Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Are fisheries important?

World Fisheries Day (21 November) is celebrated throughout the world by fishing communities. Dr Chris Barlow, Fisheries Research Program Manager with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), provides a few fisheries facts about Australia and nearby countries. Images in this post were extracted from ACIAR's Fisheries Program project profiles 2012 summary.

Fisheries is one program of work within ACIAR. Why fisheries? After all, when most of us in Australia think of fisheries, we think of recreational fishersthose brave souls who spend countless hours by the sea, rivers and lakes, catching (but most often not catchingat least that is my experience) fish.
A big Bass caught in Papua New Guinea
Sure, we have some commercial fisheries too, but their economic importance in Australia is much less than livestock and cropping. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The importance of sweetpotatoes

"Did you know the humble sweetpotato is a member of the morning glory family and is not related to the common potato?"
...asks Elick Guaf. Elick is a senior scientist and agronomist at the Papua New Guinea (PNG) National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) and is involved in an ACIAR project to improve sweetpotato production.

Sweetpotato is one of the world's most important food crops and an important staple food in PNG. It is valuable in the diet of its 6.3 million people, with more than 60% producing this low-input crop.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Transforming lives out of poverty

To commemorate International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we're bringing to you the story of Sree Shanaton Kumar Biswas. His story shows that even indirect involvement in ACIAR projects can lead lives out of poverty. 

Transforming lives

The lives of Bangladeshi Sree Shanaton Kumar Biswas and his family have been transformed since he became a machinery contractor. While they once lived in poverty, they now run a successful business and also became land owners.

Sree Shanaton Kumar Biswas
Shanaton Kumar Biswas, Bangladesh
Image CC BY Conor Ashleigh
This came about after Shanaton took the opportunity to purchase a ‘versatile multi-crop planter’ in 2007 that was being introduced to farmers through an ACIAR project.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

World Food Day 2012

The Australian International Food Security Centre (AIFSC) is excited to be celebrating World Food Day 2012. This year, agricultural cooperatives are the focus of World Food Day, highlighting the role of cooperatives in improving food security and contributing to the eradication of hunger.

As we observe World Food Day and acknowledge the one in eight people on the planet who suffer from undernourishment, we can be heartened that the world is making progress in eliminating hunger. The recently released report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) The State of Food Insecurity in theWorld 2012 has highlighted a decrease in undernourishment in most regions since 1990. 

However, there is still a way to go.  Especially in sub-Saharan African where our Centre is focusing its efforts, where more than one in four is hungry and rising by 2 per cent per year since 2007. The 2012 Global Hunger Index, published recently by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), shows that progress in reducing the proportion of hungry people in the world has been tragically slow.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The magic of Sophy

Sophy and the vegetable patch is a new storybook for Cambodian children. It will soon be in the hands of grade 5 students to help set them up for a healthy future. 

The book has been jointly published by Australian Centrefor International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Maddox-Jolie Pitt Foundation (MJP) in English and is soon to be available in Khmer. 

"Our aim was to produce a book to help stop malnutrition by passing messages about the importance of eating a diverse healthy diet onto children and their parents."
Stephan Bognar, Chief Executive Officer, Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Seeing is believing: lessons from Africa

CC BY Aidan Jones
There are many remarkable success stories resulting from our work, but we don't always get to hear them. Do we need to? Not entirely, but it's reassuring to know that our efforts are paying off. What does matter is that these stories are shared with other people to whom the interventions can make a life-changing difference.

'Seeing is believing' is a saying coined hundreds of years ago implying that only physical or concrete evidence is convincing. Biblical connotations aside, it is a concept that is the backbone of many extension and uptake strategies and the subject of many varied (and some interesting) academic articles, particularly in the science communication field.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Better livestock management behind a remarkable tale of success

Mr. Cha Ben and his wife manage a 3 hectare farm in Tram Kok District in Takeo Province of Cambodia. Their achievements as livestock producers are a remarkable tale of success, and an example of the benefits of adopting new technologies in the rural Cambodian environment.

