free-range systems. In addition, the pigs’ mortality rate dropped and the number of pigs sold increased. Farmers noticed that although making these changes didn’t substantially change their workload, the income generated improved, and they are now enthusiastic to grow more pigs this way.

This research is also addressing issues of human health. As in many developing countries, free-ranging animals in Laos living closely with people results in some villagers contracting zoonotic diseases (diseases that can affect both humans and animals). This project found that zoonotic worms in pigs are particularly common in some Lao villages. These include Taenia solium, a tapeworm that can cause significant brain damage in people, and several gastrointestinal worms. When present in people, gastrointestinal worms consume vital nutrients and contribute to a range of nutritional deficiencies, which can be especially detrimental to children.

Animals and people living close together presents a
zoonotic disease risk (photo: Emma Zalcman)
The project team, which includes staff from the Lao Ministry of Health and the Department of Livestock, embarked on a mass drug administration to treat the worms in pigs and people in one village, Om Phalong. Two rounds of treatment have been completed and early monitoring suggests that the number of worms present amongst villagers and pigs has significantly decreased. Several villagers that were interviewed have reported feeling much better.

Ongoing monitoring will further assess health and nutrition benefits. The team is also investigating other risk factors that may contribute to the high levels of worm infection, including the cultural practice of consuming raw pork.

A feature of this project has been the strong collaboration between people from multiple disciplines in Australia and Laos, including veterinary scientists, agricultural scientists, medical doctors/public health professionals, microbiologists and laboratory technicians, anthropologists, economists, field staff and extension staff. 

Improving pig production will not only help many smallholder farmers, but also provide better opportunities for Laos to meet domestic market and export demands.

By Dr Wendy Henderson (ACIAR Communications) and Emma Zalcman (Graduate Officer) 

More information:
ACIAR project AH/2009/001 Increased productivity and reduced risk in pig production and market. Component 1: animal and human health, led by CSIRO AAHL. Collaborating institutions include Murdoch University (Australia), the Ministry of Health (Laos), the Wellcome Trust Fund Research Unit at Mahosot Hospital (Laos) and the Department of Livestock and Fisheries (Laos).

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Farming in the mountain’s shadow, Uganda

ACIAR's Forestry research program manager, Tony Bartlett, recently visited Uganda where a new agroforestry project is beginning...

On a recent visit to Uganda, I visited the small village of Butta, which lies in the foothills of Mt Elgon, to talk about the villagers' participation in a new agroforestry project: ‘Trees for Food Security’. The aim of this project is to encourage and support farmers to grow trees on farms for improved food and nutritional security. Previous research has indicated that crop yields can be doubled by incorporating the right trees and management practices into agricultural systems.

In the shadow of the mountain, Manafwa district
There was a very strong recognition among the farmers of the need to change their land management practices, and they are very eager to become involved in the project.

They explained that this project would bring them prosperity ‘like the rains’. They were honoured that someone from Australia would visit their village and provide funding to help them improve their farming systems.

As part of the culture of the Luhya people who inhabit this region and neighbouring parts of Kenya, they gave me with a local name, ‘Wafula’, which is traditionally given to males born in the rainy season.

This project, funded through ACIAR’s Australian International Food Security Research Centre, is about to begin its research activities in Uganda after focusing initial efforts in Rwanda and Uganda during its first two years. Partner staff from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Uganda National Forestry Research Institute (NaFORRI) have selected sites suitable for running participatory trials with farmers to explore the scaling out of evergreen agroforestry systems.

Tony speaking with villagers at Namabya
Following the official launch of the project in Uganda, we travelled for 5 hours to the town of Mbale to look at the selected trial sites and to meet some of the villagers. When we explained the project to the villagers of Namabya and Butta, they were very interested in the concept of using trees to improve soil fertility and to reduce soil erosion, which they said greatly affected the productivity of their agricultural crops.

The proposed sites are in Manafwa District, located in eastern Uganda near Mt Elgon and the border with Kenya. This area was selected because it has a wide range of elevation zones (1100–4200 metres above sea level) in which we can trial different systems. It also has some significant environmental issues, such as prevalent landslides and soil erosion, which we are keen to address through appropriate agroforestry planting.

Farming landscapes around Butta
The area is densely populated, with over 1000 people per square kilometre, and about a third of these are living in poverty. The area is intensely cultivated, with very little remnant vegetation in the lower and middle elevations. Subsistence farmers are growing maize, millet, cassava, sweet potato, rice and vegetables. Bananas and coffee are planted in the higher elevation zones and some trees, including eucalypts, are also planted by farmers.

