Thursday, 24 August 2017

Improving Vietnam's rice-shrimp systems

Woman rice farmer in Ca Mau.
ACIAR researchers have published a new paper based on their exciting work sustaining rice-shrimp systems in Vietnam's Mekong Delta.  The paper is available online until 4 October 2017 at

Farmers in the Mekong Delta and their families are struggling to make a living from an environment that is increasingly under pressure.

The Mekong Delta is the most important rice-producing region in Vietnam, and more than half the annual rice crop is grown there.  Shrimp is the region’s most valuable commodity, and produces about 40% of the country’s earnings from seafood.

Many farmers in the tropics are combining rice and shrimp production.  While these systems were developed as a form of crop-rotation – growing rice in the wet season and shrimp in the dry season – some farmers grow both rice and brackish-water shrimp simultaneously during the wet season.

Although farmers depend on rice and shrimp, rice crop failures in the Mekong Delta are so widespread that the Vietnamese government has declared an emergency.

Green but unhealthy: rice crops in the Mekong.

Severe soil salinity caused by climatic variability has affected the rice plant’s capacity to flower and produce seed, resulting in considerable crop losses.  Poor quality pond soil and water have affected shrimp yields, which also suffer recurrent disease outbreaks.

ACIAR project SMCN/2010/083 aims to increase yields and profitability for rice-shrimp production systems in the Mekong Delta, and ensure these systems can adapt to environmental change.

The researchers tested a re-designed rice–shrimp farming system in the Southern Mekong Delta and new varieties of salt-resistant rice.  They worked with local farmers and extension officers to study why both crops failed in integrated rice-shrimp farming systems during the wet season.

The project used 18 farms to test different management practices and fertiliser treatments for the rice crop, and to compare the new farm designs with the traditional farm layout.

Experimental plots at Hoa My Commune.

The research enabled the farming system to be scientifically modified to increase profitability and promote sustainable practices.  Farmers perceived they have a better chance to minimise risk of failure for shrimp rather than rice crops, and that limited opportunities exist for successfully producing both.

The researchers also identified both additional research questions for the broader research team and simple steps the farmers could take to reduce the risk of crop failure.

They hope that their research will help identify ways of improving farming practices that should reduce the risk of crop failure.

The project team at Hoa My Commune.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Dr Stephanie Montgomery braved the elements for PhD research on our project

Dr Stephanie Montgomery braved wildlife and the elements while completing her PhD on New Farming Systems for Upland Cropping in Northwest Cambodia. Her PhD was completed as part of our ACIAR project on crop and cattle systems in Cambodia. And as a reward for her outstanding research work Dr  Montgomery received the University medal earlier this year.

Dr Stephanie Montgomery with Cambodian farmers.
Even in a tropical farming system, water management is of the highest priority. Crop failure and low yields in the pre-monsoon period are common in Northwest Cambodia due to high temperatures and unpredictable rainfall. This PhD study was embedded in the ACIAR funded project ASEM/2010/049, which investigated options for integration of the crop and cattle systems in Northwest Cambodia.  In recognition of her work Dr Stephanie Montgomery received the Chancellor’s Doctoral Research Medal conferred by University of New England (UNE) in March this year. The outcomes of her research provide simple options for farmers in this important upland cropping zone to reduce the risk of crop failure, whilst simultaneously improving the productivity, profitability and sustainability of their farming system.

Dr Montgomery in the field.
Stephanie recounts what it was like to undertake field research in a remote area of a developing country, “At certain periods throughout my studies, like all students, I wondered if I would ever submit . The apex of my data mountain seemed insurmountable, and the trials and tribulations along the way were never dull. The most memorable moments involved a corn cob tug-of-war with a macaque and a stand-off with a king cobra poised to strike. Furthermore, it seemed that all manner of creatures great and small including rats, civets, birds, insects, dogs and humans were keenly interested in eating my research.

Dr Montgomery and family at her graduation ceremony.
One day I arrived to find a family had set up a tent next to my trial and lit a campfire in one of my mulch plots! Every PhD has it challenges, but I think it is fair to say that working remotely from your supervisors and not having the standard access to resources that comes with studying in an Australian University, definitely adds several more levels in the challenge stakes. You have to be persistently creative, extremely patient and not easily surprised, yet I do feel the impact that this type of research for development can have is well worth the effort.”

Dr Montgomery weighing maize residue for mulch treatments
The most important recommendations from this study include the conversion to no-till farming and to shift sowing windows back two months to closer align sowing date with rainfall and residual soil moisture use efficiency. Further to this the importance of crop rotations and diversity in the crop sequence was quantified.

Sunflower is a new crop for the region and in rotation with maize produced significantly higher gross margin returns than the other rotations. Soybean is also considered an important legume to assist with the health of the rotation and in alleviating land degradation currently experienced under monoculture cropping of maize or cassava. The conversion to no-till farming in this environment is paramount and needs to occur urgently to ensure the longevity of this farming system, protection of the soil resource and stability of production.

Sunflowers: a new crop for Cambodia.

Stephanie is continuing to work in the region as part of her involvement in a new ACIAR project ASEM2013/003 which is investigating uptake of agricultural technologies and best practices amongst farmers in Battambang and Pailin provinces. Dr Montgomery is the Field Research Leader for this study, which is looking at agronomic techniques to increase the sustainability of cassava production whilst mitigating agroecological impacts on the natural resource base. Field research in year two of this project aims to reflect survey responses from regional farmer focus groups which the social science aspect of this project will conduct. Information will be gathered pertaining to what farmers want their farming system to look like and research implemented based on their vision.

