Friday, 24 March 2017

ACIAR farewells the 2017 John Dillon Fellows from Australia

Today we say goodbye to our ten 2017 John Dillon Fellows as they conclude their six-week leadership development program. The John Dillon Memorial Fellowship was established by ACIAR in recognition of Professor John L. Dillon’s life-long support for international agricultural research.

The ten John Dillon Fellows with ACIAR CEO, Professor Andrew Campbell

During their six weeks in Australia the Fellows spent time visiting research institutions including the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, Charles Darwin University, the Australian National University, and state and federal government agencies including the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences conference, CSIRO, the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation and the CRC for Plant Biosecurity. The Fellows also did workshops on Professional Communication and Development of Government Policy. The policy workshop finished with a panel discussion at ACIAR House with our CEO Professor Andrew Campbell, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Bob McMullen and ABARES Executive Director, Karen Schneider.

Hillary, Veronica, Lani, Min and Khoi at a research presentation skills session

Our 2017 John Dillon Fellows are from Cambodia, Malawi, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, South Africa, Uganda, Vanuatu, and Vietnam. The Fellows were given training and mentoring opportunities to develop leadership skills in the areas of agricultural research management, agricultural policy and extension technologies. We gave them first hand exposure to Australian agriculture, forestry and fishery work across a range of best-practice organisations involved in research, extension or policy making.

This year’s John Dillon Fellows are key members of ACIAR research programs on empowerment of women and girls in PNG, adaptive research to assess and adjust innovations to suit farmers needs in Myanmar, optimal water consumption for vegetable production in Africa, economic development in Vietnam, agricultural education programs in the Philippines, animal nutrition and management in Cambodia, social sciences in Pakistan, agricultural value chains in Vietnam, forestry development in Uganda and aquaculture development in Vanuatu.
JD Fellow Aye Min from Myanmar learns about agriculture in Australia

Each year John Dillon Fellowships are awarded to ten talented agricultural research managers from our 36 ACIAR partner countries. The awardees are at the forefront of development of their own country’s agricultural, fishery and forestry industries. The John Dillon Memorial Fellowship program provide intensive leadership and management training to exceptional individuals working or having worked on ACIAR projects in developing countries. Training is provided by the Melbourne Business School in executive management and research management.

Our ten 2017 John Dillon Fellows:

·         AYE MIN (Min), Assistant Director Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Irrigation, Department of Agriculture, Myanmar

·         Isaac FANDIKA, Chief Agricultural Research Scientist, Department of Agricultural Research Services, Malawi

·         Baldwin NENGOVHELA, Scientific Manager: Animal Production at the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF)

·         Hillary AGABA, Director of Research, National Forestry Resources Research Institute, National Agricultural Research Organisation, Uganda

·         Kim Khoi Dang (Khoi) Director for Centre for Agriculture Policy, Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural development, Vietnam

·         Aneela Afzal, Assistant professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Arid Agriculture, Pakistan

·         Chan BUN, Deputy director, National Animal Health and Production Research Institute (NAHPRI), General Directorate of Animal Health and Production(GDAHP), Cambodia

·         Veronica GAWI BUE, Senior lecturer, Papua New Guinea University of Technology, Papua New Guinea

·         Leylani MANDAC JULIANO (Lani), Supervising Science Research Specialist, Agronomy, Soils and Plant Physiology Division, Philippine Rice Research Institute, Philippines

·         Sompert GEREVA, Acting Manager, Research and Aquaculture Division, Vanuatu Fisheries Department, Vanuatu

Kirsten Davey

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Building research skills, knowledge and coral reefs in Indonesia

Off the coast of southern Sulawesi, Indonesia, is a group of over 100 islands sprawling across the ocean called the Spermonde archipelago. Many of these tiny islands are just made of sand, are densely populated, and are surrounded by clear blue water and coral reefs. Badi Island is one of these islands. At first glance Badi seems just like any of the other islands in the archipelago. Dip below the surface of the water however, and you’ll see otherwise. The coral reefs around Badi are teeming with spiders. The spiders are a metre in diameter, and like your typical huntsman, they have lots of long, delicate legs. But these are no arachnids. These are metal structures that have been designed, built, and secured to the reef as part of a project run by MARS Symbioscience and ACIAR to rehabilitate the coral reefs around the island.

Fishing is an important part of life for the people living in the Spermonde archipelago. Many people on the islands catch fishes to feed themselves and their families, and to sell to others as a source of income. Some islanders have taken to catching pretty coral reef fishes to sell to the aquarium trade as a way of making a living. Overfishing in the region has led to a decline in fish populations, making it more difficult for people to catch enough for their survival. This has led to increasing use of destructive fishing practices as people become more desperate. Dynamite fishing is used to rapidly catch fishes for consumption, and cyanide fishing as a way of stunning ornamental fishes so they can be caught more easily. Dynamite fishing and cyanide fishing kill a large number of fishes that were not the intended targets, and destroy the coral which is extremely detrimental to the health of the entire coral reef ecosystem. 

