How does the world grow more nutritious food with less land and fewer resources while reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

It is one of the biggest challenges facing the planet.



We must continually innovate how we produce our food to ensure the highest level of food security into the future.

Australia is a world-leader in agricultural innovation, with our farmers prospering on the Earth’s driest continent with poor soils and a highly variable climate. Our ability to grow food is a national strength.  

Investing in agricultural innovation

ACIAR is an integral part of Australia’s innovation system, investing in research that provides scientists with the opportunity to apply Australia’s innovative spirit in solving real-world problems. The resulting research has generated billions of dollars in value for agricultural industries in Australia and across the Indo-Pacific, with countless innovations flowing from ACIAR investment, including:.

The Innovation Pathway

Innovation is about more than research or invention. It is about creating impact, often in an unexpected way. ACIAR sees innovation as a process of creating value by applying knowledge or technology to a complex challenge in a novel way.

Innovation doesn’t just happen by accident and it is not a linear process. There are usually four main stages along the innovation pathway that allow ideas to be successfully transformed into impact. ACIAR structures its research activities so that projects can focus on one or move through several stages of innovation.

Problem Definition

There are many problems that the world is keen to solve, preferably all at once. There are no ‘silver bullet’ solutions, but the temptation to apply known fixes to unknown problems always remains. Identifying specific issues allows for more strategic problem-solving, and so this stage is key to successful innovation. Problem definition does not have to be prescriptive or unnecessarily limiting; it simply helps to focus activities to achieve greatest maximum impact.


ACIAR often funds long-term, large-scale projects, some of which start at problem definition and others that draw on prior scoping work. Sometimes, a smaller scoping research project can gather relevant information to further define an issue or bring preliminary ideas to the table. This is a stage during which partners can share information and develop a common understanding of the problem they are looking to address. Throughout the innovation process this stage may also be revisited as problems and priorities shift.


Transforming Pacific coastal food production systems


Men in boat with fish catch


This small research activity aims to identify Pacific ‘hot spots’ where climate change and post COVID-19 food impacts will be most severe, and where communities are ready to consider transformative measures. A follow-on project could then help coastal fisheries communities drive desirable changes, incorporating novel integrated coastal production systems to secure a sustainable future.


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Options Analysis

There are usually many ways to complete a puzzle, and innovation can help solve complex issues in a similarly infinite number of ways. The stage of options analysis includes generation of ideas and technologies, and early application of them to a real-world problem. This stage might be referred to as research, discovery, testing, and it is truly about exploration.


Discovery science creates new knowledge or insight. Invention creates new technologies based on that knowledge. Solutions are developed, and then tested theoretically and in practice, compared and contrasted. During this stage information is gathered and analysed to inform decision-making about which options should be further explored.


Effectiveness of water adaptation responses in reducing climate related risks: A meta review


ACIAR conducted a review on the effectiveness of various water adaptation responses in reducing climate related risks. While there are many proposed adaptation responses to water insecurity, there has been little systematic analysis of how effective these various solutions have been. Analysing existing methods will help ACIAR develop an overview framework to support future adaptation designs.


Hut overlooking flooded plain


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Validation is when value is generated from the application of new knowledge or technology. During this stage, solutions continue to be tested in order to demonstrate impacts. These impacts are recorded so they can be assessed, with unexpected positive and negative consequences sometimes emerging. Validation is about questioning and reflection as much as it is about data collection. What does this innovation allow us to know or be able to do that we previously did not know or could not do?


Collaboration and codesign with users are key elements of the validation process, which is often locally contextualised. Testing ideas and tools in a real-world context unearths complexities of social and environmental systems that may not have been evident previously. Understanding and responding to these complexities is an integral part of improving innovation.


Testing and refining the Comprehensive Framework of Response Assessment in the Philippines


People watering and maintaining crop fields


This project aims to assess response effectiveness of a tool that supports decision-making on soil, land, and water degradation under local conditions in the Philippines. It builds on a previous project in which researchers developed a framework that aligns with the 2021 FAO decadal report on the State of Land and Water (SOLAW). Before scaling a tool with global potential, it must still be tested, perhaps further refined, and validated with users for applicability and effectiveness.


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Scaling innovation is about delivering greater impact. For ACIAR, this means supporting crucial development objectives such as improving livelihoods and food security, managing natural resources sustainably, and enhancing nutrition. It also includes improving gender equity, fostering more inclusive market chains, and building capacity within our partner countries.


This stage of scaling is complex; it is not enough to produce more widgets and call it a day. Scaling is about integration of solutions into complex systems and may therefore necessitate technology transfer or influencing decision-making. Even once an innovation is seemingly validated in one context, scaling beyond known constraints can change the nature of the problem and solution.


Yet scaling is, at its heart, about creating sustained value. Continuing to generate and strengthen impacts makes innovation a worthwhile endeavour.


Fish ‘ladders’ to build sustainability and livelihoods in Indonesia


Woman catching net of fish


ACIAR is supporting a new project to establish fish passes, or ‘ladders’ that allows fish to traverse rivers despite obstacles such as dams, in Indonesia. This builds on previous research in the Mekong where fish passes helped to improve ecosystems and increased access to fish. As Indonesia rapidly expands river infrastructure, impacting fish stocks and fishing communities, bringing fish ladders into this new context starts to scale an existing solution, hopefully resulting in even greater development impact.


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