The South and West Asia region comprises Indian Ocean Rim countries that are strategically important to Australia:
South and West Asia have the highest concentration of poor people in the world. More than half a billion people still live in extreme poverty. Many more people, particularly women, live just above the poverty line. The region has the second highest regional Global Hunger Index and a very low Human Development Index. Half the total population of 1.5 billion depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.
South and West Asian countries are poorly integrated despite common history, geography, culture and socioeconomics. This restricts the region’s potential growth.
Individual economies in South Asia are growing, but more collaboration, knowledge sharing and trade would benefit the region. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAAC), the main organisation for economic and political co-operation, has had difficulty promoting co-operation in the region.
Sub-regional co-operations like the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBN) Initiative have facilitated agreements on transport and energy. BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Co-operation), a regional co-operation between South Asian and South-East Asian Countries, is a promising avenue to pursue collaborations. The countries could also co-operate on agricultural intensification and policy exchanges on food security.
South Asian countries need to share regional resources, such as water. In the last twenty years, natural disasters have affected over 50% of South Asians (more than 800 million people). Climate variability, competing and increasing demands from agriculture and industry (including energy production), and population growth will all affect water availability. The countries must co-operate more to manage these shared resources. This will ensure their long-term sustainability and capacity to support economic growth and to maintain regional stability.
The Australian Government’s South Asia regional program seeks to grow and connect the region’s economies through the Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (SDP) and South Asia Regional Trade Facilitation Program (SARTFP). The regional program will also improve gender equality.
ACIAR has a long and strong R&D track record in the region; it has improved crop productivity, water use efficiency and policy reforms. Long-term Australian–South Asian research for development partnerships to deliver technologies for farmers would benefit both regions. In both Australia and South Asia, drought and water management and many similar food grain and livestock production constraints limit agricultural productivity. Technical, institutional, value-chain and policy research and development (R&D) could make the rice/wheat-based farming systems more productive and sustainable.
ACIAR has seven ACIAR research programs in the region. The regional strategy focuses on three ecosystems of highlands, plains and coast which are common to India, Bangladesh and Nepal.
- Build agricultural institutions’ capacity to improve the livelihoods of the rural poor
- Eradicate extreme poverty through improved productivity of food-grain crops, including wheat and maize
- Conservation agriculture, farm mechanization, saline land management and adaptation to climate change
- Vaccines to livestock diseases