There is a history and culture of tree planting in the communities in this region, arising from previous agroforestry and Landcare projects. I was delighted to see how enthusiastic the farmers are about being involved in this new project. The research should bring them both environmental and livelihood benefits.
Farming systems near Namabya

By Tony Bartlett, ACIAR's Forestry research program manager

More information:
ACIAR Project FSC/2012/014 ‘Trees for Food Security’ - Improving sustainable productivity in farming systems and evergreen agriculture in eastern Africa is being led by the World Agroforestry Centre.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Markets for healthy farm poultry in Indonesia

'Healthy Farm' branded eggs being market tested in a supermarket
Is there demand in Indonesia for niche branded poultry products that can ensure they were produced on biosecure smallholder farms?

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research has released a new report about a research project that developed such a niche market in Indonesia for eggs and chicken meat. 

The poultry industry is a major supplier of protein to the people of Indonesia. Biosecurity on smallholder poultry farms and a safe and hygienic value chain are becoming increasingly important to consumers and government because of the risks of avian influenza and other diseases.

Clean value chain

ACIAR supported research into strengthening the biosecurity systems of Indonesia’s smallholder commercial poultry.  The University of New England-led research tested whether the development of a clean value chain would reward smallholders and others in the value chain who implement improved biosecure and hygienic practices. 

The trial in three Indonesian provinces (West Java, Bali and South Sulawesi) developed a niche market for poultry products produced on farms that implemented appropriate biosecurity.  As part of the project, a number of films were produced, including a short film in English and Bahasa on appropriate biosecurity to produce ‘Healthy Farm’ poultry products.

Market testing
The farmers who used these practices could sell their ‘Healthy Farm’ branded product through approved slaughterhouses and egg suppliers to selected supermarkets.  The project tested whether the market chains could provide incentives for all chain participants to produce and market ‘Healthy Farm’ products.
The 'Healthy Farm' brand that was tested

A consumer survey was undertaken in 11 supermarkets in the three provinces. The results showed that supermarket consumers were prepared to pay a premium price for meat and eggs produced on approved biosecure farms. In the egg industry, all stakeholders—from the farmer to the supermarket—benefited financially.

However, the nature of contract production in the broiler (meat-chicken) industry meant that a significant proportion of the premium price did not flow back to smallholders, although supermarkets and slaughterhouses benefited.

Nonetheless, ‘Healthy Farm’ meat and eggs are still selling in a Bali supermarket and eggs are still being sold in two supermarkets in Makassar.

Better understanding
Broiler producers in Bali now also have a better understanding of disease movement and risk factors, and continue to invest in improving the biosecurity of their farms even if significant price benefits are not flowing back to them.

They see benefits to production and feed efficiency, and they understand that improved biosecurity can reduce the risk of disease outbreaks. It appears that these benefits are sufficient incentive for producers to adopt improved and effective biosecurity practices.

The project developed institutions such as the Pusat Biosekuriti Unggas Indonesia (Indonesian Poultry Biosecurity Centre) to implement stakeholder training programs and assist with farm biosecurity planning, implementation and auditing.

ACIAR project Cost-effective biosecurity for non-industrial commercial poultry operations in Indonesia showed that the existing market chain for poultry products can be used to improve biosecurity in smallholder poultry farms in Indonesia.

Industry now has the opportunity to facilitate the sale of products originating from approved farms.  The hope is that eggs and chicken meat produced in a cleaner and more biosecure way will become the norm demanded by consumers in Indonesia rather than being niche products.

By Mandy Gyles, ACIAR Communications

More information:

ACIAR Publication TR082 Developing a clean market chain for poultry products in Indonesia  

ACIAR project AH/2006/169 Cost-effective biosecurity for non-industrial commercial poultry operations in Indonesia led by University of New England  with project partners:

•    Directorate General of Livestock Services, Indonesia
•    Indonesia Poultry Industry Forum
•    Indonesian Centre for Agriculture Socio Economic and Policy Studies
•    Bogor Agricultural University
•    Udayana University
•    University of Sydney
•    Livestock Health Systems Australia

Supporting poultry biosecurity in Indonesia film in Bahasa

Real-world training for agribusiness researchers

An enthusiastic group of 22 young agribusiness researchers are planning to use their newly acquired skills in market and consumer research to improve their work, thanks to a successful master class run in Hanoi, Vietnam.

(L-R) Pham Thi Thuy (Vietnam), Souphalack Inphonephong (Lao PDR),
Le Nhu Thinh  (Vietnam) and Idha Widi Arsanti (Indonesia)
on their way to run a focus group with women consumers
The first Agribusiness Master Class, funded by ACIAR and the Crawford Fund, benefited 16 enthusiastic and talented researchers from Vietnam, along with others from Indonesia, Cambodia, Lao PDR and the Philippines. Participants were from a variety of backgrounds including  government, research and the private sector.

Nguyen Thi Lien (far right), checking the quality of
leafy green vegetables during a visit to the wet market
Agribusiness research helps improve the income and livelihoods of poor farmers and rural communities. It is really important for young researchers to have the latest skills to better understand consumer needs, identify market opportunities and develop more inclusive, efficient and competitive agricultural value chains that benefit the poor.

