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.

The National Arboretum is principally a collection of small forests (100 in total) with each one representing an important but often threatened tree species from around the world. The Arboretum was establish in the wake of a devastating bushfire in 2003 which destroyed native forest and pine plantations on the outskirts of Canberra along with 500 houses in Canberra. Since its establishment it has become practice for visiting dignitaries to plant commemorative trees during their stay in Canberra.

On this occasion the ceremony was attended by, amongst others, the Vietnamese Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Cao Duc Phat, Nick Austin, CEO of Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and Tony Bartlett Manager of ACIAR’s Forestry Research Programs. Two former CSIRO forest scientists, Sadanandan Nambiar and Stephen Midgley, both of whom have worked on ACIAR forestry projects in Vietnam for over 20 years and who in 2012 were awarded medals for the cause of Agriculture and Rural Development, were introduced to the Prime Minister of Vietnam. Their attendance was fitting, not only due to the achievements that have been made in developing Acacia plantation forestry in Vietnam, but also in light of the bonds that exist between Australian and Vietnamese forest scientists as a result of these research collaborations.  The variety of Acacia being planted was chosen by Tony Bartlett because it resembles the appearance of the tropical acacias that are grown in Vietnam.

For more than 20 years ACIAR has played an important role in Vietnam, supporting forestry projects, facilitating research partnership and helping to build capacity. Projects funded by ACIAR have involved numerous scientific researchers, universities, forestry research institutes, industry and all levels of government. These projects have delivered substantial impacts, including supporting more than 250,000 smallholder farmers growing acacia trees, and other meaningful outcomes that benefit the forestry sector, Vietnam and Australia. Capacity building is an important goal for ACIAR. This is evident throughout the projects and there outcomes but also through ACIAR’s commitment to scholarships to enable Masters and PhD students excel in their field study. Fifteen scholarships have been awarded to staff from forestry research institutes in recent time.

A large proportion of ACIAR’s forestry work in Vietnam is focused on improving germplasm and silviculture of Australian Acacias and Eucalypts and more recently the processing of veneer products from plantation forests (acacia and eucalyptus). In collaboration with the CSIRO and the Vietnam Academy for Forestry Sciences (VAFS), ACIAR has undertaken important research leading to the introduction of Australian tree species, particularly eucalypts and acacias which has been key to the establishment of plantation resources, diversity of varieties and improved yields. In Vietnam each year over 10 million cubic metres of Acacia logs are harvested to supply the paper industries, furniture manufacturing and fibre board production. The Vietnamese government aims to increase output and expand the existing plantation estate available for sawlog and fibre production.

Vietnamese and Australian scientists are working to improve the genetic quality of the planting stock available to growers, but new varieties are needed with adaptation to a wider range of climatic and site conditions. A number of ACIAR’s forestry projects in Vietnam are designed to underpin the sustainability of, and add value to, the countries acacia and eucalypt plantation estates, and the processing industries based on them.

ACIAR’s commitment to agricultural research and development to overcome poverty and gain sustainability in Vietnam is strong and will be an ongoing focus into the future.
For information about the work ACIAR are doing in Vietnam see

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.
I was excited about the opportunity to attend to:
  • Meet fellow agricultural researchers and science communicators from the Africa region
  • Learn about ACIAR stakeholders located in Africa and the best way to communicate with them and how this differs from stakeholders in Australia
  • Learn how to improve my own communication style with stakeholders – both external and internal, using a variety of channels

After leaving Canberra, I boarded three flights, crossed eight time zones and landed 30 hours later. After my first sleep under a mosquito net (with an ominous buzzing noise that I could hear but not see), I was ready to take on the five day workshop.

Twenty-three participants from 11 countries came together to learn about communicating research to stakeholders, to teach each other about their experiences, and to share knowledge on agricultural research.

23 participants from 11 countries. [Source: Elise Crabb]

Each day of the workshop was divided into various sessions, but the broad structure was:
• Day 1 - communications planning and a stakeholder panel
• Day 2 - social media
• Day 3 - presentation skills
• Day 4 - communication planning and writing skills
• Day 5 - media skills with a journalist panel

Each of us took something different away from the workshop – myself, I had to get over my fear of being filmed. Each of us were filmed presenting, which was then played back to the whole audience with (constructive) feedback. Daunting to say the least! As much as I disliked this part of the workshop, it really was effective. Being able to watch yourself speak gives you great insight into what you do well, and what you don’t do so well.
What was great though, was as the week went on, you could see everyone gaining confidence and taking on board the suggestions given earlier in the week. Needless to say, by Day 5, I was convinced of everyone’s projects!
Practicing our presentation skills [Source: Jenni Metcalfe]

On Friday, we had a stakeholder panel consisting of agricultural science journalists from Nairobi who provided useful insight into what journalists want in a story and what they seek from the researchers who are sharing their projects. The key take-away from this – MAKE YOUR KEY POINT FIRST. Engage people straight away by telling them about the great work you are doing and how it will benefit them, then go in to more details of the project itself. True advice, as too often a key message gets lost in details.

Journalist stakeholder panel on Friday [Source: Elise Crabb]

What I found revitalising was the positive vibe of the whole group – there was encouragement of peers, constructive feedback, and well-deserved congratulations for great presentations and discussions. We had a lovely awards ceremony to receive our certificates of completion from the Australian High Commissioner of Kenya, John Feakes and Director General of ICIPE, Dr Segenet Kelemu.

At the end of the workshop, I walked away feeling a sense of accomplishment, it was an intense week with early starts, but I felt I learnt new things about myself, particularly how I actually communicate with others and not just how I think I communicate. In particular, I have found I need to be more concise with my audience, and remember to speak more slowly (as sometimes I get a bit too enthusiastic and talk too fast!).

Australian High Commissioner and Director General of ICIPE present certificates [Source: Elise Crabb] 

I learnt about the best ways to communicate with farmers, who are often the key beneficiaries of research, yet, often mis-informed or don’t have the time to find out about new agricultural techniques and technologies that could provide them many benefits including time and resource savings. Far too often, we don’t think about our target audience for our brochures, newsletters, fact sheets and pamphlets – if we are trying to teach farmers about our work, we have to make sure it is accessible to them, otherwise – what is the point in doing great research in the lab if it doesn’t lead to practical implementation?! We tackled this throughout the week as we all had to develop a communications plan, which identified key stakeholders, communications messages and channels. This plan will provide the groundwork for ensuring we are sharing our fantastic research to the right people, in the right way. At the end of the day, isn't that what communications is all about?

By Elise Crabb, External Engagement and Media Presence Officer, ACIAR

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]

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Learning from experience - bright ideas from the 'Sunny State'

Earlier this week on a not-so-sunny-day in the ‘Sunny State’, I listened to stories that could fill what would be a unique travel guide. From quickly lying face flat-down to the ground in order to obtain an import permit for biological samples, to being warned of love potions that would hold you captive in the mountains of Vietnam; the whole group had stories of the lengths they will go to, to ensure the success and impact of projects. 

David Hall introduces the panel for the cross-cultural session

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Fish, plants, phytohormones, beneficial bacteria, aquaculture and hydroponics. This project has it all!

John Allwright Fellow, Jonathan Mangmang, is completing his PhD at the University of Sydney under the supervision of Dr Gordon Rogers and Rosalind Deaker. Jonathan is on secondment from Visayas State University, Philippines where he worked on an ACIAR-funded protected vegetable cropping project. He is interested in more efficient and sustainable food production system, particularly in the integration of beneficial microbes in aquaponics vegetable production.

Source: Jonathan Mangmang