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.
More than 2 billion people around the world are affected by malnutrition caused by a lack of vitamins and minerals in the diet. Known as “hidden hunger”, the situation is especially prevalent in poorer nations where the impact extends way beyond health into almost every aspect of society. Mineral and vitamin deficiencies (and not calories) are the main constraint to better nutrition and, therefore, to healthy and economically productive lives.

Dr Ross Welch presenting the links between agriculture, biofortification and human nutrition.
 Biofortification is the process by which the nutritional quality of food crops is improved through agronomic practices, conventional plant breeding, or modern biotechnology.
The advantages of biofortification are many. First, biofortification is built on what poor households grow and eat – staple foods. Second, the one-time investment to develop seeds that fortify themselves keep recurrent costs low and the germplasm – the living tissue from which plants can be grown – can be shared globally, making it highly cost-effective. Third, biofortification is sustainable. Long after people stop thinking about biofortification, farmers continue to grow and eat their biofortified crops – now thought of as just “crops.” Fourth, biofortification reaches the country’s most vulnerable people, living in remote rural areas with no access – or money – for commercially marketed fortified foods. And finally, biofortification produces higher yields in an environmentally friendly way.

Dr Howarth Bouis, outlined a brief history of the HarvestPlus Biofortification Program describing how the program had overcome scientific, political and cultural challenges to bring higher yielding, more nutritious and cost comparative crops into greater use in the countries that benefit most from their consumption. During his talk he praised Australia and Australian scientists for the important role they have played in the development of new varieties that are climate-smart, high-yielding, and packed with micronutrients.

Hidden hunger effects on children are most acute during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life – from conception to the age of two years. Deficiencies in micronutrients such as zinc, iron and vitamin A cause profound and irreparable damage to the body – blindness, growth stunting, mental retardation, learning disabilities, low work capacity, and even premature death.
Five hundred million women aged 15 to 49, at the peak of their productive years, are anaemic due to iron deficiency. This condition reduces their productivity, decreases their economic potential, and affects their reproductive health.

Dr Graham Lyons from the University of Adelaide
Dr Ross Welch presented the links between agriculture and human nutrition describing how small changes like switching from growing white sweet potato to orange sweet potato makes a dramatic difference to the amount of vitamin A available in the diets of communities that commonly suffer from vitamin deficiencies. Dr Graham Lyons from the University of Adelaide talked about the positive impact that biofortification is having in our region and the imperative for ongoing research and extension work in the field. World Vision Australia’s Shannon Ryan highlighted how the introduction of biofortifide crops in Africa and Afghanistan is helping to address significant health issues. Professor James Stangoulis of Flinders University discussed conventional breeding for biofortification, with farmers able to produce higher yielding and more nutrient rich crop verities without the need to change their farming practices. Finally the audience heard from Dr Alexander Johnson from University of Melbourne who spoke about role for biotechnology and the potential for GM to improve the biofortification of crops such as rice. 

Dr Alexander Johnson from University of Melbourne
Read more about Dr Bouis, HarvestPlus and biofortification here.

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).

To help farmers understand nutrient losses by leaching, the projects use the FullStop Wetting Front Detector, which captures a soil water solution sample which can be tested for nitrate and salt.

Since the projects are installing Chameleons and Full Stops across Africa and Pakistan we thought ACIAR HQ should have its own! Since ACIAR house is in the middle of Canberra we don’t have any agricultural fields, but we do have a very healthy mandarin tree in our front garden. So we thought it would be interesting to try the tools for ourselves (and provide feedback in the spirit of the VIA) and see what soil moisture conditions and fertiliser levels our much loved mandarin tree was experiencing.

So one winter’s day last month, Dr Evan Christen (Research Program Manager for Land and Water Resources) and Dr Robert Edis (Research Program Manager for Soil Management and Crop Nutrition) went out to install the equipment. We were kindly assisted by Mr Mathew Driver (one of the researchers developing the Chameleon).

Outlined in pictures below are the steps we followed to set up the Chameleon.

1. Wetting up the Chameleon sensors in a jug of water.

2. Charging the Chameleon reader from a laptop (battery light red).

3. Connecting the Chameleon reader to the ACIAR's WiFi network and then configuring the site    where data is uploaded. Checkout the data from the Chamelon sensor. 

