Team Australia working together for scale and impact

Previous Partnerships with regional science organisations

Although different in mandate and size, but both sitting within the Australian Government portfolio of Foreign Affairs and Trade, ACIAR and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) often work together towards common goals.

Two women stand on a stage. One is wearing a green dress and jacket with a flower pattern, and the other is wearing a light blue and white dress. The one in the green dress has presented the other with an award, which she is holding. Behind them are stage curtains and to the left the Australian flag.
ACIAR Vietnam Country Manager Ms Nguyen Thi Thanh An (right) was presented her Australian Public Service Medal by Australian Ambassador Ms Robyn Mudie at a ceremony in Hanoi on 17 July 2020. Photo: Australian Embassy, Vietnam

ACIAR and DFAT have a long history of partnership and cooperation, building on each other’s strengths to deliver benefits to smallholder farmers in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australia’s investment in research for agricultural development and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, through ACIAR, is an important contribution to Australia’s development assistance in the region. ACIAR projects enrich diplomatic relationships and have the potential to be adopted or scaled up by partner institutions or DFAT development programs.

Former Australian Ambassador to Vietnam (2019–2022), Ms Robyn Mudie, worked closely with ACIAR throughout her time in Vietnam. Ms Mudie described the DFAT relationship with ACIAR as one of close partnership and mutual benefits.

‘DFAT’s long standing development partnership with countries such as Vietnam supports South-East Asia’s prosperity, stability and resilience. ACIAR is an important contributor to Australia’s development assistance, by providing highly-valued technical assistance and improving the productivity and sustainability of partners’ agricultural systems – a sector which is critical to Vietnam’s economic growth,’ said Ms Mudie.

The impact of ACIAR in many countries, including Vietnam, over four decades, illustrates the value that comes from Australian agencies engaging in a practical and sustained way with their regional counterparts. By working closely with government, scientists and academic researchers, ACIAR has built trusted relationships and become an important contributor to Vietnam’s success story.

‘ACIAR allows us to walk the talk in terms of Australia’s economic support for economic development in countries like Vietnam. Its tangible research and advice help partner countries adapt their agriculture sector to the changing world.

‘For example, ACIAR support of research for the development of sustainable rice production methods, in partnership with SunRice, will connect smallholder rice producers with the international market and give farmers economic incentives to grow higher value rice, sustainably.’


ACIAR adds expertise to Australian investment in South Asia

The Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (SDIP) was an Australian Government initiative funded by DFAT between 2012 and 2021. It brought together partners in Australia and South Asia to improve integrated management of water, energy and food in the river basins of three major Himalayan rivers.

ACIAR co-funded and coordinated the component of SDIP focused on food and agriculture, comprising 20 long-term and short-term projects, which were delivered with numerous science partners from Australia, CGIAR and country partners in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

Focused on the Eastern Gangetic Plains, a region of 450 million people, the ACIAR–SDIP program investigated the potential impacts of conservation agriculture, patterns of groundwater use, and the intensification of agriculture at the farm, district, national and regional level. Strategies to increase food security were considered in conjunction with environmental impacts, along with national and regional government policies.

More than 75,000 households participated in the program, testing conservation agriculture and sustainable intensification (CASI) on more than 15,000 hectares. Project partners, coordinated by CIMMYT, developed activities in five nodes (communities) in each of eight districts in the Eastern Gangetic Plains to train farmers and extension agents to facilitate up-scaling of project methodologies and out-scaling of technologies. Farmers in two nodes in Bangladesh were so impressed by their experiences with zero-till establishment methods that they now plant all their maize this way. The project also provided specialised training to more than 10,000 farmers and local service providers on a range of topics, including CASI technologies, local service provision and business skills. A further 1,800 scientists and project staff participated in technical training sessions.

ACIAR–SDIP Program Manager, Dr Tamara Jackson, formerly with Charles Sturt University and now with the University of Adelaide, said that participating in the program opened opportunities to drive change through engaging key stakeholders and exploring future scenarios and transformative pathways.

‘Phase 2 of the program enabled strategic longer-term thinking about regional development, and helped address policy and institutional barriers to sustainable food systems, particularly in relation to intensification, water management, mechanisation services, market access and full participation of women. ACIAR, together with implementing partners built on the technical and socioeconomic knowledge base developed in Phase 1 to create an enabling environment for widespread adoption of sustainable food systems across the region, of which CASI technologies are a positive and practical example.