Since 2008 an ACIAR project has been working with village producers to compare the effects of introducing a range of health and production practices. The aim is to increase producers’ income by improving animal husbandry through better nutrition and reducing the impact of livestock diseases.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Thinking outside the square to increase impact

Livestock diseases have a big impact on countries and people in the Mekong. They stop livestock movement, cause the loss of productive livestock and restrict trade. Some diseases can also be transmitted to people.
Every year thousands of livestock are traded between Mekong countries, potentially spreading serious diseases. As an indication, in 2008-09 up to 15,000 head of cattle per month were reported to have transited from Thailand through southern Laos into Vietnam.

Although the trade on this route has now dwindled to a trickle — mainly because of changes in exchange rates that made the trade less profitable — animals still move in large numbers to different destinations. The common factor in this trade is the trader and the trader networks that facilitate it.

The livestock trade in the Mekong is a potential risk in the spread of serious diseases such as foot and mouth disease or classical swine fever. What can be done to manage that risk?

Friday, 6 July 2012

First impressions, lasting impressions

Alex Henderson, ACIAR Work Experience Student
Alex Henderson documents her 'impressions of ACIAR'
after a week of work experience
We can contact people across the world with mere clicks of a button and send humans into space... short of flying cars, this is the almost-magical future that was envisioned wistfully in bygone eras. Yet the science fiction wonder world is only bright on the surface, as for all our fantastic technology and medical science, there are still huge parts of the world that are impoverished, uneducated and starving. Surely something in that just can’t be right.

ACIAR exists to right that painful wrong, working to not just feed the world but make sure the world can feed itself. The founder’s motto is, appropriately:

Give a man a fish and you’ve fed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you’ve fed him for a lifetime’.
(Chinese proverb)

Thursday, 5 July 2012

O Canada, you give with glowing hearts

Back in the 1970s when a committee was appointed to investigate how Australian agricultural research could be deployed in the aid program, one model was seen as being suitable – Canada’s International Development Research Centre

It shouldn’t surprise that both Canada and Australia want to contribute aid, and have been giving back to those less fortunate for some time. Both countries share similar heritages (established under British rule during the days of Empire), and similar places in the world (developed, middle power countries).

3 minute video: Australian's commenting on our expenditure on foreign aid, World Vision Australia.
I was in Canada at the end of 2010 and was surprised by the extent of media coverage around foreign aid and people giving something back. Pleasantly surprised, because the coverage was largely positive and focused on achievements and outcomes. And not the flow of dollars.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The gender issue

Promotional art for The Simpsons episode Girls Just Want To Have Sums, copyright Fox
Promotional art for The Simpsons episode,
Girls Just Want to Have Sums

(copyright Fox)
There is an episode of the animated television show The Simpsons, where one of the characters gets himself into a lot of trouble for making a series of unintentionally disparaging remarks about the achievement of a woman. That character, Principal Skinner, the head of the elementary or primary school is trying to praise a past student, who has returned to her hometown as director of a stage show.

Each remark, is interpreted as sexist, until Skinner is seen begging anyone to “just tell me what I need to say to make it all go away”.

I kept running that through my head when trying to write this post on gender issues. Was I saying the right thing, or was I about to drop myself in it, saying something inadvertently wrong.

The point here is how complicated the whole issue can be (warning – potential dumb, Skinner-style comment following). The cause of at least some of that complexity is the differing circumstances of women in the developing world, particularly those who run smallholder farms, particularly when viewed from the lens of the expectations and realities surrounding equality in the developing world. 
And the reality is that the majority of the 500 million or so smallholder farms in the developing world are run by women.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

What's in a definition - food security

When you work on food security all the time it is easy to forget that not everyone immediately understands the term.

So how best to define food security?

Global, national, regional, community or even household; any definition of food security must centre on individuals.

The World Food Summit of 1996, called by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), defined “Food security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels [is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

This definition was again refined in the 2002 report, The State of Food Insecurity 2001:
“Food security [is] a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” 

Friday, 15 June 2012

Thirty years, but still a long row to hoe

This month heralds 30 years of ACIAR. 

The Centre was announced in 1981. This was the year the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer wedded, France abolished capital punishment, Muhammad Ali fought his last fight, and the computer game Donkey Kong was first released.

The following year, on the third day of June, the Centre was formally established by the passing of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research Act 1982.

