The people ACIAR has nurtured

Previous Connecting ACIAR to its stakeholders

The ultimate beneficiaries of the investment of the Australian Government in agricultural research for development, through ACIAR, are smallholder farmers, fishers and foresters of the Indo-Pacific region. By brokering and funding science partnerships to improve the productivity, sustainability and equity of agricultural systems, ACIAR has provided scientists of Australia and partner countries with unique opportunities to develop their careers and forge strong networks and long-lasting relationships.

Capacity development by ACIAR varies from strengthening partner organisations to strengthening individual capability. This can occur informally through on-the-job learning and training, including mentoring, while working on projects, through to formal programs to gain individual postgraduate qualifications or skills for career progression.

In 1982, the enabling legislation for ACIAR did not mandate the funding of training and capacity-building programs. However, capacity building was quickly recognised as an intrinsic outcome and benefit of research projects, and informal capacity building was taking place from the very first ACIAR-funded projects.

The 1992 review to determine if the ACIAR Act of 1982 should be extended beyond June 1994 not only recommended that ACIAR continue but also that its mandate be extended.

One recommendation was to amend the ACIAR Act to direct ACIAR to ‘conduct project-related training (both informal and post-graduate); and that responsibility for the administration of ACIAR’s training scheme together with the concomitant resources, should be transferred from AIDAB to ACIAR’.

Central to the ACIAR Capacity Building Program has been an ongoing and evolving set of fellowship programs. The nature of the fellowships and the type of people participating has developed to respond to new needs, expectations and opportunities since the 1990s. Along with the fellowship programs, short-course and issue-specific programs have been devised as needs are identified.

Investment in staff to support capacity building has also grown with the program. When management of the first fellowship program was transferred to ACIAR from AIDAB, one officer was employed to manage formal activities, with oversight by a training committee comprised of Research Program Managers.

In 2022, the Capacity Building Program is headed by an executive manager and managed by a team of four. A steering committee with members from across all functions of ACIAR advises on the implementation and development of the program.


From serendipitous benefit to a strategic objective

Participation in ACIAR-funded projects has always been a career-building experience for scientists and researchers from Australia and partner countries. The collaborative nature of ACIAR research projects has naturally led to on-the-job training and exchange of knowledge and skills.

The 1992 amendment to the ACIAR Act was the first step in elevating the role and benefits of capacity building. With a few more decades experience, the intrinsic link between the ACIAR mission of achieving more productive and sustainable agricultural systems, and the technical capacity of partner countries across the domains of research, management, policy and governance, was clear and obvious.

The emphasis and investment in capacity building was raised significantly in 2018, with the implementation of the ACIAR 10-Year Strategy 2018–2027. Capacity building was enshrined as a strategic objective to build ‘scientific and policy capability within our partner countries’ and the ACIAR Capacity Building Program was formalised and resourced to support the objective.

Ms Eleanor Dean is the ACIAR General Manager, Outreach and Capacity Building (2017–current). She reflected on how ACIAR has responded to capacity-building needs and opportunities over the years.

‘Capacity building has evolved over time in response to reviews and strategies and to improve program effectiveness and engagement. Since 2017 ACIAR has enhanced its Capacity Building Program by changing how and where we invest, helping to improve our efficiency. This shift was informed by the findings of independent reviews undertaken between 1992 and 2017.’

While the ACIAR Capacity Building Program is designed around gaining skills and knowledge, the value and importance of personal benefits and connections cannot be underestimated.

‘Building connectivity between researchers around the world to support collaboration and the sharing of expertise is the lasting legacy of all ACIAR capacity-building activities.

‘With around 800 alumni around the world, who connect ACIAR to each new generation of researchers in their home countries and then share new expertise with Australia, the various fellowships have proven their worth.

‘The fellowships provide an ever-increasing return on investment for each year an alumnus continues their research, builds their networks and contributes to new efforts to improve agricultural development in their home countries.

‘Many of the personal relationships and professional networks developed through ACIAR-supported capacity-building activities can last decades and support alumni across their careers.’

