Friday, 25 November 2016

My banana leaves are too small: ACIAR at the International Symposia on Tropical and Temperate Horticulture

ACIAR was proud to be part of the International Symposia on Tropical and Temperate Horticulture in Cairns, North Queensland from 21-25 November. The Symposia brought together Australian and international horticulturalists to share research results on topics as diverse as plantation and beverage crops, plant breeding and genomics, protected cultivation as well as poverty and hidden hunger.  High value horticultural produce is a key element in facilitating sustainable livelihood options for smallholders.

ACIAR's display at the conference showcased current research in tropical fruits, including bogia coconut syndrome, bacterial crown rot highly destructive to papaya and panama disease; which are lethal to bananas along with integrated pest and disease strategies for cocoa and mango crops.  Our horticulture scientific research contributes to improved incoming opportunities, the advancement of women and linking farmers to markets.

Joy Hardman, ACIAR's Horticulture Crops Cluster Support Officer, reflects on the Symposia:

I’m here in Cairns at the Symposia on Tropical and Temperate Horticulture.  ACIAR’s innovative display is enacting the slogan “research to hit the target”.  We’ve set up a ball to aim at targets and have ACIAR Partners magazine bunting used to open and close the side-show.  It’s a bit like the game “balloon-bust” with the targets being cutouts of tropical fruit, mangoes, papaya, banana, cocoa and coconut: some disease ridden. The fruit cut outs were attached to trees drawn with charcoal. Mangoes, papaya and bananas are big business in Australia.  For cocoa, at least the bean-to-bar processing, is an expanding Australian small business.  

ACIAR's Horticulture Cluster Support Officer, Joy Hardman opens ACIAR's display booth for business.
The Symposia is a mid-size gathering of passionate horticulturists, motivated by science research in our food which sustains and in the green urban environment which provides mental rejuvenation. Australian benefit research inspiring enthusiasm, passion and sweat include: sequencing the mango genome; sweetpotato virus indexing; documenting every food plant on the plant.   

I am here with ACIAR Philippines project partners.  ACIAR Horticulture’s program has five fruit based research partnership discovering new knowledge of benefit to both countries.  Research of mutual benefit – it’s a shared space, which addresses each nations own interest, whilst benefiting from the others experience. Research which at a macro scale aims to address the shockingly low fruit and vegetable intake in the Philippines, aspiring to produce disease free fruit without poisoning the customer by excessive pesticide use. The Philippines government is backing the effort through its"Oh My Gulay" campaign.

ACIAR's Philippine project partners next to the fruit they are researching.
In Australia the projects work with the Banana Growers Council, Mango Industry Association, and state Dept’s of Agriculture. We share pests and diseases so we need to share the research effort.
Back to my heading.  Fusarium wilt is not just a threat to the banana industry. It currently cannot be eradicated. Growers (and governments) have to find ways to manage its spread. 
For our display; I’ve drawn the trees, the fruits are attached.  Oh dear! Now that the drawing is vertical, I notice “My banana leaves are too small!”  Oh well, I’ve brought the charcoal. I’ll just add a few more leaves! 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The role of ACIAR’s forestry research projects in supporting new policy directions in Lao PDR

In Lao PDR, the government has set strong policies supporting forestry, including a target of having 70% of the country under forest by 2020 and a recently promulgated Prime Minister’s Order that aims to boost production and trade of value-added wood products in Laos, by banning the export of unfinished wood products and requiring wood processors to use planted timbers.

While these policy settings present significant opportunities for smallholder tree growers and the wood processing industries, the Lao forestry sector is not as well developed as those in neighbouring countries like Thailand or Vietnam, which means there will be many challenges for the Lao forestry sector to face. Fortunately, ACIAR has been supporting collaborative research on teak agroforestry and value added wood processing for the  past decade and therefore there are many research findings from the ACIAR projects which could help Laos to achieve its forest policy goals.

Farmer and project staff in teak plantation. Photo: Tony Bartlett

Teak wooden furniture at Lao Furniture Co. Photo: Tony Bartlett
ACIAR’s planted log value chain project (FST/2010/012) in Lao PDR is nearing the end of its 4.5 year life and the project team has generated some significant policy and technical outputs, as well as achieving substantial economic and social impacts through its work with private sector wood processing and manufacturing companies and local communities that grow teak. Research and development plays an important part in supporting the development of an internationally competitive value-added wood processing sector, particularly when those industries move from utilising large logs from native forests to small diameter logs grown by smallholders as these timbers have different properties and require specialised timber processing techniques.