Read more:
Thesis Title: New Farming Systems for Upland Cropping in Northwest Cambodia
Award: Chancellor’s Doctoral Research Medal, UNE Armidale
URL link to publication:

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Focus on our work in Indonesia

Here at ACIAR we wish the people of Indonesia well as they celebrate their Independence Day.
Kerja Bersama!

ACIAR has collaborated with Indonesia for 35 years – since we first started our work in agricultural research.  This longstanding partnership has benefitted farmers and agriculture in both countries through the development of technologies and innovations.

At the moment we have more than thirty research projects in Indonesia, across agriculture, fisheries, and forestry.  These projects help to reduce poverty, improve food security, and empower women and girls.

Ocean seaweed farming in Indonesia
Fish are crucial for the food security of coastal people. And for the economic development of fishing communities, who are often among the poorest and most vulnerable in their region.  We are investigating how fisheries provide food, income and livelihoods for coastal communities.

We are also looking at ways to make Indonesia’s tuna fisheries more productive and sustainable and developing a bilingual web-based tool to identify fish. Our fisheries projects are also expanding spiny lobster aquaculture and improving seaweed production and processing - both major industries.
Our agribusiness projects connect farmers to fruit and vegetable markets and to value chains for coffee and cocoa, cassava and dairy products. Our animal health projects help farmers with ways to farm pigs and fatten up beef.

Our soil management and crop nutrition programs are working on dryland agriculture systems in tsunami-affected regions of Aceh. Our horticulture projects aim to help Indonesian farmers to grow shallots, garlic and chilli and to protect their crops from sugarcane disease and fruit fly.

Ginger is planted as a crop under a forest
Our forestry projects are developing eucalyptus, acacia and sandalwood plantations; helping farmers to reduce the damage from tree diseases and creating DNA-based chain-of-custody systems for teak, so it can be exported to countries with strict regulations. We are exploring community-based commercial forestry, so that farmer forest groups can make better investment decisions.

We are diversifying market-based integrated agroforestry systems to enhance the production and marketing of timber and other forest products. We are helping the Indonesian government to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation to benefit communities. We are also working to prevent fires in the peatlands and restore large areas of degraded peatland.

Other projects are focusing on ways for farmers to feed livestock. We are integrating herbaceous tropical legumes into grain cropping systems, and investigating supplementary feeding strategies for fattening cattle.  We are also upgrading a database of tropical and semi-tropical forages that farmers can use to identify forage species suitable for specific climates, soils, and farming systems.
Tilapia fish seedstock in the ocean in Indonesia
Indonesia is one of our first partners in agricultural research, and we are doing a variety of work across the spectrum of agriculture in Indonesia. Whether it is fattening cows, identifying fish or beating crop diseases, our work in Indonesia aims to make food systems more resilient, for the farmers and people of Indonesia.

Read more about our projects in Indonesia

Friday, 11 August 2017

In National Science Week we celebrate ACIAR’s work in science

It is National Science Week from 12-20 August. Science is the bedrock of our mission to make agriculture more productive and sustainable for the benefit of developing countries and Australia. We work with staff from universities around Australia, as well as from overseas. 
ACIAR works with family farmers in Nepal  Photo Conor Ashleigh

In many countries most farms are family-run and are under 2 hectares. It is vital for these farmers to remain viable, to feed their own families, and their country. We aim to help them with improved agriculture, in ways that will work for them, so they will be able to continue to thrive when our five-year research projects finish up.

Australian scientists work with 36 developing countries to build healthier, more equitable and more prosperous societies through agriculture. We work to improve food security and human nutrition, through diverse crops for family farms, and cash crops like coffee and chocolate, which give farmers additional income.

Seeding giant clams in the Philippines
We take a broad view of agriculture, our research programs tackle priority areas in livestock and fisheries, crops, natural resource management, and economics and social sciences. ACIAR projects cover a huge variety of agriculture from combined rice and fish fields in Myanmar to precooked beans in Africa. We also work on projects to create sustainable livelihoods in small communities, like giant clam breeding and half pearls in the Pacific. We’ve done work on vegetable markets in Nepal, and forestry in Indonesia.
Farming seaweed in the Pacific
We’re also investigating sea cucumbers in Northern Australia and growing mung bean test plots in four countries including Australia, to establish optimal conditions for this important protein crop. 

ACIAR works to:
·         Increase food and nutrition security by working with the private sector
·         Raise crop, livestock, forestry and fisheries productivity
·         Manage the challenges to agriculture from a changing climate
·         Improve smallholder and community livelihoods
·         Strengthen animal and plant biosecurity
·         Build gender equity
·         Build individual and institutional capacity.

We generate and apply knowledge to meet the challenges facing developing countries, and share this knowledge with policy makers, other scientists, and communities around the world.
Australian farmers and researchers also benefit through knowledge and technology exchange, preventing or solving problems like crop disease before they reach Australia.

Our work with pre-cooked beans in Africa is keeping families healthy

Food is vital for the world’s people, and science is vital for the agricultural research ACIAR does, to improve agriculture, and through that to improve nutrition for families in developing countries.
ACIAR the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, is Australia’s specialist international agricultural research for development agency.
By Nick Fuller

Read more: 

- on science week -