In addition to forging enduring science partnerships between Australian and developing country scientists, ACIAR has built strong and mutually beneficial relationships with in-country science agencies and industry and regional organisations.
These partnerships are strategic and built on shared aspirations of contributing to poverty reduction and improved livelihoods. The partnerships are underpinned by agreements or memorandums of understanding, and articulate goals that have a much wider reach than the scope of specific research projects.
Partnerships with science and development organisations ensure greater synergy between the ACIAR research and development program and the objectives of a partner-country organisation, maximising the agility and effectiveness of ACIAR as an agricultural research-for-development agency.
The partnerships also reflect and embrace the growing capacity of partner countries in terms of technical and policy capability to determine and support their agricultural development programs.
Partnerships with regional science organisations contribute to Australia’s deep engagement in the Indo-Pacific region and its reputation as a global contributor.
The ACIAR Country Network provides a vital link between Australia and the organisations and institutions that have formal and informal partnering arrangements with ACIAR.
Flexibility and support yield benefits for all partners
The island nations of the Pacific region, Australia’s closest neighbours, were among the early partner countries of ACIAR. Given Australia’s geographical, historical and diplomatic relationship with the Pacific region, it was a natural step for ACIAR to start developing links and formulating a research program with Pacific island nations.
The Pacific region has a long history of agriculture and it was envisaged this would continue irrespective of the success of some countries diversifying their economies. In the 1980s, all national development plans of Pacific island countries identified the agriculture sector as a major development priority. The sector was being asked to provide food for increasing populations, provide substitutes for imported food, earn foreign exchange, provide increased cash income for farmers and generate employment.
The challenge for ACIAR was to identify agricultural research activities that would contribute to durable agricultural and economic development. The vital role of ACIAR in linking Pacific countries with science institutions in Australia to address agricultural research problems was recognised early by the South Pacific Commission – an international development organisation, which later became The Pacific Community but maintained SPC as its abbreviated name.
ACIAR and SPC share 30 years of collaboration to foster sustainable management of land-based and marine natural resources. Both organisations are committed to an ongoing partnership that strengthens a shared strategic vision for sustainable agriculture, forestry and fisheries development throughout the Pacific. The current 5-year agreement is in place until 2026.
Under the agreement, ACIAR provides both core and project funding to the Land Resources and the Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems divisions of SPC. The core funding supports SPC to fulfill its mandate to provide regionally strategic public goods in agriculture, fisheries and forestry. The project funding enables research activities in agriculture, fisheries and forestry that add value to the development of Pacific island countries and territories in these areas.
Dr Audrey Aumua, who was Deputy Director-General of SPC from 2016 to 2021, reflected on her interactions with ACIAR.
‘When I first started working with ACIAR back in 2016, I was struck by how much time and energy the organisation invested into building trust and deep relationships with its partners. And for many development organisations in the Pacific region, trustworthy partnerships are key to long-term sustainable development.
‘I joined the Policy Advisory Council in 2019, representing SPC and the Pacific region, which gave me an even closer view of the organisation. I have learnt during my time of service on the council that one of ACIAR’s unique attributes is its small size and its ability to respond quickly to the development research space.
‘There are many development funding organisations and researchers working in the Pacific, but ACIAR has always stood out from the crowd, its team of scientists constantly working hard to ensure all stakeholders in any partnership benefit from the arrangement. It shares data and research findings, and devises and supports research agendas in consultation with its partners.
‘One of the things I think that ACIAR does particularly well is identifying a potential partnership and then working carefully and methodically to build a partnership arrangement that suits both ACIAR and its partner.’
Dr Audrey Aumua is the Chief Executive Officer of The Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand, and the first Pacific woman to head the Foundation. Previously, Dr Aumua led The Pacific Community (SPC) as Deputy Director-General (2016–2020), where she was responsible for executive leadership and management of the Suva office (Fiji) and operations focused on small islands and developing states development issues. Prior to SPC she served as the World Health Organization country representative in Solomon Islands, Director of an AusAid-funded knowledge and innovation hub at the University of Queensland, and Chief Adviser for the Pacific within the New Zealand Ministry of Health.
Dr Aumua is a member of the Policy Advisory Council (2019–current), which advises Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs on issues of agricultural research for development.
The Pacific Community
The Pacific Community, also known as SPC, is an international development organisation and the principal scientific and technical organisation in the Pacific region. The abbreviation ‘SPC’ comes from South Pacific Commission, which was the name of the organisation until 1997.
SPC was founded in 1947 in Canberra, Australia, and operates as an international organisation under the Canberra Agreement. Australia is a founding member of SPC and its largest core funder.
SPC works in seven key areas of interest to the Pacific region:
- climate change
- non-communicable diseases
- gender equality
- youth employment
- food and water security
- biosecurity for trade.
Over the past 30 years, SPC has been a key partner for ACIAR. Through the provision of both core and project funding, the ACIAR partnership with SPC helps deliver strategies to benefit the region’s fisheries, agriculture, forestry and biosecurity sectors.
For example, the SPC initiative ‘A new song for coastal fisheries – pathways to change’ is supported by funding from ACIAR. This regional strategy was developed to address declines in coastal fisheries resources and ecosystems. Feeding into this strategy are the outcomes over 15 years’ worth of ACIAR-funded projects to develop community-based fisheries management in the region, including the use of scientific approaches and traditional knowledge and practices.
The initiative is improving the wellbeing of men, women and children in Pacific coastal communities through more productive and resilient fisheries and better food and nutrition security.
ACIAR and SPC continue to collaborate to deliver strategic regional initiatives, which in turn further builds strategic relationships with Australia’s Pacific neighbours. SPC has 27 members, including 22 Pacific island countries and territories.