Through collaborative projects, MARS Symbioscience and ACIAR are promoting sustainable marine resource use by communities over the long term, and are helping the communities transition to more sustainable livelihoods. This is being done through two main, interrelated programs – the ornamental fishes program and the coral reef rehabilitation program.

Siobhan Heatwole (Australian Volunteer) with Isnita Khairunnisa (lab technologist). Photo: Darren James, Scope Global
The ornamental fishes program is looking at the best ways for local communities with limited resources to raise ornamental fishes in captivity. This program aims to help people transition from destructive ways of catching ornamental fishes from the reef such as cyanide fishing, to a more viable, sustainable business of selling captive bred fishes to the aquarium trade. At its hatchery at Takalar, MARS Symbioscience has been investigating ways to overcome specific problems with rearing ornamental fishes on small islands. MARS Symbioscience has also been helping the people of Badi Island to establish their own hatcheries, and supports them in managing and maintaining these facilities. 

For the coral reef rehabilitation program, MARS Symbioscience has been helping to repair damaged coral reefs around the island of Badi using their spider technology. The aim is to provide a foundation on which new corals can grow, which will help restore the coral reefs to a healthier state, thus helping to boost the fish population that the local people rely on, and creating a natural barrier to waves which reduces problems with island erosion. Community workshops and outreach initiatives have been carried out to educate islanders on the importance of reef conservation and the need to take action against destructive fishing practices.

Both programs have made encouraging progress in coral reef conservation and in initiating the transition to more sustainable livelihoods at Badi Island. Coral cover on the rehabilitated reefs has increased dramatically, and more fishes seem to be present on the reefs. But why stop there? MARS Symbioscience wanted to take all the lessons learnt from its experience working at Badi, and build and improve on that in pursuit of more extensive conservation efforts. They wanted to attempt it all again at another island, and to have a more rigorous approach to measuring the impact of their work. That’s where I came in.

With support from the AVID program and ACIAR, I moved to Sulawesi for a year to work with MARS Symbioscience on a new coral reef rehabilitation project at Bontosua Island. My role was to help assess the effectiveness of coral reef rehabilitation efforts, to provide advice on reef rehabilitation practices, and to use my experience in marine ecological research to help develop research capability within the organisation.

One of the key things we wanted to find out was whether rehabilitating the coral reefs around Bontosua Island has an impact on the local fish population over time. To examine this quantitatively, I have been managing and conducting underwater surveys to collect baseline data on the fish species present, their sizes and abundances in areas of damaged reef yet to be rehabilitated. Following the reef rehabilitation work, these surveys will be repeated regularly so that ‘before vs after’ comparisons of the fish population can be made.

All of this baseline data collection would have been a sizeable task for just one or two people. So to get the work done more efficiently and to develop the skills of my colleagues and some local university students, I created and ran training to teach them how to identify fishes and how to do underwater fish surveys so that they could help with the data collection. Running the training and coordinating the underwater surveys was a challenge. Language barriers, cultural differences and varied approaches to research and fieldwork meant that training went slowly, and there were miscommunications that led to work being carried out incorrectly and then having to be repeated. The effort was worth it though, because despite the snags along the way, in the end the baseline data was collected successfully and everyone, including me, gained new knowledge and skills from the experience. Rehabilitation work is expected to commence at Bontosua over the next few months. I am hopeful that with this training and practice in collecting and analysing fish survey data, my colleagues and local students will now be able to successfully monitor the fish population at Bontosua to see how it changes (and hopefully improves) over the long term.

Siobhan (right) with Rosdiana (left) testing water quality for hatchling tank. Photo: Darren James, Scope Global
Another big part of my job has been to help my organisation improve its data management practices and systems. Effective data management is important for all organisations if they are to be successful, and I’m very pleased that over the past few months MARS Symbioscience has made a lot of progress in this area. While most people wouldn’t consider data management to be very interesting, or the ‘sexy’ part of a marine conservation project, it is actually one of the achievements I’ve been most proud of. I’ve helped my organisation to develop data management protocols and to implement a secure file storage and sharing system that has improved the security of their data and the ease of collaboration with colleagues in distant locations.

While I feel like I have made some positive contributions to my organisation during my time in Indonesia, it certainly hasn’t been a one way street. I have learnt a lot from my colleagues and collaborators: from coral identification and ecology, ways of measuring fishing activities, and aspects of raising ornamental fishes in captivity, to how to speak Indonesian and how to pick the best papaya. A few weeks ago huge storms ripped up some of the spiders at Badi Island, and damaged lots of coral on the rehabilitation site and on the natural reef. The weather was still rough, but my colleagues and I battled the waves trying to re-position and secure the spiders to prevent them from washing away. It was like trying to work in a washing machine. As I struggled to hold a spider in place while my colleague showed how to effectively tie it down, I couldn’t help stopping briefly to absorb the moment. It was a scenario that perfectly encapsulated my project as a whole: despite the challenges, we were all working together, helping one another, learning from one another, building our skills, and building a coral reef.