In the Luang Prabang province in northern Laos, smallholders have established about 15,000 hectares of teak plantations, yet to date many of the have failed to realise significant economic benefits from these investments partly due to the challenges of accessing timber markets. Australian scientists have analysed the current regulations and transaction costs associated with harvesting and transporting planted timber and produced recommendations on how these systems could be made more efficient. The project team has also worked with two communities in Ban Xieng Lom and Ban Kok Ngiew villages to investigate the feasibility of grower groups undertaking value added processing and facilitating collaboration between smallholders to market their timber.
Basic wood machining facilities at Niphone factory. Photo: Tony Bartlett
Wooden chairs made by Piphone factory. Photo: Tony Bartlett
The project has assisted the Ban Kok Ngiew growers group to develop a wood enterprise in the village to develop a local market for their teak. A local entrepreneur, Mr Niphone, established a value added processing centre in 2014 and he borrowed money to purchase the processing equipment. The small factory suffered a significant setback in September 2014 when it was flooded during Typhoon Kalmaegi, but it is now fully operational again and producing good quality furniture.

Through the ACIAR project the grower’s enterprise got connected with the owner of the Lao Furniture Company in Vientiane, who now buys some of their furniture. The group received training on developing business plans, grading and drying timber and gluing wooden furniture. This has led to improved quality of his furniture, which can be more easily sold into local and national markets and as a result Mr Niphone explained that the enterprise is buying increased quantities of teak logs from the growers group.

The project has also worked with a number of small-medium enterprises and larger wood manufacturing enterprises around Vientiane. Two of these companies, Khampai Sana and Lao Furniture Company have comparatively substantial factories producing more sophisticated wooden products, such as larger items of furniture, wooden doors and carved wooden products. These companies have participated in various training programs designed to improve the quality of the products produced at the factories such as ensuring that timber is properly dried before it is manufactured into finished products. Both the companies employ a lot of women in their factories with Khamphai Sana increasing its ratio of women to men workers from 20:80 to 50:50 during the life of the project. The manager of the Lao Furniture Company, Mr Thongsavanh Soulignamat, thanked the project leader, Dr Barbara Ozarska from the University of Melbourne, for the project team’s assistance indicating how important it is to build capacity within the Faculty of Forestry at the National University of Laos and also in the wood processing factories in order to help the Lao forest industries to meet the Government’s requirements.
Dr Barbara Ozarska and Mr Thongsavanh Soulignamat. Photo: Tony Bartlett
Women working at Lao furniture Co. Photo: Tony Bartlett
This ACIAR forestry project clearly demonstrates the role that research can play in improving the efficiencies of wood  processing industries and thereby generate increased employment opportunities, including for women, and enhanced incomes for the farmers who grow the teak timber. ACIAR has recently decided to continue this theme of research in Laos and is currently finalising the design of a follow-on project, which should commence in April 2017. The new project will continue the policy research on enhancing the value chain efficiency as well as work with grower groups and wood processing industries. A new dimension of project will be research and development related to the production of veneers from planted logs, utilising low cost spindle-less lathe technologies, which are currently not used in Laos.
Author: Tony Bartlett, Forestry Research Program Manager

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Connecting the SRFSI dots: annual review focuses on need to remove policy constraints for adoption of CASI technologies

The Eastern Gangetic Plains of Western Bangladesh, Eastern India and South-Eastern Nepal is a region of extreme poverty, food insecurity and severe climate risk in South Asia. The Sustainable and Resilient Farming Systems Intensification (SRFSI) project is focused on reducing poverty and food insecurity and improving agricultural productivity in resilient ways through conservation agriculture based system intensification (CASI) in India (Bihar & West Bengal), Bangladesh and Nepal. The project is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) under the Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (SDIP), with a co-investment by ACIAR. It is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and implemented by 20 national, international and Australian partners. The implementing partners belong to agricultural research institutions, government agriculture departments NGOs, and Australian universities.

The partners and some key stakeholders meet twice-annually to review, share progress and plan future activities. The review and planning meeting for 2016 was held from 18-21 September in Darjeeling, India. The partners presented the status of their project components including trial results, socio-economic activities, innovation platforms, APSIM modelling, gender mainstreaming, private sector engagement, studies on groundwater irrigation and mechanization.

ACIAR is actively engaged with the private sector to bring additional investments to conservation agriculture. The meeting focused on the means to scale out to benefit  the targeted 1.5 million households by the year 2020-21. The participants also considered how to shift the focus in Phase 2 from farm level innovations/technologies to removing policy constraints for adoption of these technologies and strengthening local markets and value chains. With this in mind, discussions during the meeting were consciously aimed at encouraging the team to think and plan for the second phase of the project and find more effective and significant ways of regional cooperation.  