A man wearing a blue boiler suit and an orange cap stands on criss-cross of wooden poles above water. He is holding a string of bivalves above a full crate of them.
The collaborative nature of ACIAR-supported research inherently provides capacity-building opportunities for project staff. Since 1992, ACIAR has offered a comprehensive program of fellowships and formal training to complement informal capacity building. The series of projects focused on bivalve production in northern Vietnam and Australia, led by Dr Wayne O’Connor of NSW Department of Primary Industries, enhanced both practical and academic skills of staff from Vietnam’s Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 1. Photo: ACIAR

ACIAR fellowships and training

a list of ACIAR fellowships

Australia has invested in building the capacity of people in developing countries since the 1950s, when it was one of seven nations that established the Colombo Plan. The plan facilitated the economic and social advancement of the people of the Asia-Pacific region through skills development and training in policy development and governance. The establishment of the Australia Awards program is an ongoing commitment to support emerging leaders from developing countries in study, research and professional development in Australia.

Training opportunities were available to partner-country scientists through fellowships managed by AIDAB, but by 1988 a scheme to meet the particular requirements of scientists working on ACIAR-funded projects was developed. The scheme came to be known as the AIDAB–ACIAR Associated Fellowship Scheme, with the objective to ‘enhance technical capacity of ACIAR research partners in the region through postgraduate studies at Australian tertiary institutions’.

The ACIAR Capacity Building Program has evolved and broadened from one fellowship program to support partner-country scientists to complete postgraduate studies, through to a suite of programs that provide organisational and institutional capacity building in ACIAR partner countries, in addition to fellowships that provide formal qualifications.

An estimated 800 scientists and science leaders throughout the Indo-Pacific region currently go about their work using skills and knowledge acquired with the support of ACIAR. In addition, the graduates of ACIAR fellowships form lasting relationships with their supervisors, trainers and mentors, with project teams and ACIAR staff, and with each other. Many become active members of ACIAR partner networks and informal ambassadors for agricultural research for development, and for ACIAR.



Group photo of a large number of people, about 28. They are all smiling at the camera, and are wearing every day clothes. The photo is taken from above them, so they are looking upwards towards the camera.
The 2011 cohort of John Allwright fellows gathered in Canberra at the start of their program. They are pictured here with ACIAR Research Program Managers. Photo: ACIAR | 2011

John Allwright Fellowship

Two men in suits stand on either side of a woman. They are looking down at some plants that are sitting about waist height on a table.
Ms Rojare Netsangtip of Chang Mai University, a collaborator in the ACIAR project on discovering the extent of boron deficiency in Thailand, discusses experimental work with Professor JF Loneragan, Murdoch University (left) and Dr Yooktu Sariaphuti, Director General of the Thai Department of Agriculture. Ms Netsangtip was one of eight scientists awarded an AIDAB–ACIAR Fellowship in 1986–87. Photo: ACIAR | 1986

The John Allwright Fellowship program grew from the AIDAB–ACIAR Associated Fellowship Scheme, which was transferred from AIDAB to ACIAR in 1992 with the amendment of the ACIAR Act.

Text and Headshot of Mr John Allwright. He is wearing a suit jacket and tie, and is looking neutrally towards the camera.
Mr John Allwright AO was a farmer and former President of the National Farmers Federation. He served on the ACIAR Board of Management and the Policy Advisory Council from 1989 to 1994. Photo: ACIAR

The scheme was renamed the John Allwright Fellowship in 1994, to honour the highly regarded Mr John Allwright AO – farmer and former President of the National Farmers Federation.

Mr Allwright served on the ACIAR Board of Management and the Policy Advisory Council from 1989 to 1994. He possessed extensive knowledge and experience of farming, agricultural research and development, and world trade.

Although renamed, the purpose and operation of the scheme remained unchanged. The fellowship continues to be co-financed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and administration of the program is supported through the Australia Awards program.

The John Allwright Fellowship supports scientists from partner countries to obtain postgraduate qualifications at an Australian tertiary institution. The fellowship has launched successful careers and built strong relationships between scientists and organisations.