Building markets for Vietnamese indigenous vegetables

Armed with a Masters degree in agricultural business from the University of Adelaide, Rebecca McBride recently spent 12 months working in north-west Vietnam as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development.

Rebecca was engaged as an agricultural marketing officer on an ACIAR project that is helping women from often poor families in the north-west highlands to grow and market local indigenous vegetables in rapidly transforming markets.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Grow-your-own sea cucumbers

Sea cucumbers have a high market value both as a food and a medicine in China and other parts of Asia. These sausage-shaped marine invertebrates have for centuries been collected in the shallow waters of the Pacific and South-East Asia. However, overexploitation in recent decades has left wild populations of sea cucumbers greatly depleted.

Since wild sea cucumbers have become hard to come by, there has been a growing interest in producing them using aquaculture techniques.

A new ACIAR publication, ‘Asia-Pacifictropical sea cucumber aquaculture’, brings together the Proceedings of a symposium held in New Caledonia last year, organised by ACIAR, together with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. The publication includes a wealth of new research on aquaculture techniques, as well as reviewing hatchery production, sea-ranching, export markets and tenure issues. 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Happy Seeder cuts smog, saves soil

New technologies to reduce pollution and increase soil fertility in rice-wheat crops are under the microscope in a new ACIAR Impact Assessment Series report.

The report, ‘Rice-wheat cropping systems in India and Australia, and the development of the Happy Seeder’, was published in April this year by ACIAR.

The Happy Seeder is an implement that attaches to the back of a tractor and allows the direct seeding of wheat into rice stubble. While direct seeders have existed for some time, the Happy Seeder allows the seed to be sown directly into combine-harvested rice stubble.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Tim Purcell leaves lasting legacy

The latest publication in ACIAR’s Monograph series is the Indonesian version of Making value chains work better for the poor: a toolbook for practitioners of value chain analysis (ACIAR Monograph No. 148).

It is dedicated to Tim Purcell who tragically passed away on Sunday 11 March 2012 at his home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 

As a Managing Editor and publisher of the original toolbook in English, Tim's collaborative and ‘open-door’ approach to sharing information freely made this latest ACIAR edition of the toolbook possible, and so easy.

Measuring impacts: looking at livelihoods

“One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results” Milton Friedman.

publication cover, IAS 78
When attempting to evaluate whether ACIAR policies or programs 'achieve results' we're looking at more than whether the innovation has made an impact on a smallholder farmer's income.

The latest publication in our Impact Assessment Series has introduced a livelihoods-oriented methodology that can be used to assess the multidimensional poverty-reducing impacts of investments. The report outlines a mixed-method approach using a suite of quantitative and qualitative tools.

ACIAR CEO, Dr Nick Austin, introduces the report: A methodology for assessing the poverty-reducing impacts of Australia's international research.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Astounding images from PNG

Photojournalist Paul Jones recently visisted some of our project sites in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The superb images feature in a photo set on PNG and in one on PNG women agricultural researchers on our Flickr site.

The pictures capture examples of ACIAR's investment in PNG and how our work is making a difference to the lives of smallholder farmers and their communities.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Priorities for Indian agricultural development

One of India’s most senior agricultural research leaders presented a seminar on the country’s research priorities in a seminar in Canberra earlier this year.

While the visit was a few months back, the presentation has been in such high demand that another mention wont hurt.
Seminar icar challenges ayyappan_180112
View more presentations from ACIAR

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Celebrating International Women's Day in PNG

We're so very fortunate to work with some remarkable women in ACIAR. These include women within our organisation, the researchers who help undertake our programs and projects, and importantly, the inspirational farmers involved.

On International Women's Day, 8 March 2012, the theme is "empowering rural women: ending hunger and poverty". This theme resonates strongly with the work we do.

Our Country manager for Papua New Guinea, Ms Emily Flowers, extended her busy-as-usual schedule to arrange for some of the women involved in ACIAR projects to meet with Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, The Hon Richarld Marles MP, as part of Australia Week celebrations in PNG.