Participants of the SRFSI regional meeting held fro 18-21 September, 2016 at Darjeeling, India. Photo: ACIAR

The SRFSI project benefited greatly from 18 months of preparatory capacity building, pilot research and studies. The project is in its third year of implementation and is progressing  well. More than 26,000 farmers are already involved in the project, with inclusion of 30% women in key  project activities. There has been the successful introduction of CASI technologies like new crop varieties; systems intensification and diversification; introduction of new crops like maize, wheat, legumes, etc.; intercropping vegetables and legumes with maize; and the introduction of mechanisation based agriculture. CASI technologies, particularly Zero till (ZT) wheat and maize in India and Nepal, and Strip till (ST) maize and wheat in Bangladesh, are consistently showing higher profits, with huge savings in labour, water and energy for the farmers. The higher profitability has created a huge interest among participating farmers and their fellow neighbours. CASI technologies are thus expected to be more widely adopted in the future, not only in the project nodes but with scaling out to neighbouring villages and districts.

The SRFSI team in West Bengal has capitalised on the farmers clubs/local NGOs established by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). These farmer clubs have been oriented as micro entrepreneurs for single window services like access to mechanisation, quality inputs, knowledge and capacity building. The Department of Agriculture in West Bengal has endorsed CASI technologies for widespread adoption. In Bangladesh, the SRFSI partnership has enabled efficient input supply to farmers practicing CASI, including machinery service providers and has provided technical support to development agencies and farmers on the ground. Nepal has successfully experimented with the concept of Community Business Facilitators (CBF), who are seen as agents of change to facilitate adoption of CASI technologies by farmers. It has also successfully demonstrated laser land levelling in both districts of Sunsari and Dhanusha. In Bihar, SRFSI has been able to attain major participation of women in the project through their partnership with Jeevika, a rural livelihoods project of the government of Bihar.

Author: John Dixon, Research Program Manager Cropping Systems and Economics


Monday, 7 November 2016

Dr Nicolas Roux presents on genetic resources conservation

Thanks to Dr Nicolas Roux, Genetic Resources Group Leader from CGIAR for doing a talk today at ACIAR house on the work Bioversity International does on genetic resources.  Dr Roux has been working in genetics with Bioversity International since 2003; specialises in work with roots, tubers and bananas; and has a background in tropical fruits in Venezuela. He coordinates the Global Musa Genomics Consortium and the Global Musa Genetic Resources Network (MusaNet). He also oversees work done in cacao and coconut genetic resources conservation and use.

Dr Roux talked about two strategies: the Global Musa (banana) Strategy and Global Coconut Strategy on Genetic Resources. These strategies for are important for the conservation and use of these important Pacific food security crops. Research on coconut is vital to prevent diseases in PNG and Cote D’Voire. The work CGIAR is doing with banana biodiversity is also significant as currently 40% of banana production is based on the clone variety, Cavendish. This is a potential problem as reliance on one type of banana means greater vulnerability to banana diseases, such as Panama disease, which risks wiping them off our supermarket shelves. Bananas are the fourth most important crop in developing countries with 42% being grown in the Asian region. There is an urgent need to broaden the banana genetic base for improved food and nutrition security as there are millions of farmers and consumers around the world dependent on bananas.

General Manager Global Programs Mellissa Wood introduces Dr Roux at the presentation
Bananas are reproduced vegetatively and cannot be stored as seed. They are stored in-vitro (test tubes), which is a difficult, expensive and labour intensive exercise. A Global CyroVault for the long term storage of vegetatively propagated crops is being considered where plant tissue is preserved in liquid nitrogen as long-term storage, similar to the long-term storage provided by the Svalbard Global Seed Vault for seed crops on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen.  This CyroVault will also act as a hub for training and capacity building; and includes genes from potato, sweetpotato, taro, banana, cassava amongst many other plants.  There is still work to be done to assess the need for the Centre, compare potential locations for the Centre and work out a financial model and government requirements before the Centre will be in operation and ACIAR is pleased to be contributing to the funding of a feasibility study for such a facility.

Dr Nicolas Roux (CGIAR) with General Manager Global Programs Mellissa Wood (ACIAR)
The strategies presented by Dr Roux are needed to provide information and guidance for the strategic conservation and use of banana and coconut genebanks. We look forward to a future where there is a more diverse genepool that can promote ecosystem services such as resilience to pest and disease and the effects of climate change.

For more information see