A 2020 tracer study of graduates of the John Allwright Fellowship showed very positive results for graduates and ACIAR. Skills and knowledge gained in Australia were, and remain, highly relevant, and almost all alumni still use those skills and knowledge today. 

A global path to fulfill a dream to work in rural Mozambique

Two men in a field, the crops are in rows about ankle height. They have a wooden apparatus they are using to collect soil samples.
John Allwright fellow, Dr Nascimento Nhantumbo (right), collecting soil samples with a colleague. The site is in an irrigation scheme participating in the project, ‘Farmer-led small-scale irrigation in Mozambique’, which is part of the ACIAR–IDRC CultiAF program. Photo: ACIAR | 2020

John Allwright fellow, Dr Nascimento Nhantumbo, grew up in rural Mozambique where his childhood was disrupted by the horrors of civil war. Regardless, his parents, who worked as a doctor and a nurse, had high expectations for Dr Nhantumbo and his siblings, in terms of education and qualifications.

As a child, Dr Nhantumbo loved spending time with his father at the Manjacaze Rural Hospital and dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps as a doctor. After two unsuccessful attempts to enter medical school, he made a successful application to study agronomy and found a new way to combine his passion for working with people and his love of rural Mozambique.

Dr Nhantumbo’s first jobs were a maize breeder at the Mozambique Agricultural Research Institute and a teaching assistant at the new Instituto Superior Politécnico do Manica. Being part of a new institution – the first tertiary-level technical and vocational education institution in Mozambique – offered many opportunities for teaching and agricultural development research.

In 2008, Dr Nhantumbo secured a scholarship to undertake a master degree at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Shortly after returning to Mozambique in 2010, he helped a colleague translate a document for a project-launch workshop.

It was an ACIAR project, titled ‘Sustainable intensification of maize-legume cropping systems for food security in eastern and southern Africa’ (SIMLESA) and Dr Nhantumbo joined the project as an agronomist.

Dr Daniel Rodriguez, Head of the Farming System Research group at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation Institute from the University of Queensland, was the project leader. As a fellow Wageningen alumnus, Dr Rodriguez welcomed the experience in conservation agriculture that Dr Nhantumbo brought to the team and encouraged him to apply for a John Allwright Fellowship to complete his PhD at the University of Queensland.

Returning home in 2015, Dr Nhantumbo became a Lecturer in the Faculty of Agriculture at the Instituto Superior Politécnico de Manica (DivAG-ISPM) and ISPM Coordinator of the master program in agro-systems management, for which he also helped develop the curriculum. He is also Head of the Institutional Quality Assurance Board and is involved in an ACIAR–IDRC funded project in the Cultivate Africa’s Future program.

Dr Nhantumbo is now becoming involved in food security and nutrition issues, with 43% of children younger than five years in Mozambique suffering malnutrition. He and his colleagues are examining how to design climate-resilient and ‘nutrition-smart’ agricultural systems that work in the field.

They are also working to support and encourage more young people to enter the agriculture sector, with youth farming clubs and increased networking between his institute, and the public and private extension systems. Working with agricultural extension and local organisations enables Dr Nhantumbo to have the close connections with rural people that have always been so important to him.

Strong ongoing links with ACIAR and other institutions in Australia continue to contribute to Dr Nhantumbo’s work to improve food security, and the design and management of agricultural systems in Mozambique.

John Dillon Fellowship

Headshot of Mr John Allwright. He has short, curly hair. He has books open in front of him, with a pen lying across a piece of paper. The elbow of his left arm is resting on the table and his hand is up. His right hand is resting on the table.
Professor John Dillon was one of Australia’s leading agricultural economists. He was President of the Policy Advisory Council and Chair of the ACIAR Board of Management from 1985 to 1994. Photo: ACIAR

The John Dillon Fellowship aims to develop the leadership and management skills of mid-career scientists, researchers and economists working in agricultural research for development in ACIAR partner countries.

