Friday, 26 February 2016

The drought in PNG: impacts on food production and research opportunities

Dr Mike Bourke from the ANU, College of Asia and the Pacific, visited ACIAR today. 
He delivered an insightful and sobering presentation focusing on the ongoing drought and frost events impacting Papua New Guinea (PNG). Dr Bourke’s extensive personal knowledge of PNG and his stories about the plight of local villagers made his presentation all the more moving. It painted a picture of a situation in PNG that is every bit as bad as the devastating drought of 1997. 

In particular, Dr Bourke stressed the seriousness of issues facing farmers who did not have access to a diversity of crops. These farmers faced widespread crop failure, food shortages and malnutrition as a result of the relentless drought and frost events. This, coupled with the lack of effective infrastructure, trapped villages in areas with little to no food. The prevailing El Nino weather pattern in PNG is causing extreme dry in much of the country and is estimated to be putting around 2 million people at risk of famine and disease.

Dr Bourke told the story of villagers who walked three days to the local market to purchase much needed food only to be rewarded with an empty market place. For their effort they were able to retrieve just a couple of bananas. 

What was patently clear from this presentation was that the food security for these people and many like them is extremely poor and additional work needs to be done to enhance immediate and direct aid in the short term. In the medium to longer term it is also vital that assistance is made available to develop more robust and diverse food systems. 

Photo: Frosts have destroyed vital crops in Papua New Guinea's highlands.
(CARE International: Jay Lomu)

PNG is one of Australia’s most important development partners and ACIAR’s investment in PNG reflects this. ACIAR’s PNG program recognises the many challenges to agricultural development in the country. These include the impact of the current drought as well as poorly developed infrastructure, weak market signals and services, new pest and disease threats, poor product quality, and pressure on land and renewable resources as a result of population increases and mining development. Future effects of HIV/AIDS and other human diseases on the agriculture sector, including on labour availability, health and productivity, are taken into account. Gender issues are integrated into all programs.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Tenant farmer collectives in North Bihar – a new model for bottom up irrigation and land management for marginal women farmers

By Dr Fraser Sugden, IWMI Nepal

Collective farming has been often written-off as irrelevant in the 21st century – yet a new model of collectivised production has the potential to revolutionise smallholder irrigated agriculture and gender empowerment in the Gangetic plains in an era of intensifying inequalities and climate stress. 
India’s Bihar state has for decades remained one of the most peripheral corners of South Asia, and deeply inequitable landlord-tenant relations have long blocked the technological and irrigation development in agriculture in this densely populated region. In Bhagwatipur of Bihar’s Madhubani district, close to 27% of farmers are tenants, renting all their land from others under sharecropping arrangements, where the landlord retains half of the harvest.  A further third of households rent part of their land from others.  Investments in irrigation are essential to build resilience to increasingly erratic rainfall and to extend cultivation into the dry months for food security. However, a lack of capital, marginal holdings and tenure insecurity act as a considerable constraint for tenants in accessing water, while for any investments which are made, the landlord retains half of the increase in output. In this context, male out-migration is increasingly an essential component of household livelihoods. 

Ploughmen return from the fields: groups were able to share the costs of land preparation

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Confessions of an ACIAR Grad

By: Jack Koci
This Blog was first published by our good friends at RAID

For those of you considering applying for the new ACIAR graduate position, read on to get a first-hand account of the experience from Jack Koci.

Like many uni graduates, I had just come to the end of my Honours degree and was wondering, ‘what on earth am I going to do with my life?’
Luckily for me, I’d just received an email informing me of a graduate position at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). At that point, I had no idea who ACIAR was, and to be frank, I hadn’t even considered international ag R4D as a possible career path. All I saw was that the job was located in Canberra and I wasn’t sure if my North QLD bones could handle the ACT’s bitter chill.

  Picture 1: Visiting smallholder onion farmers in Myanmar’s Central Dry Zone.