Some of these women are farmers, and some are members of the nations leading female agricultural researchers. They participated in a photo shoot, the results of which we take great pleasure in sharing with our blog readers.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

ACIAR staff graduate with international accolades

Congratulation to two of ACIAR’s Program Support Officer’s (PSO's) who graduated from the Australian National University at the end of last year with international degrees.

Olivia Shanahan and Janet Williams graduated from the College of Asia and the Pacific, Olivia with a degree in Security Analysis (Asia Pacific) and Janet with one in International Affairs.

Graduation day for ACIAR Program Support Officers, Janet Williams (left) and Olivia Shanahan (right).
Our PSOs play a vital role in ACIAR. Their main job is to provide administrative advice and support to our Research Program Managers. Those who work with scientists can appreciate the mammoth job at hand. The PSO role involves tasks such as finance and contract administration, preparation and monitoring of budgets and sorting out the vast array of project information. The diversity of the PSO positions bring people with a plethora of skills to ACIAR. It is this variety of skills, expertise and experience that strengthens the PSO network.

Janet Williams explains why she thinks the business of ACIAR is more important than ever.  

Monday, 20 February 2012

New poverty study

The latest report to be published in ACIAR’s Impact Assessment Series looks at the role that agricultural growth has played, and will play, in reducing poverty in China, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Vietnam.

The poverty status of each country was assessed in terms of monetary indicators as well as the Multidimensional Poverty Index (based on health, education and living standards) .  The report showed that, since the 1980s, all countries made substantial progress in reducing poverty, although to varying degrees. The poverty-reducing impact of agriculture depended on the types of agriculture, the relative size and growth rate of agriculture compared with non-agriculture sectors, the level of public and private investment in agriculture, and the level of government policy support.
 Given the high concentration of the world’s poor in developing countries and particularly in rural areas, further substantial reduction in poverty requires lifting the growth of the agriculture sector through increased agricultural productivity. Further investment in agricultural research and development across many countries will be necessary if the potential of agriculture to meet emerging food needs and to contribute to poverty reduction is to be realised.

The report can be downloaded for free, or purchased online, from Complimentary copies may also be possible. For ACIAR’s distribution policy, see
Georgina Hickey, ACIAR Publications Manager

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Fish farm future for PNG

A/Professor Jes Sammut (c), with lead farmer Mr A1 (r) who is fostering aquaculture technologies with other farmers in the Eastern Highlands Province (Photo: Cathy Hair)

The experience of ACIAR project leader Dr Jes Sammut helping people in Papua New Guinea grow fish inland, is featured in the February edition of the Qantas ‘Australian Way’ magazine in a story about scientists working in remote locations.

The Associate Professor at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales travels to a range of locations in the Western, Eastern Highlands and Morobe provinces of PNG on a regular basis.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Young aggie Aussies wanted overseas

Did you see our recent post on Skye Gabb? Inspired? Well, if you're a young Aussie with skills in agriculture, then you could be next!

The Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) Program is calling for applicants for 12 agriculture assignments. It's a fantastic opportunity for young people (18-30 years) from the agriculture sector to share their skills and experience with communities in developing countries.

AYAD John Paul Collins worked on an ACIAR-project on the south central coast of Vietnam

Thursday, 19 January 2012

West Timor experience for young agricultural scientist

Since graduating in Rural Science from the University of New England four year ago, Skye Gabb has worked as a jillaroo in the Northern Territory, as a volunteer on a research project in West Timor, to her present job with the Birchip Cropping Group.

In 2011 Skye spent 10 months working with project staff and farmers on an ACIAR project in West Timor and Flores.  The aim was to help the farmers add forage legumes to their cropping mix to increase crop and livestock production.

Skye documented her experience in the latest 'Connect Magazine' from Australian Volunteers for International Development.  She was also recently interviewed by ABC regional radio about her experience as an agricultural scientist.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Timor-Leste PhD graduate

ACIAR John Allwright Fellow Dr Marcal Gusmao (2nd from left), the University of Western Australia's first Timor-Leste PhD graduate, recently completed his doctorate in agricultural science on a legume crop which tolerates drought and waterlogging.
Marcal will use the knowledge he gained to continue working on improving crop yields and training agricultural science graduates at the National University of Timor-Leste, where he is also working for a United Nations development program on climate change.