Thursday, 29 September 2016

The impacts of climate change on agriculture the focus of the PAC’s visit to Australia

Another successful meeting of ACIAR’s Policy Advisory Council (PAC) was held in Australia last week, with a strong focus on the strategic issues related to climate change, specifically its impact on agriculture in the Indo-Pacific Region.

Members of the Policy Advisory Council outside ACIAR House in Canberra. Photo: ACIAR
The theme of the two-day meeting held in Canberra was Climate Change: emerging research needs relating to agriculture, fisheries and forestry. Representatives from Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Vietnam and the Pacific islands community came together with members of the Commission for International Agricultural Research and Australian researchers to discuss the technological, scientific, economic, social, environmental and policy aspects of climate smart agriculture.

The President of the PAC, Professor Kym Anderson AC, said the Council noted the multi-sectorial, economy-wide nature of the issue.

‘Agriculture is both affected by, and a contributor to, climate change,’ he said.

‘There is great scope for agricultural research to contribute to adaptation by farmers and to provide more mitigation opportunities.’

‘Members also felt strongly that ACIAR should continue to make climate change a high priority for collaborative research going forward,’ said Professor Anderson. 
The Policy Advisory Council meet in Canberra. Photo: ACIAR
The Council also recommended that ACIAR develop a 10-year Strategic Plan designed to share knowledge and build capacity for research on climate-resilient agriculture across the Indo-Pacific region. ACIAR should consider supporting technological, social, and economic policy responses with partner countries in which climate change is identified as a high priority research area. This should be underpinned by the development of a strong alumni of ACIAR-supported scientists across the region.

Council members affirmed the need for a better understanding of how and where food is and will be grown, in order to assist farmers and agribusiness respond more effectively to climate change.

While in Canberra the PAC was visited by Dr R.K. Malik, winner of the Crawford Fund’s 2015 Derek Tribe award. Dr Malik has over 30 years’ experience in the agricultural research for development space. He outlined how his work as contributed to the improvement of farmers’ livelihoods in India, focussing on the evolution and acceleration of no-till Farming in rice-wheat cropping system of the Indo-Gangetic Plains.

To fulfil its role, the Council meets annually and conducts a field trip to ACIAR research partners in Australia. The field trip allows high-profile agricultural researchers to share expertise and knowledge, enhance international cooperation, and ensure alignment of developing country priorities with ACIAR country strategies. Following their meeting in Canberra, the Council headed to Queensland for a three-day field trip.

First stop was the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC), where Professor Roland De Marco, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Innovation), and USC researchers highlighted that university’s research capabilities, with a special emphasis on the recently launched Australian Centre for Pacific Islands Research.

Next on the itinerary was a visit to the research facilities of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF) on the Gatton Campus of the University of Queensland (UQ). QDAF’s Dr Steve Harper demonstrated how they are improving the yields of shallot and chilli crops—two high-priority vegetable crops grown in Indonesia and particularly in the lowland coastal areas of Java.
ACIAR CEO, Commissioners and PAC members at the University of Queensland. Photo: ACIAR
An ACIAR horticulture project is addressing issues associated with pathogen management and excessive fertiliser and chemical inputs into these systems with the aim of improving crop productivity. The Council was shown first-hand how UQ and the Indonesian Vegetable Research Institute have applied techniques to remove viruses from allium germplasm, resulting in virus-free or low-virus titre explants. The further refinement of this now allows for the potential to assess the impact of viruses on garlic and shallot crop productivity (yield per hectare). This information can then be used to assess the economic viability of a future dedicated commercial seed supply scheme for shallot planting material.
PAC and Commission members are shown how the University of Queensland and the Indonesia Vegetable Research Institute have applied techniques to remove viruses from allium germplams, including garlic and shallots. Photo: ACIAR
The PAC also met with a team of QDAF and industry partners. Dr Mike Hughes and Mr Eric Coleman described how, with ACIAR funding, their public/private partnership is working to identify improved sweet potato varieties and produce pathogen tested (PT; virus-free) germplasm. A suite of projects with Papua New Guinea and the Pacific islands is now using this PT material in a broad-based agronomic and markets approach to enhance smallholder sweet potato productivity and farmer livelihoods.

At the UQ campus, Council members were introduced to the nine current ACIAR project partnerships operating. Professor Neal Menzies and Professor Dennis Poppi showcased the technologies and innovations developed by researchers in the UQ School of Agriculture and Food Sciences and how they are being used to improve food safety, crop productivity, animal production and economic opportunities in Africa, China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Pacific Islands, the Philippines South-West Asia, and Timor-Leste.