The program was introduced in 2002, and continues to this day. It is delivered as short intensive courses and study tours. The fellows are introduced to a range of good-practice Australian agricultural organisations involved in research, extension and/or policymaking. They are also provided with training in practical topics such as project management and stakeholder analysis to lead and manage more effective research.

The program provides fellows with opportunities to meet and establish relationships with scientists and other experts that they may not have been able to interact with otherwise.

The fellowship is named in recognition of the late Emeritus Professor John Dillon AO, who was one of Australia’s leading agricultural economists and a strong advocate of international agricultural research and collaboration. Professor Dillon was President of the Policy Advisory Council and Chair of the ACIAR Board of Management from 1985 to 1994. He is recognised for his governance of ACIAR through its formative years and preparing ACIAR for its parliamentary review in 1992, to determine if the agency should continue.

Professor Dillon also served on the boards of five CGIAR centres, was Chair of three, and twice served as the Chair of the committee of the CGIAR Board.

In response to restrictions to international travel in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ACIAR redesigned the program so it could be delivered in country to individual country cohorts of up to 15 participants. The program strengthened its focus on cross-organisational collaboration and strengthening ties with Australian collaborators.

A group of 12 men and women dressed formally in suits and dresses smile at the camera. Most of them are holding metal plaques.
A group of John Dillon Fellowship recipients at their award presentation in 2016. The fellows were photographed with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP (front row, centre), and ACIAR Chief Executive Officer, Dr Nick Austin (back row, second from right). Photo: ACIAR | 2016
A woman with glasses and wearing a watch is being handed a crop sample from a man. Another man is standing next to them holding another crop sample. Several men are standing behind them watching.
Farmers ask researcher Dr Agustina Asri Rahmianna for advice on crop samples they have brought with them to a field day. Photo: Coretext | Brad Collis | 2015

Passion for research takes Anna from graduate to professor

Dr Agustina Asri Rahmianna’s passion for research was noticed almost straight away by Australian scientists who were seconded to an ACIAR groundnut (peanut) project in Indonesia in the early 1990s.

Then an agronomy graduate from Gadjah Mada University, Dr Rahmianna (or Anna as she is known among the farmers she works with in Indonesia) was encouraged by Queensland peanut researchers Dr Graeme Wright and Dr Mike Bell to apply for a John Allwright Fellowship to undertake a PhD in Australia, which she duly did and completed in 1998.

Dr Rahmianna’s work since then is a clear demonstration of the capacity-building value of ACIAR scholarships such as the John Allwright and John Dillon fellowships. Dr Rahmianna is a leading researcher with the Indonesian Legume and Tuber Crops Research Institute, focusing on lifting groundnut production through improved agronomy and water use efficiency. Peanuts are grown in rotation with rice and give farmers an extra crop that can use the soil moisture remaining in paddies.

Her work also involves educating farmers on the correct use of fungicides to control aflatoxin. The long-term objective is to lift production, plus raise overall quality to an export standard.

This would go a long way to lifting smallholder communities from traditional subsistence farming to having a more productive and sustainable agricultural economy.

While it was painful to leave behind a young family during her PhD at the University of Queensland, Dr Rahmianna says the experience was life changing.

‘Everything about research still excites me,’ she said. ‘Research gives you a freedom for thinking and problem-solving.’

But she adds that change cannot be achieved by research alone.

‘It needs extension support and the participation of industry; in the case of our groundnuts, the buyers and processors [are needed] to ensure the new knowledge is maintained after the researchers have gone.’


At the time of publication, Dr Rahmianna is Research Professor in Cultivation and Crop Production – Technology Indonesia, supervises students from several universities and remains actively involved in international agricultural research for development.

Published in Partners for Research for Development, Issue 3 2015

Meryl Williams Fellowship

A photograph of Meryl Williams. She wears glasses and a scarf is talking with her hand raised.
Dr Meryl Williams, an eminent Australian fisheries, aquaculture and agricultural research-for-development leader. Photo: University of New England | Addison Ormer | 2019

The Meryl Williams Fellowship was created in 2019, to support women agricultural researchers. The development of the fellowship was a specific goal of the ACIAR Gender Equity Policy and Strategy 2017–2022, to establish a new fellowship program that provides opportunities for women to access agricultural education and training.