‘Working with diverse stakeholders meant SDIP could identify key local food system drivers and connect them to “big picture” issues such as policy settings and labour requirements. One example was understanding how the new federal system in Nepal impacted agriculture. Foresight processes identified a lack of coordination between different levels of government as a barrier to agricultural development. Two projects were subsequently funded to work on different approaches to coordination, focusing on both mechanisation and knowledge sharing.’

To continue this work addressing food security and sustainable development in a region with the world’s highest concentration of rural poverty, and capitalise on what was learned through SDIP, ACIAR committed to further investment in 2022.

Dr Jackson is leading a new body of work that builds on existing work and partnership networks to provide a link between research outputs and development goals, through the demonstration of inclusive diversification pathways, definition of processes for effective scaling to the millions of smallholder farmers in the region, and generation of a better understanding of the policies that support diversification.

Four men stand by a rice paddy. They are looking at pipework and a pump. To the right is an array of solar panels.
The ACIAR–SDIP program, focused on the Eastern Gangetic Plains, investigated the potential impacts of conservation agriculture and irrigation, particularly with groundwater, and the intensification of agriculture at the farm, district, national and regional level. Photo: ACIAR | 2019

Scaling out innovation from ACIAR-funded research

DFAT also co-invests with ACIAR to scale out findings from long-term ACIAR-funded research. In Laos, ACIAR has been supporting research since 2010 to help rebuild inland fish populations by developing fish passages, also known as fish ladders or fishways. Fish passages are built into low-level irrigation dams and weirs that otherwise block freshwater fish from travelling upstream to breeding grounds.

The research has been led by Australian researchers at Charles Sturt University who developed fish passages to improve river connectivity in the Murray–Darling Basin. In a project in Laos led by Professor Lee Baumgartner of Charles Sturt University, researchers from Australia and Laos identified priority species and locations for fish ladders to achieve the most effective results for healthy fish populations. They quantified the biological, ecological and socioeconomic benefits of floodplain rehabilitation using fish passage technology, to help increase awareness and facilitate uptake of low-cost mitigation measures.

The researchers mapped over 7,500 barriers to fish migration in the lower Mekong study area, documented detailed characteristics about each one and entered the data into a geographic information systems database. A prioritised list of potential locations for fish ladders was created using this new knowledge, to guide future investment decisions on catchment management in the study area.

The first fish ladder installed in the study area, designed and built by the project team, has allowed passage for 177 fish species. Subsequent surveys of fish utilising the fish ladder have provided important data that will help to manage fish species in the lower Mekong region. For example, the surveys found that three International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red-listed species used the ladder, and that some larger catfish use the ladder at night, hinting towards the migratory habits of those catfish species.

In 2022, DFAT and ACIAR co-funded a 3-year A$5 million expansion of the fish passage work, through the Mekong-Australia Partnership – Water, Energy, Climate program. This investment will support the adoption of fish passages in Laos and Cambodia. It will also help build technical skills and capacity in Vietnam and Thailand.

Increasing population growth in South-East Asia means there is more pressure on the rivers and wetlands that flow through the region. There is also a challenge in balancing economic development against the inevitable environmental and social impacts that occur with urbanisation and commercialisation. For example, in Laos, economic development will, in part, require the use of hydropower and irrigation development, all of which can have negative impacts on riverine fauna and fisheries livelihoods.

The project will allow ACIAR to scale out the technical innovation and the supportive governance needed across the broader Mekong Delta. DFAT’s diplomatic role in direct government-to-government discussions will also help to encourage national policies that support ‘fish friendly’ infrastructure in partner countries across the Mekong Delta.

Five men stand in a concrete man-made waterway. They are holding onto a long metal structure.
The success of fish passages in Laos, such as this one established beside a dam in Bolikhamxay Province, has led to DFAT support to scale up the technology across the Mekong Delta. Photo: ACIAR | 2012



ACIAR facilitates private-sector involvement in Papua New Guinea

In some instances, DFAT directly engages ACIAR to develop research projects responding to a specific need. For example, a request from the Australian Government to increase investment in agricultural development in Papua New Guinea led to the Transformative Agriculture and Enterprise Development Program (TADEP).