4. Then off to the front garden of ACIAR HQ, where we installed the equipment below our mandarin tree.
Dr Evan Christen auguring the hole for the sensors. 

The soil taken by the auger stored carefully in the order it came out for refilling.

5. Putting the sensors at three depths of 45cm, 30cm and 15cm (following the colour coding of the cables) and refilling with soil (thanks to Mathew's helping hands!).

6. With the sensors now buried in the ground, we connected up to the Chameleon's reader. We will leave the Chameleon reader tied to the post, but farmers will carry the reader around with the and be able to test many sets of sensors. 

All three sensors are blue as they are still wet from soaking in water. It may take some time for the sensors to come into equilibrium with the soil. Blue means the soil is wet (best not to keep the soil in the blue), green means soil is moist (no need to irrigate yet) and red means the soil is dry (time to irrigate).

The Chameleon is successfully loading data to the web too. The screenshot below shows all the three depths are blue. You can too can check out the data.

Next, we installed the FullStop.

1. Robert digging the hole.

2. The FullStop was put in the hole. The top of the funnel is at 30cm depth. The tube connects to the bottom of the FullStop so that it can be drained of the water flowing into it.

3. The soil was backfilled onto the FullStop. We will be able to drain and reset the FullStop with the syringe, and also test the water that flows into the FullStop for nitrate and salt.

The setup of the WiFi and the VIAfarm website took about half an hour and the installation of the equipment took about half an hour.

Keep an eye on our Chameleon and mandarin tree and learn more about the VIA.

Learn more about the project and check out this previous blog that details results of the project.

By Evan Christen and Robert Edis, ACIAR

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.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Promising results from South Pacific Cocoveneer project

Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research's Forestry Research Program Manager, Mr Tony Bartlett, traveled to Fiji last month for an End of Project Review of the Cocoveneer project (FST/2009/062).  

Spindle-less lathe in action.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Australian volunteer assists in development of an ornamental fish hatchery in Indonesia

Alexander Basford was a volunteer at Mars Symboscience in Indonesia from May 2015 to February 2016 under the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program. Below he shares his recent experience traveling to several aquaculture production and research facilities in Indonesia, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

The final stage of microalgae culture at BBPBL Lampung - 30 tonne tanks that are the base of the food supply of the entire hatchery. Photo: Alex Basford

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Inaugural Bougainville Chocolate Festival a sweet success

The inaugural Bougainville Chocolate Festival was held in Buin and Arawa on 5 and 6 July 2016. The festival was an initiative of the Autonomous Government of Bougainville led by the Department of Primary Industries in partnership with the Australian Government and was strongly supported by a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-funded ACIAR project “Developing the cocoa value chain in Bougainville”, which is being implemented through a partnership of PNG and Australian research organisations led in Australia by the University of Sydney.

The two-day festival aimed to encourage good cocoa farming and processing practices and raise awareness of the efforts of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and its partners to develop the chocolate industry and market links.

Canberra-based bean to bar chocolate makers Peter and Li Peng from Jasper and Myrtle attended the festival. Below, they tell us all about their Pacific chocolate adventure.

Friday, 15 July 2016

ACIAR forestry project helps locals rebuild their houses following last year's devastating earthquake in Nepal

Research conducted as part of an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) forestry project in Nepal has helped locals in Chaubus, Kavre, rebuild their houses following the devastating earthquake that destroyed communities in 2015. 

The project, ‘Enhancing livelihoods and food security from agroforestry and community forestry in Nepal’, began in 2013 and aims to provide diverse benefits to farmers, support livestock and agriculture, and increase the resilience of forests to climate change.  

Below, Project Leader Dr Ian Nuberg and Research Officer Dr Edwin Cedamon, report on recent benefits that have emerged from demonstration plots that were established as part of the project.

Purna Darjee, who lives in in the village of Chaubus, in Kavre Palanchok District, and was a victim of the 2015 earthquake, appeared relieved while carrying a load of sawn planks of pine timber distributed by his community forest. Purna, along with 30 others who lost their houses last year, can now construct a temporary one using timber from their own forests. The timber was available from silviculture demonstration plots, which were established under the ACIAR-supported forestry project.

Photo: ACIAR