Learning by doing
The Agribusiness Master Class was a fantastic opportunity for energetic mid-career researchers working in the agri-food sector in South-East Asia, to network with each other and update their knowledge about market and value chain research methods.

In this first market research module, participants spent five challenging but fun-packed days focused on real-world examples. It was  ‘learning by doing’ through a combination of lectures, reflection sessions, team-building exercises, panel discussions, market visits, running focus groups and consumer surveys, and also mini-projects addressing key issues in local fruit and vegetable value chains.

Nguyen Thi Sau and Le Nhu Thinh (Vietnam Fruit and Vegetables
Research Institute), running a focus group with women consumers
Sharing expertise
The enthusiasm of the trainees was matched by the presenters:
• Dr Suzie Newman, ACIAR project leader, University of Adelaide
• Dr Wendy Umberger, Director, Global Food Studies, University of Adelaide
• Dr Tiago Wandschneider, a value chain research specialist, Portugal, Tiago
• Dr Denis Sautier, CIRAD-Malica, Vietnam.

Interesting perspectives were also provided by Prakash Jhanwer, OLAM South-East Asia Regional Manager, Sigrid Wertheim-Heck, Director of Marketing and Business Development, Fresh Studio and Dale Yi, University of Adelaide.

Graduates of the Crawford Fund Agribusiness Master Class
in market and consumer research
Building skills and networks
The training not only provided the group with technical and practical skills, but also promoted mentoring networks for support. This is vital to build the pool of experienced agribusiness specialist researchers in Australia, South-East Asia and the Pacific. 

"The master class gave me the chance to share and to enhance my academic and practical knowledge of agribusiness," said Pham Qoc Hung, School of Business Administration, Can Tho University, Vietnam.

A big thanks goes to Dr Suzie Newman for overseeing and coordinating the first Agribusiness Master Class. A second one, this time on value chain research, will be held in September 2014.

By Dr Rodd Dyer, Agribusiness Research Program Manager and Mandy Gyles, ACIAR Communications

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Improving sorghum breeding in Ethiopia

ACIAR has just partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a new sorghum-breeding project in Ethiopia - last month Dr Eric Huttner, ACIAR’s Crop Improvement and Management program manager, visited the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) at Melkassa, southwest of Addis Ababa, to check out the project's progress...

Sorghum is the third largest crop in Ethiopia and a key crop for food security there. ACIAR has provided co-funding to a grant with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a project aimed primarily at building Ethiopia’s capacity in sorghum breeding. The project will enable Ethiopian researchers to apply the most modern breeding methods to improve sorghum for use in their country. It will include identification of genetic components for tolerance to drought, to accelerate the breeding of sorghum varieties that use water more efficiently.

Mr Alemu Tirfessa (2nd from left), team leader of EIAR sorghum improvement program,
with colleagues measuring plant development parameters. The data will be used to parameter
the crop simulation model APSIM for Ethiopian sorghum. The Ethiopian team is recording
the data on a mobile phone, using electronic data capture software developed by the Australian partners.
On this trip, I met with the Ethiopian sorghum-breeding team for the first time, visited their research facility and saw some of their ongoing field work. The team is working with sorghum breeders, plant physiologists, plant molecular biologists and experts  in data analysis and management from the University of Queensland and the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

We are only in the first year of this project, but the Ethiopian team is clearly very pleased about their interactions with Australian colleagues. I was impressed by the calibre of the Ethiopian scientists involved and have high hopes that the project’s capacity-building aspects will be successful.
Ms Zenabech Demseh, a casual labourer at the Melkassa research station,
emasculating sorghum flowers so that breeders can perform the crosses
to recombine wide genetic diversity and desirable traits.

The EIAR is already regularly running sessions for the team to communicate information on new breeding methods to teams breeding other crops, so the word is definitely spreading. Through this project, the plant-breeding programs in Ethiopia (on sorghum first and then on other crops), should evolve and improve significantly.

By Dr Eric Huttner, ACIAR’s Crop Improvement and Management program manager
More information:
CIM/2013/005 A targeted approach to sorghum improvement in Ethiopia is being led by the University of Queensland.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Blueprint for brilliant beche-de-mer

A brand new guidebook to processing sea cucumbers is already making a splash internationally. Thanks to ACIAR-funded research aiming to improve livelihoods of village fishers in the Pacific, the booklet has been developed by project partners Southern Cross University and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
Fisher in Kiribati collecting a leopardfish (photo S. Purcell)
Sea cucumbers have been hand-collected and exported from the Pacific Islands since the 1840s. Once processed to a dried product known as ‘beche-de-mer’ in the food world, they are particularly popular in China, used as a key luxury ingredient of festive dishes.