Thursday, 29 September 2016

The impacts of climate change on agriculture the focus of the PAC’s visit to Australia

Another successful meeting of ACIAR’s Policy Advisory Council (PAC) was held in Australia last week, with a strong focus on the strategic issues related to climate change, specifically its impact on agriculture in the Indo-Pacific Region.

Members of the Policy Advisory Council outside ACIAR House in Canberra. Photo: ACIAR
The theme of the two-day meeting held in Canberra was Climate Change: emerging research needs relating to agriculture, fisheries and forestry. Representatives from Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Vietnam and the Pacific islands community came together with members of the Commission for International Agricultural Research and Australian researchers to discuss the technological, scientific, economic, social, environmental and policy aspects of climate smart agriculture.

The President of the PAC, Professor Kym Anderson AC, said the Council noted the multi-sectorial, economy-wide nature of the issue.

‘Agriculture is both affected by, and a contributor to, climate change,’ he said.

‘There is great scope for agricultural research to contribute to adaptation by farmers and to provide more mitigation opportunities.’

‘Members also felt strongly that ACIAR should continue to make climate change a high priority for collaborative research going forward,’ said Professor Anderson. 
The Policy Advisory Council meet in Canberra. Photo: ACIAR
The Council also recommended that ACIAR develop a 10-year Strategic Plan designed to share knowledge and build capacity for research on climate-resilient agriculture across the Indo-Pacific region. ACIAR should consider supporting technological, social, and economic policy responses with partner countries in which climate change is identified as a high priority research area. This should be underpinned by the development of a strong alumni of ACIAR-supported scientists across the region.

Council members affirmed the need for a better understanding of how and where food is and will be grown, in order to assist farmers and agribusiness respond more effectively to climate change.

While in Canberra the PAC was visited by Dr R.K. Malik, winner of the Crawford Fund’s 2015 Derek Tribe award. Dr Malik has over 30 years’ experience in the agricultural research for development space. He outlined how his work as contributed to the improvement of farmers’ livelihoods in India, focussing on the evolution and acceleration of no-till Farming in rice-wheat cropping system of the Indo-Gangetic Plains.

To fulfil its role, the Council meets annually and conducts a field trip to ACIAR research partners in Australia. The field trip allows high-profile agricultural researchers to share expertise and knowledge, enhance international cooperation, and ensure alignment of developing country priorities with ACIAR country strategies. Following their meeting in Canberra, the Council headed to Queensland for a three-day field trip.

First stop was the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC), where Professor Roland De Marco, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Innovation), and USC researchers highlighted that university’s research capabilities, with a special emphasis on the recently launched Australian Centre for Pacific Islands Research.

Next on the itinerary was a visit to the research facilities of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF) on the Gatton Campus of the University of Queensland (UQ). QDAF’s Dr Steve Harper demonstrated how they are improving the yields of shallot and chilli crops—two high-priority vegetable crops grown in Indonesia and particularly in the lowland coastal areas of Java.
ACIAR CEO, Commissioners and PAC members at the University of Queensland. Photo: ACIAR
An ACIAR horticulture project is addressing issues associated with pathogen management and excessive fertiliser and chemical inputs into these systems with the aim of improving crop productivity. The Council was shown first-hand how UQ and the Indonesian Vegetable Research Institute have applied techniques to remove viruses from allium germplasm, resulting in virus-free or low-virus titre explants. The further refinement of this now allows for the potential to assess the impact of viruses on garlic and shallot crop productivity (yield per hectare). This information can then be used to assess the economic viability of a future dedicated commercial seed supply scheme for shallot planting material.
PAC and Commission members are shown how the University of Queensland and the Indonesia Vegetable Research Institute have applied techniques to remove viruses from allium germplams, including garlic and shallots. Photo: ACIAR
The PAC also met with a team of QDAF and industry partners. Dr Mike Hughes and Mr Eric Coleman described how, with ACIAR funding, their public/private partnership is working to identify improved sweet potato varieties and produce pathogen tested (PT; virus-free) germplasm. A suite of projects with Papua New Guinea and the Pacific islands is now using this PT material in a broad-based agronomic and markets approach to enhance smallholder sweet potato productivity and farmer livelihoods.

At the UQ campus, Council members were introduced to the nine current ACIAR project partnerships operating. Professor Neal Menzies and Professor Dennis Poppi showcased the technologies and innovations developed by researchers in the UQ School of Agriculture and Food Sciences and how they are being used to improve food safety, crop productivity, animal production and economic opportunities in Africa, China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Pacific Islands, the Philippines South-West Asia, and Timor-Leste.

Associate Professor Max Shelton explained the importance of UQ’s relationship with ACIAR in improving smallholder agriculture in developing countries. He commented that ‘over the last two decades, ACIAR funding trumps everything else in terms of continuity, stability and support for research students from developing countries—that is crucial for UQ's research performance and impact on agriculture.’

On their final day, the group attended the 6th McDonnell Academy International Symposium, which included a keynote address by the ACIAR CEO, Professor Andrew Campbell, on food, water and sustainability. Two members of the group also participated in the expert panels. Her Excellency, Naela Chohan, High Commissioner to Pakistan, presented on delivering nutrition security. Dr Peter Horne, ACIAR General Manager for Country Programs, participated in the expert panel on the role of universities in global food security.
ACIAR CEO, Professor Andrew Campbell, addresses the 6th McDonnell Academy International Symposium.
Photo: ACIAR
The function of the Council is to provide advice to the Minister for Foreign Affairs regarding agricultural problems of developing countries and their programs and policies aimed at finding solutions to those problems. For more information on the PAC, please visit the ACIAR website.

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