The program was adapted from the highly successful AWARD program established in Africa by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A critical component of the fellowship is the mentoring support program, where each fellow is paired with an experienced mentor in their home country to provide support and guidance as fellows develop their management, leadership and professional skills. In addition to providing executive leadership training and professional development opportunities to the individual women, the Meryl Williams Fellowship supports the institutions employing the fellows to identify and address systemic barriers to women’s advancement.

Between 2019 and 2022, 41 women from ACIAR partner countries have been awarded the Meryl Williams Fellowship.

The fellowship is named in honour of Dr Meryl Williams, an eminent Australian fisheries, aquaculture and agricultural research-for-development leader. Dr Williams has held several senior positions in international and Australian organisations, including Director-General of WorldFish, one of 15 international agricultural research centres of CGIAR, from 1994 to 2004. Previously she was Director of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Executive Director of the Australian Government Bureau of Rural Sciences.

Dr Williams has been a member of many international boards and committees, and held lead positions that include inaugural Chair of the Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries Section of the Asian Fisheries Society, and Chair of the Advisory Board of the CGIAR Gender and Diversity Program. From 2004 to 2007, Dr Williams was Chair of the ACIAR Board of Management and President of the Policy Advisory Council; and from 2007 to 2010, Chair of the Commission for International Agricultural Research.

Fellowship consolidates talent and experience for a natural-born leader

A willingness to embrace new opportunities is now paying dividends for forest scientist, and Meryl Williams fellow, Ms Agnes Mone Sumareke – for herself, her family and her community.

Ms Sumareke grew up in the small village of Kerenda, Upper Mendi, in Papua New Guinea (PNG). She was the eldest of six children and her teacher father defied cultural norms by encouraging his daughters to attend university.

A woman wearing a yellow hard hat and a fluoro safety vest is measuring a tree diameter at shoulder height. She is standing in a wooded area.
A Meryl Williams Fellowship has provided Ms Agnes Mone Sumareke with skills she is applying in her role leading and coordinating a diverse team conducting galip resource surveys. Photo: ACIAR | 2022

She completed her secondary education at a Queensland boarding school, courtesy of an Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) scholarship and returned home to complete an undergraduate degree in science and forestry. A few years later, Ms Sumareke had the opportunity to study for a master degree at the ITC Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation at the University of Twente, in the Netherlands.

‘This was thanks to a Joint Japan/World Bank scholarship, but it meant leaving my two young children with my parents for 18 months. It was very hard, but I had to do it for their sake. If I developed my career, maybe I could move on in life and provide more for them.’

By this time, Ms Sumareke was also driven by a passion for forestry and a dedication to making landscape-wide change that might improve the lives of the many who drew their livelihoods from PNG’s forests.

‘I really loved forestry but at that stage in PNG it was seen as either planting trees or cutting them down. I saw forestry as everything – the soil, the insects, the plants, the trees, climate ... everything. In 2005 I had been fortunate to go to Japan to do a 3-month course on remote sensing for forest management and that developed my interest in GIS (geographic information systems). That’s what inspired me to do my masters.

‘Each of those international trips was like I was building on a foundation. There was so much talk about PNG’s forests (which cover some 80% of the country) and sustainable management and deforestation, but we were not even monitoring our forests. I thought I could integrate remote sensing techniques with forestry to bring some changes and make a difference, especially in research and development. My mind was opened up – there were so many ideas in me that I wanted to implement.’

Inspiration and opportunity visited again when Ms Sumareke was awarded a Meryl Williams Fellowship in the inaugural round of the program in 2020.

‘I applied for the fellowship because I wanted to develop the leadership and management skills that I needed to apply for the management positions.

‘I have gained skills, know-how and networks. It has taught me how to be a leader at any level, that you can make a difference wherever you are. I now believe in myself and I am positive that I can be a good leader or manager.’

