Thursday, 9 April 2015

Queensland data capture technology scoring well in Ethiopia

Researchers at the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) are taking on the latest technologies in plant breeding including electronic data capture using Android devices (mobile phones and tablets). The technology is being used as part of a project jointly funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and ACIAR to improve their sorghum breeding program.

Every year plant breeders and plant scientists record tens of thousands of pieces of information (called datapoints) about the lines in their breeding and research trials. The datapoints correspond to measurements regularly taken on the growing plants for example plant height, date of flowering, disease symptoms, grain yield etc. Traditionally this collection of data has been recorded by hand on hard copy field books with the information being then manually entered into computers at a later stage. Both the initial data recording in the books and the subsequent transcription on computers are labour intensive and subject to human error. The need to manually enter the data into computers also delayed data analysis, and the actions taken as a result of the analysis, by several months. 

Mr Michael Hassall, a programmer from Q-DAF, training the Ethiopian sorghum researchers in data management at the EIAR research station. Photo: Q-DAF

To improve data capture processes, researchers from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) have been developing the Fieldscorer™ App over the past 5 years. This software works on Android devices, can be coupled to barcode readers to automate further the collection of data, and has been rapidly adopted in Australia. The Australian research team are now supplying training software and devices to enable Ethiopian sorghum researchers to use the technology.

This Australian technology, available freely to all researchers, has “gone viral” in the Ethiopian research system, with EIAR sorghum researchers training their colleagues in other breeding programs and institutes, as well as many students in local universities.

Mr Abdalla Ebro (left) and Sintayehu Hailu (right) recording sorghum plants height using the Fieldscorer™ App. Photo: EIAR

In 2014 the Ethiopian researchers recorded more than 160,000 sorghum datapoints using the system: this is five times more information than was typically being recorded in the sorghum breeding program. The information is also available for analysis immediately. Increased data and early availability will accelerate the breeding program.

University of Queensland’s David Jordan, leader of the project says: “Fieldscorer is a world leading data capture system for plant scientists and it is pleasing to see how quickly it has been adopted by Ethiopian scientists. This is the first large scale adoption of the system in a developing country, and will increase the productivity of their breeding program.”

Written by Eric Huttner
RPM Crop Improvement

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

John Dillon visits Wiradjuri Preschool to share Maria books

While recently visiting Australia, Ms Freda Wantum, ACIAR John Dillon Fellow from Papua New Guinea and Canberra’s own Dr Barbara Pamphilon, project leader of the ‘liklik bisnis thinking’ women’s project in PNG visited the Wiradjuri Preschool Centre at the University of Canberra.

The visit was just one of the many activities that took place as part of the John Dillon fellowship tour of Canberra in March and was a chance to share the ‘Maria’s Family’ book series with a group of Australian kids.

Freda reading to the pre-school students. Source: Andy Heaney

While at the centre, Freda spent time talking with the children about life in Papua New Guinea and the way that families work together to grow and sell produce to support their communities. She also talked about how important education is for both kids and their parents in PNG.

Freda and Barbara then read Maria’s Family goes to market, to a group of enthusiastic preschool girls and boys, both in English and also in Pidgin. The kids were very interested to hear Freda speaking in Pidgin and also to find out about the different way of life for children living in rural villages in PNG.

Lots of questions were asked about the types of vegetables described in the story, raising quite a discussion amongst the group about the kinds of things you might find growing in the average Canberra veggie patch. One little girl even offered the comment of the day “On the weekend I patted two dogs”.

Freda Wantum and Barbara Pamphilon read to Maria book to eager pre-school students in Canberra. Source: Andy Heaney

The “Maria’s Family” books were developed as part of an ACIAR-funded project on women’s business acumen in Papua New Guinea. Initial research found women farmers in the highlands and East New Britain were making simple mistakes in marketing their produce, and almost all were not budgeting for their agricultural and families’ futures.