Respect and trust lead to decades-long partnership
Australian and Filipino researchers have worked together for almost 40 years on agricultural research brokered by ACIAR. The research has helped improve livelihoods and increase food security of many Filipino farmers, fishers and communities, as well as strengthen research capacity in the Philippines. With a total investment exceeding A$150 million across 220 projects, the ACIAR–Philippines partnership is integral to the broader Australia–Philippines bilateral relationship, which has a strong focus on development cooperation – and marked its 75th anniversary in 2021.
Given the established bilateral partnership between the two countries, including agricultural research for development, the Philippines was one of the first country partners when ACIAR was established in 1982. With a long history of cooperation, the relationships between ACIAR and in-country agencies are strong, and none more so than the partnership between ACIAR and the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology – generally known as DOST-PCAARRD.
Executive Director of DOST-PCAARRD, Dr Reynaldo V Ebora, has worked in agricultural research and management in the Philippines and internationally for almost four decades. He leads the formulation of frameworks, priorities and programs to develop the agriculture sector. According to Dr Ebora, flexibility, mutual respect and trust nurtured over a long period are the key strengths of the ACIAR partnership with the Philippines.
‘Our countries have been research partners since 1978 and the Philippines has shared resources and results with ACIAR from the organisation’s beginning in 1982.
‘Research for development is dynamic and evolving, so there must be room for partners to adjust their approaches to achieve the desired results and outcomes. DOST-PCAARRD has a very strong and open relationship with ACIAR and our projects directly complement the efforts of other funding agencies like the Department of Agriculture–Bureau of Agricultural Research and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.’
In 2016, DOST-PCAARRD decided to contribute funding to ACIAR-supported projects to mobilise its researchers and staff more efficiently and streamline and strengthen the research process. Regional partners have responded positively to this move because they see it as adding value to the region. A new partnership agreement between the two agencies was signed in December 2018, committing the two agencies to shared goals and co-investment in research, capacity building and communication about ACIAR-supported partnerships in the Philippines.
‘The recent and significant contribution from the ACIAR partnership has been the sharing of results across the region from complementary programs in the Philippines, Fiji, Indonesia and Vietnam, for example, which enables us to develop strong networks and partnerships across the research community in our region.’
In 2023, the relationship between DOST-PCAARRD and ACIAR takes on an added dimension with the co-funding of five places in the John Allwright Fellowship program. The places are open to Filipino scientists associated with DOST-PCAARRD and ACIAR research projects wishing to undertake postgraduate study at an Australian university.
Dr Reynaldo V Ebora is Executive Director of the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD), and has worked there since 2015. Previously, Dr Ebora served as Director of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB-BIOTECH) and Executive Director of the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Advanced Science and Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCASTRD). He has also served on many councils and working groups.
Dr Ebora is a member of the Policy Advisory Council (2020–current), which advises Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs on issues of agricultural research for development.
Common interests drive an evolving partnership
Australia was one the first countries to recognise Bangladesh after it achieved independence in 1971 and established its High Commission office in Dhaka in 1972. Both countries share interests in a secure, prosperous and inclusive Indian Ocean region that supports independent, sovereign and resilient states. Accordingly, they work closely on a range of common strategic interests in regional and global forums.
Australia works in partnership with the Bangladesh Government, and other donors, to maximise impact through many avenues, including development, economic, diplomatic, trade and security capacities. Australia’s development program supports Bangladesh’s health security, stability and economic recovery, placing a strong emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable, especially women and girls and people with disabilities.
The ACIAR relationship with Bangladesh is typical of many relationships with partner countries. Over time, in-country capacity in science and policy has grown, as has the level of development. In response to these changes, the ACIAR mode of engagement and operation has moved from that of donor to co-investor.
ACIAR has supported agricultural research collaboration with Bangladesh since the mid-1990s, focused on productivity of dry-season (rabi) crops like pulses, wheat, maize and watermelon, grown in rotation with wet-season (kharif) crops like rice. In the 2020s, the program takes a farming systems approach, supporting broader food security aspects, improved production and diversification of rice-based farming systems, adaptation to climate change and policies to support a vibrant agribusiness sector for effective input supply systems (including seed supply). Within this context, Australia and Bangladesh share some common challenges and research capabilities. The two countries also share common interests in sustainable agricultural intensification and diversification, mechanisation and precision agriculture.
A partnership between ACIAR and the Krishi Gobeshona Foundation (KGF), was a natural step in addressing these shared agricultural research challenges and goals.
The KGF was established by the Bangladesh Government in 2007, under joint sponsorship of the World Bank, to promote partnerships and collaborations among the institutes of the National Agricultural Research System, technology dissemination departments, farmer organisations, private sector, international research centres and universities. The foundation acknowledged that international collaboration would be critical in finding solutions to problems related to agricultural productivity in Bangladesh.
In 2015, ACIAR and KGF signed a memorandum of understanding to co-design, fund and manage selected research projects. The agreement was refreshed and renewed in 2021. Given the common agricultural production challenges of many countries in South Asia, ACIAR has also played a key role in strengthening research linkages between Bangladesh and other countries in the region, particularly India (Bihar and West Bengal states) and Nepal (eastern Terai region), which have similar biophysical and agroecological characteristics.
The shared commitment between ACIAR and Bangladesh to a long-term research partnership was affirmed with a strategy for collaboration (2021–2030). The 10-year strategy recognises the need for longer-term and flexible programs to respond to complex challenges such as climate change, which require sustained research collaboration and transdisciplinary approaches. The strategy acknowledges the evolving relationship between ACIAR and Bangladesh and the catalysing role ACIAR plays in regional collaboration.