Following her fellowship, Ms Sumareke returned to her position of forestry and remote sensing specialist with the PNG Forest Research Institute in Lae. She began a survey to support the emerging galip nut industry. The survey was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, however Ms Sumareke successfully gained funding through the ACIAR Alumni Research Support Facility to continue her work.

In July 2021, the International Food Industry, under the Market for Village Farmers Project, provided a substantial grant to support a major capacity-building effort. Ms Sumareke will coordinate a team of scientific and research officers, technical assistants and botanists to continue the galip tree resource surveys across several provinces and the results of her ACIAR-funded project will be used as baseline information.

‘It’s the first time I will lead such a big team but I am very excited. I want to improve the livelihoods of others and protect the natural environment. The National Agricultural Research Institute has been working on the galip nut for some years with ACIAR funding but there was an information gap regarding how many galip trees grow and where, and how many nuts are being produced. That’s where I came in – using remote sensing to study the distribution and abundance of trees to help develop the value chain.’

Excerpt from ‘No limits for natural-born leader Agnes Sumareke’, GEARed (Gender Equity in Agriculture Research for Development) website, August 2021, accessed February 2023.


More opportunities for career development

Pacific scholarships program

96 per cent graduates of Pacific Scholarships program employed in agriculture

Since 2007 ACIAR has supported postgraduate scholarships through the University of the South Pacific. The scholarship assists postgraduate students undertaking research master degrees or PhDs that are aligned to an ACIAR research project. Residents from Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Samoa and Solomon Islands are eligible to apply to pursue their studies in agricultural research. From 2007 to 2023 ACIAR has supported 112 such scholarships at the University of the South Pacific.

In 2021 the program was renamed the Pacific Agricultural Scholarship Support and Climate Resilience program (PASS-CR). It aims to support new generations of agricultural researchers to tackle and address current and future challenges facing Pacific agriculture. The program was extended to include scholars who chose to study at Fiji National University. The program aligns scholars with ACIAR-supported research projects in agriculture, fisheries or forestry and an Australian supervisor who works with a supervisor from the participating university.

A postgraduate scholarship program also operated with the University of Technology (UNITECH), in Papua New Guinea, from 2005 to 2011.

Reviews of the Pacific Scholarships program have attributed significant results in terms of building capacity in both the students and the academics, and ultimately strengthening the agricultural innovation system in the Pacific region. A tracer study of participants in 2016 showed that 96% of graduates who received scholarships to study at the University of the South Pacific under the program are employed in agriculture.

A group of almost 30 people standing on a closely mown green lawn. They are arranged in a curve shape and are smiling at the camera.
The 2023 cohort of the ACIAR-supported Pacific Agricultural Scholarship Support and Climate Resilience Program (PASS-CR). At far right is ACIAR Regional Manager, Pacific and Papua New Guinea, Ms Mai Alagcan. Photo: ACIAR | 2023



Since 1992, with the mandate to ‘establish and fund training schemes’, ACIAR has facilitated workshops and seminars on a specific topic of interest to a project or a group of projects within a program, to support the building of scientific, policy, managerial and governance skills in researchers working on ACIAR-funded projects.

Many of the short courses are designed to complement the ACIAR fellowships, and provide those undertaking postgraduate studies with additional skills for the workplace and the agricultural research-for-development sector. For example, in 2019, the John Allwright Fellowship Executive Leadership program was introduced as a complementary study program that fellows undertake while in Australia. The program provides fellows with an opportunity to develop their leadership and management skills, to support their transition from full-time study back to their workplaces after their time in Australia.

Short-course training is also conducted in collaboration with the Crawford Fund and other research partners. The Crawford Fund facilitates annual Master Classes that highlight major new developments in a science or related disciplines, such as biotechnology, intellectual property, breeding techniques and research management. The classes aim to educate mid-career, high-achieving scientists or decision-makers in agriculture about the major features of such new developments. The programs may be several weeks in length and involve researchers from ACIAR-funded projects. The topics of the courses are developed in collaboration between ACIAR and the Crawford Fund.