The program, established in 2015, allowed the two agencies to promote agricultural development in Papua New Guinea, scaling up successful innovations from previous ACIAR-funded projects in Papua New Guinea on cocoa, galip nut and sweetpotato. An additional project developed extension methodology through the Family Farm Teams approach.

TADEP was also an opportunity to build private-sector involvement, helping projects to reach more people over larger areas and generate their own market-based momentum. Linking the projects into a single program helped to provide operational efficiencies and shared benefits across the projects.

One of the projects in TADEP, focused on commercialising galip nuts, was led by Professor Helen Wallace of the University of the Sunshine Coast (at the time of the project) and supported by the Papua New Guinea National Agriculture and Research Institute, the University of Adelaide and Southern Cross University. The nuts have huge potential to improve the livelihood of the rural poor in developing countries and meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goal to eradicate poverty and hunger. The nuts also have excellent nutritional value, can be stored for long periods and can be sold for cash, processed and exported to distant markets.

A whole of value-chain approach was used to find markets, provide technical advice, build capacity, mentor businesses, and give private and public-sector stakeholders access to infrastructure. A pilot factory was built in Kerevat with ACIAR funding, enabling the processing of the nuts. The nuts are sold at local markets and to a factory, which processes and packages the nuts for sale to supermarkets in Port Moresby. Galip nut is the first indigenous wild-grown nut ever commercialised in Papua New Guinea.

The market is expected to expand to between 1,000 and 2,000 t/year, positioning the Papua New Guinea galip nut industry as a niche player in the global export market within the next 5 to 10 years. The industry also provides farming and employment opportunities for women in Papua New Guinea, who cultivate, harvest, process and sell the nuts.

A subsequent ACIAR-funded project led by Professor Helen Wallace from Griffith University, with the National Agriculture and Research Institute and the University of Adelaide, aims to address barriers to private-sector investment in the galip nut industry, further enhance efficiencies in the production and processing systems, and continue to develop domestic and export markets for processed galip nuts.

Partnerships between DFAT and ACIAR can be crucial to responding to changing priorities and new opportunities in partner countries, such as emerging agricultural industries in Papua New Guinea. They can also help resolve issues identified in longer-term collaborations.

Many benefits also accrue for Australia from the ACIAR partnership with DFAT, including ‘public good’ outcomes such as supporting improved livelihoods in neighbouring countries and promoting regional stability.

In addition, joint projects help to find solutions for shared issues with partner countries, building long-term relationships with governments and the research and development community through the sharing of scientific expertise.

A woman wearing a hairnet and a blue and green dress stands behind a table. She is holding plastic bags filled with galip nuts.
TADEP supported the development of a pilot factory to process galip nuts for sale at local markets and in supermarkets in Port Moresby. Photo: ACIAR | 2018



Australian aid programs

ACIAR receives almost all of its operational funding from the Australian Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget. Official development assistance, also known as foreign aid, is a globally accepted term for monies used by governments to promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) maintains a list of countries and territories to which aid provided to these countries qualifies as ODA.

The Australian Government allocates ODA (A$4.5 billion in 2020–2021) through government agencies to manage, fund and/or coordinate a wide variety of programs to address development activities in seven sectors, including ‘Agriculture, Trade and other Production’. Since 2020, ACIAR has received 2–3% of Australian ODA. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) receives a little over 90% of total ODA. Other agencies that receive ODA for funding development programs include the Department of Health, Department of Agriculture and Australian Federal Police.

ACIAR works closely with DFAT in common and complementary areas of development assistance for agriculture, fisheries and forestry. From 1974 until 2014, the Australian Government has dedicated agencies to implement development assistance programs.
These were:

  • Australian Development Assistance Agency (ADAA, 1974–1977)
  • Australian Development Assistance Bureau (ADAB, 1977–1987)
  • Australian International Development Assistance Bureau (AIDAB, 1987–1995)
  • Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID, 1995–2014).

In 2014, AusAID was abolished and development assistance functions of AusAID were integrated into the operations of DFAT.

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Featured left: In areas with good transport infrastructure in the Papua New Guinea Highlands, smallholders are moving from subsistence farming to market-oriented production. Sweetpotato has a key role in this process and the Transformative Agriculture and Enterprise Development Program (TADEP) supported farmers to improve crop production and meet market and customer needs. Photo: ACIAR | 2018
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