Associate Professor Max Shelton explained the importance of UQ’s relationship with ACIAR in improving smallholder agriculture in developing countries. He commented that ‘over the last two decades, ACIAR funding trumps everything else in terms of continuity, stability and support for research students from developing countries—that is crucial for UQ's research performance and impact on agriculture.’

On their final day, the group attended the 6th McDonnell Academy International Symposium, which included a keynote address by the ACIAR CEO, Professor Andrew Campbell, on food, water and sustainability. Two members of the group also participated in the expert panels. Her Excellency, Naela Chohan, High Commissioner to Pakistan, presented on delivering nutrition security. Dr Peter Horne, ACIAR General Manager for Country Programs, participated in the expert panel on the role of universities in global food security.
ACIAR CEO, Professor Andrew Campbell, addresses the 6th McDonnell Academy International Symposium.
Photo: ACIAR
The function of the Council is to provide advice to the Minister for Foreign Affairs regarding agricultural problems of developing countries and their programs and policies aimed at finding solutions to those problems. For more information on the PAC, please visit the ACIAR website.

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Friday, 23 September 2016

From Canberra to Port Moresby – my journey in ACIAR

I started at ACIAR at the reception desk on a part-time, two-week contract to backfill leave. That was twelve years, and what feels like a lifetime ago. I worked from the Canberra office for almost five years, in a range of roles across the research, executive and communication teams. I had a great time, largely because of the wonderful team and great working atmosphere at ACIAR.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Working for ACIAR in the Africa regional office

My favourite Australian expression is, “Have a go,” and through my four years with the ACIAR regional office in Africa, I have used this motto to do what I have to, to support our activities in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA).
Liz (right) with farmers and their sweetpotato harvest (in the bag) in Zimbabwe. Photo: Liz Ogutu.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Leading Australian agricultural scientists brought together at Climate Smart Agriculture Workshop in Canberra

With an expanding population and a changing climate how can we begin to unravel some of the world’s greatest production problems? Growing more food on less land with an increasingly variable climate will present a suite of challenges to both urban and rural populations worldwide. It’s clear that farmers are already adapting to what is a shifting climate both here in Australia and abroad, but there is more to be done. Science has a critical role to play in brokering knowledge on past trends, future predictions and possible tools for mitigating and adapting to this scenario.

Participants introduce themselves at the Climate Smart Agriculture Workshop in Canberra. Photo: ACIAR

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Biofortification for better nutrition - Dr Howarth Bouis at the National Press Club.

A panel of scientists from Adelaide, Melbourne and Flinders Universities, and partner World Vision Australia shared the stage at the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday to discuss nutrition, agricultural research and the development impacts of biofortification.

Hosted by ACIAR, The Crawford Fund and the National Rural Press Club and lead by Dr Howarth Bouis, Director and Founder of HarvestPlus and winner of this year’s World Food Prize, the panel presented contemporary and historic perspectives on biofortification: the nutritional value of staple foods and their connection to “hidden hunger” in the developing world. 

Dr Bouis, Director of HarvestPlus with Mellissa Wood, General Manager Global Programs, ACIAR.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Testing “Chameleon” and “FullStop” equipment at ACIAR HQ in Canberra

ACIAR has been funding projects in Africa, and soon in Pakistan, to help irrigators manage their water better (LWR/2014/085 and LWR/2014/074). This work has been conceived as the “Virtual Irrigation Academy” (VIA), an online environment where growers and researchers can learn together using simple tools about how to manage irrigation water and nutrients better.

The research has developed the Chameleon Soil Water Sensor which measures how hard it is for plants to suck water out of the soil and the data is displayed as coloured lights. It can measure the soil moisture at three depths in the ground. The light for each sensor can turn from blue (soil wet) to green (soil moist) to red (soil dry).

Friday, 29 July 2016

Achieving impact with agroforestry in North Western Vietnam

In the north-west of Vietnam, which is one of Vietnam’s poorer regions with many ethnic groups, large areas of steep land are farmed to grow hybrid maize. Over the past decade many forests have been cleared and the current agricultural system results in very substantial soil erosion. ACIAR is funding a five year agroforestry project (FST/2010/034) ‘Agroforestry for Livelihoods of Smallholder Farmers in North-West Vietnam’ (AFLi), which is managed by the World Agroforestry Centre. The Vietnamese partners are: Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute (NOMAFSI); Forest Science Centre of North Western Vietnam; Tay Bac University and the Department of Agriculture and Regional Development (DARD) from Son La, Yen Bai and Dien Bien Provinces. ACIAR recently reviewed its achievements to date and it is clear that the collaborative research on the introduction of various agroforestry systems has led to substantial impacts in a relatively short period.
Fodder grass contours established in maize fields. Photo: Tony Bartlett, ACIAR.