Institutional capacity

The historical approach to capacity building (pre-2017) was to fund the development of the individual through the John Allwright Fellowship, the John Dillon Fellowship and Crawford Fund short courses. The benefits of these programs for individual scientists are clear; however, achieving long-term outcomes from research also requires institutional capacity building of the science and research organisations in partner countries where the fellows work.

Since 2017, ACIAR has developed discreet programs targeted at strengthening institutional capability to undertake effective agricultural research for development such as the Pacific Plant Biosecurity Partnership and a graduate diploma program in conjunction with the Papua New Guinea Fisheries Agency. Additionally, in response to a 2020 review of the role of ACIAR in institutional strengthening, the John Dillon Fellowship was redesigned to address organisational effectiveness, and the Meryl Williams Fellowship was designed to address organisational impediments to gender equality.

Institutional strengthening is a long-term, cumulative process that is most effective when supported by trust and partnership. Continued investment in individuals through ACIAR fellowships and other capacity-building opportunities has laid the foundations for future programs targeted at institutional strengthening.


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ACIAR partnered with the University of Queensland and Catalpa International, to develop and pilot an online microlearning platform to enable continued professional development for scientists, despite restrictions on travel and in-person learning. ACIAR Learn was launched in April 2022.

The platform provides bespoke online learning for ACIAR-funded researchers. Content and lessons are developed based on consultation with researchers and alumni, to ensure the content is relevant and engaging. Short courses have been created for topics such as research project management, research methods, data analysis, experimental design, and monitoring and evaluation.

Two core principles underpin ACIAR Learn – microlearning and mobile-first. Learning is done in dynamic bite-sized lessons that can be completed in 20 minutes or less. The program is available on mobile devices, as well as on computers, so learning can be done anywhere, at any time, and at any pace. Online learning is complemented by live interactive sessions where participants can have valuable discussions with other researchers in their field, no matter where in the world they are located.

Alumni programs

The ACIAR 10-Year Strategy 2018–2027 committed to increased engagement with the alumni of ACIAR fellowships and programs, to maintain the relationships established during the programs, and to build a network of peers and increase opportunities for ongoing learning and mentoring. A strategy was implemented to develop the skills, knowledge and networks of alumni to contribute to positive development outcomes in the agricultural research-for-development sector.

Alumni engagement programs have been developed and are coordinated from many of the ACIAR country or regional offices in the Indo-Pacific region. The programs are supported by an engagement plan that has identified priorities and interests for each country or regional group.

Alumni groups have formed in most ACIAR countries where members meet regularly to share their experiences and to build their networks. Alumni events organised by ACIAR country and regional offices provide opportunities for early to mid-career alumni to engage with senior colleagues within their own countries, leading to mentoring opportunities.

International conferences, such as the biennial TropAg International Agriculture Conference in Brisbane or the Pacific Week of Agriculture and Forestry, also provide the perfect opportunity to host alumni events. Industry events such as these are frequently attended by ACIAR alumni, and the ACIAR Capacity Building Program organises specific activities in addition to the conference to ensure alumni can maintain their connections with each other and ACIAR. Most importantly, strong connections between alumni build a committed network of international scientists to support and lead ongoing ACIAR-funded research, for the benefit of smallholder farmers in the Indo-Pacific region.


ACIAR Graduate Program

The ACIAR Graduate Program started in 2007 to provide a career development opportunity for Australian graduates wanting to pursue a career in agricultural research for development. Generally, two positions are offered by the program each year, giving passionate young scientists an opportunity to gain experience and insight into developing, monitoring and evaluating research projects within a research program or participating in programs of multilateral engagement or impact evaluation. The graduate program also builds capacity to be future research managers and leaders. Graduates are recruited from a wide range of disciplines, including agricultural, veterinary, environmental and social sciences, and agricultural economics.

27 young scientists awarded a place in the ACIAR Graduate Program since 2007

Unlike other Australian Public Service graduate programs, the graduate spends a short time with ACIAR and then finds a new position within the agricultural research-for-development sector. For this reason, the program is focused on the participant building a network and a skillset valuable to agricultural research institutions.

