Date released
07 October 2020

ACIAR is supporting 40 alumni to research how to support agriculture amidst COVID-19. Each alumni will receive up to A$20,000 for their projects as part of the ACIAR Alumni Research Support Facility. They will also receive formal academic mentoring and support for international collaboration.

The University of New England (UNE), Australia, is partnering with ACIAR to help deliver the program.

Professor John Gibson, UNE’s Director of International Development Activities, says the world has entered a new phase due to COVID-19.

It’s fantastic that ACIAR responded so rapidly to the pandemic, supporting their alumni network to run research projects, and really build their skills.

The program will support agriculture’s response to COVID-19 through locally-relevant research. It will strengthen long-term capacity and international collaboration for researchers and institutions in ACIAR partner countries.

Funded projects align with the strategies of the researcher’s own institution. They also relate to one of four research themes: pandemic-related issues in the human-animal-ecosystem interface; food system resilience; integration of research into policy; and impacts on food supply.

Gender balance

Participants are alumni of ACIAR programs including the John Allwright Fellowship, University of the South Pacific Scholarship Program, and Meryl Williams Fellowship.

The successful applicants will support eight projects in the Pacific, 25 in South-East Asia (including Indonesia), four in South Asia and three in Africa.

Exactly 50% of successful applicants are women. ‘This is a fantastic outcome,’ says Professor Gibson, noting that efforts by ACIAR and the agricultural sector to promote gender equity have helped develop ‘a cohort of female alumni who are highly skilled and set to become the next generation of agricultural leaders in their countries.’

Dr Sonnthida Sambath is a researcher in Cambodia who has received support under the program. Her project will research the impact of COVID-19 on the prices of fresh vegetables supplied through the main wholesale distribution centres in Cambodia. Dr Sambath will examine the Cambodian Government response with respect to ensuring food security and the impact on gender issues.

‘The findings from this study will inform future crisis planning,’ says Dr Sambath. ‘It will allow the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, especially ground level staff, to understand the potential economic impacts of doubling vegetable production and the gender dynamics of this.’

Dr Sambath is an alumni of the ACIAR Meryl Williams Fellowship where she learnt leadership skills that she will apply in this project. She adds that she is looking forward to doing in-depth collaborative social-economic research into the role of gender in agriculture.

Key points
  • The ACIAR Alumni Research Support Facility is helping 40 alumni do small research projects that support agricultural system resilience amidst COVID-19.
  • Delivery partner, the University of New England, will establish a mentoring component to support the participating alumni.