Maria's family book cover

Rural women also identified a lack of basic literacy was limiting their economic and social opportunities (including stopping them from engaging in training). These were the drivers of the creation of the “Maria’s Family” books. Their aim is to teach key agricultural messages to women smallholders; help mothers engage in reading activities with their children; and develop literacy skills for both mothers and children.

By Andy Heaney, External Engagement and Media Presence Manager, ACIAR

Monday, 23 March 2015

Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam plants Acacia implexa (Hickory tree) in Canberra.

Mr Andrew Barr MLA, Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory hosted an event welcoming His Excellency Mr Nguyen Tan Dung Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Madame Tran Thanh Kiem to the National Arboretum in Canberra. While visiting the Arboretum the Prime Minister and Madame Tran Thanh Kiem took part in the ceremonial planting of an Acacia implexa (Hickory tree), a variety native to the Canberra location. The Acacia was chosen not only for it suitability to the site, but also to highlight the linkages between Canberra and the forestry industry in Vietnam which has been achieved through the support of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and many Australian scientists.

His Excellency Mr Nguyen Tan Dung Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Madame Tran Thanh Kiem planting an Acacia implexa (Hickory tree) at The National Arboretum.

Master Class to learn and share experiences in communicating research to stakeholders

Each year, the Crawford Fund hosts Master Classes across a variety of topics. This past week, I was lucky enough to attend the Master Class in Communicating Research to Stakeholders, held at the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi and run by Jenni Metcalfe from Econnect and Toss Gascoigne from Toss Gascoigne and Associates.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Keeping Australia's Melons Delicious and Safe

Australia produces about 200,000 tonnes of rockmelons, honeydew melons and watermelons each year, an industry worth over A$100 million. The majority of melon production in Australia occurs in Queensland (Qld), New South Wales (NSW) and Western Australia (WA).

ACIAR is supporting research in the Philippines that also has benefits here in Australia for our important fruit and vegetable industries, including the melon industry. This work is ensuring the development and sustainability of high-quality Australian melons including rockmelons and watermelons.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Limanak Island Premiere

In 2014, ACIAR partnered with the Australia Network to produce a television series called ‘Food Bowl’ to be aired on the Australia Network (now called Australia Plus). The Food Bowl team travelled through Papua New Guinea (PNG), Timor-Leste and Lao PDR to discover how agriculture, science and farming come together to lift lives out of poverty and ensure a safe food future.

The community of Limanak Village (in New Ireland Province) were stars of the PNG episode of Food Bowl and I was excited to show them the finalised show so they could watch themselves on the big screen! On a threateningly wet Wednesday night in early January, I did just that.

Since the Food Bowl film crew came to visit and film the footage in mid-2014, I had been asked several times what had happened with the film. Sadly, it is often the norm for outsiders to come in and do things like this, interviews, films, photographs, but with no follow-up for those that gave their time and energy for it. This gave me pride and pleasure that this video came through and I could show the people of Limanak the PNG Food Bowl, episode, especially with so many of the community having a starring or cameo role.

Source: Cathy Hair

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Creating impacts in forestry research and development projects in Nepal

ACIAR’s forestry project FST/2011/076, which is undertaking research on enhancing agroforestry and community forestry systems in Nepal, has been conducting its activities for the past 19 months and already we are beginning to see some short term impacts. Many farmers in the project sites have indicated that they need access to better germplasm if they are to improve their agroforestry systems as the preferred tree species are not readily available.

Edwin Cedamon, a project scientist from the University of Adelaide, has been working with his Nepali colleagues to train farmers in how to establish their own small nurseries. Edwin, who originally came from the Philippines, undertook postgraduate study in Australia with the support of ACIAR’s John Allwright Fellowship scheme while he was working on an ASEM project in the Philippines. Edwin has introduced the raised nursery bed technology that was used in the ASEM project in the Philippines to farmers in Nepal. These nursery beds are easy for farmers to construct from locally available materials and they have the advantage over the traditional ground based nursery beds in that the plants don’t become waterlogged and the root systems are “air pruned”.

Edwin Cedamon (centre) with a farmer nursery [Source: Tony Bartlett]