Launching pad for a global career

A position in the ACIAR Graduate Program, from 2011 to 2012, was a natural career step for Brendan Brown. Armed with a first-class honours degree in agricultural science and motivated by his experience as an agricultural volunteer in eastern Africa, he was ready to leap into the world of agricultural research for development.

‘I have no doubt that the ACIAR Graduate Program provided me a fast-tracked pathway into research for development. It led me to work with the FAO in West Africa for a year, complete my PhD on the ACIAR-funded SIMLESA program in eastern and southern Africa, and then lead two ACIAR projects in South Asia by the age of 30.

‘The Graduate Program exposed me to the full life cycle of research projects, something I was not aware of as a fresh university graduate. Working with a Research Program Manager, I was able to observe and contribute to the scoping and development stage of projects, as well as participate in the mid-term and final reviews of projects.’

As with the ACIAR fellowship programs, the ACIAR Graduate Program provides invaluable networking opportunities, enabling graduates to build their own personal and professional networks.

‘I attended the annual Crawford Fund conference and met leading scientists and industry stalwarts. It was daunting but I was also aware of the great connections that events like these offered.’

Dr Brown recalls that, as a graduate, visiting project sites in Cambodia and observing the interactions between Australian and in-country scientists was an excellent lesson in the importance of cultural awareness.

‘I could see the way Australian experts and Cambodian experts worked together was quite different to how Australians worked together; and I learned that it was really important as visiting scientists to understand and be sensitive to the social and professional culture of the country you were working in.’

Throughout his graduate year, as well as experiences from backpacking in Africa as an undergraduate, he observed that although science had the answers for increasing productivity and improving livelihoods, farmers in Africa and Asia were not achieving the same gains on their own land as was being achieved on research stations.

Making good science work

This set a course for Dr Brown’s PhD studies and subsequent career. For his PhD, he focused on socially inclusive agricultural development, where he looked to blend the physical and social sciences in an attempt to connect research breakthroughs with the realities of farming in the developing world. His work on the SIMLESA project, a major funding investment for ACIAR through the 2010s, was the basis for his studies. After completing his PhD, Dr Brown worked for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and led several projects in which ACIAR was a major funder, including the third phase of the ‘Sustainable and resilient farming systems intensification in the Eastern Gangetic Plains’ (SRFSI) project.

Much of the work Dr Brown undertook in South Asia involved working with in-country partners and agencies to influence policy change. Capacity building was also required to facilitate adoption. To this end the SRFSI project established regional training centres for farmers, advisers and extension agencies. These centres operate beyond the life of the project, ensuring its legacy. These approaches recognise that good science needs to be supported by policies and facilities that have ongoing capacity to encourage and demonstrate new technologies and practices.

Dr Brown is now a Research Scientist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), based in Adelaide. His work focuses on building climate resilience for farmers in both Australia and globally. He works on projects in Australia that focus on building a better system of monitoring practice change across grain-growing regions and better articulation and management of risk in agricultural production systems, as well as continuing work with CGIAR on pathways to climate adaptation and resilience for grain growers in developing countries.

A place in global agriculture

Dr Brown has reflected on the organisation that has been part of his working life in many ways.

‘Over the past 40 years, ACIAR has achieved many things and now finds itself a renowned agency leading the charge for more productive and sustainable smallholder farming systems. As someone who has observed, participated in, led and evaluated ACIAR investments across Asia, Africa and the Middle East for more than a decade, ACIAR holds a special place in my heart. Working across other development funders such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID [US Agency for International Development] has also given me a perspective of and pride in Australia’s special place in the global agricultural research sphere.’

Three men standing in a wheat field. The wheat is almost waist high and green.
A position in the ACIAR Graduate Program in 2011 was a career-shaping opportunity for Dr Brendan Brown (left), pictured with wheat growers on the Eastern Gangetic Plains, South Asia, where Dr Brown led the third phase of the ‘Sustainable and resilient farming systems intensification in the Eastern Gangetic Plains’ (SRFSI) project. Photo: ACIAR | 2014
Next 40 years of impact