Building scientific and policy capability within our partner countries
Building scientific and policy capability within our partner countries
Innovation in the agriculture sector is a key pathway to poverty reduction, increased food security and broad-based economic growth. Building the capacity of agricultural researchers, their networks and institutions unlocks this innovation potential and supports countries to deploy contextually relevant, effective and agricultural practices and policies that reduce poverty.
Strengthening the capacity of individuals and institutions in developing countries is central to empowering communities to develop, implement and sustain their own solutions. Capacity building is much more than merely transferring skills and knowledge through training. It includes on-the-job training, leadership, mentoring, two-way transfers of ideas and technologies, and empowerment to undertake research. It is not a one-time effort to improve short-term effectiveness, but a continuous improvement strategy towards the creation of sustainable and effective development outcomes.
Capacity building is at the core of everything we do. Our goal is to ensure that the people we work with have the skills, resources and knowledge to sustain new initiatives, systems and approaches, both now and in the future, ensuring that our efforts lead to lasting change.
We deliver a range of innovative capacity-building approaches, focused at multiple levels for effective international agricultural research-for-development. Our approach includes both formal and project-based capacity building. We work with our partners to:
Since 2008, the ACIAR–University of the South Pacific (USP) Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme has supported students from seven Pacific island countries to complete postgraduate diplomas, masters degrees or PhDs in a range of agricultural fields. A recent 10-year review of the scheme showed it has granted scholarships to 91 awardees engaged in 121 courses. Of these, 108 courses have been completed, reflecting high completion rates for postgraduate diplomas (93%), masters degrees (94%) and PhD qualifications (80%). This is a significant improvement on completion rate of less than 59% in 2011–12, which prompted ACIAR to invest more in pastoral care and mentoring. These are exceptionally good results, given that in 2016 the general completion rate for PhDs at USP was around 10%, while completion rates for masters degrees was around 15%.
An ACIAR-funded project is strengthening the capacity of plant biosecurity officials in the Pacific region. Fellows are taking knowledge gained from placements in Australia back to their home countries, and they have been provided opportunities in leading roles for high priority tasks within their National Plant Protection Offices and governments. For example, a Fellow in Vanuatu is leading the operational response to the recent coconut rhinoceros beetle outbreak, and another Fellow is playing a key role in regional communication surrounding the response. In Samoa, two Fellows were invited by their agriculture minister to contribute to a ministerial brief on the Pacific Plant Biosecurity Program.
Researchers from Indonesia visited rural Queensland in November 2019 to learn about industry best-practice from Australian dairy farmers. The visit included tours of several different dairy farms and set-ups, with the researchers experiencing how Australian dairy farmers took varied approaches to feeding systems, milk quality, herd management and business management, depending on their commercial objectives. The visit was part of a research project aiming to increase milk production and milk quality by 25% for 3,000 dairy farmers across Indonesia. The project has various focal points, including government policy and strategy intervention, supply-chain policy and on-farm research and development.
ACIAR-funded research outcomes underpinned a massive open online course run by Bihar Agricultural University and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. More than 4,000 participants from 60 countries enrolled in the course, which was presented in both Hindi and English. The course drew on eight years of successful ACIAR activities across the Eastern Gangetic Plains, focusing on conservation agriculture-based sustainable intensification approaches, which have been adopted by more than 90,000 farmers and have been shown to reduce labour and crop establishment costs, improve farm incomes and decrease greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.
In June 2020, the first cohort of the John Allwright Fellowship Executive Leadership program graduated in an online certificate ceremony hosted by the University of New England. Twenty-five inaugural Fellows completed a 15-month tailor-made program designed to give them the skills needed to become effective leaders in their home countries. The executive leadership program adds value to our significant investment in John Allwright Fellows by equipping them with leadership and management skills to complement their postgraduate journey in Australia.
Aradhana Deesh is a Fijian Research Officer at the Plant Protection Unit in the Ministry of Agriculture. She is one of 19 recipients of the prestigious Meryl Williams Fellowship (MWF) in the inaugural 2020 cohort.
‘Plant health is a field I am very passionate about. Agriculture and forests are essential to our island life and culture. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of our food system and our dependence on imports. We need more Pacific islanders to consider agriculture as a career choice,’ said Mrs Deesh.
Despite COVID-19 leading to worldwide travel restrictions and impacting on the studies of future and emerging scientists doing the fellowship, Mrs Deesh is determined to pursue the research portion of her career development activity remotely.
‘I lead a research team with the Ministry of Agriculture that is developing best management options for weeds affecting agricultural production systems in Fiji using chemical, biological and cultural options. Weed biological control is an area of research I am trying to revive. Fiji has been very successful in the Pacific in this regard in the past but recently no major work has been carried out,’ she said.
Mrs Deesh began her research locally, looking at a highly invasive weed called Koster’s curse (Clidemia hirta) and its natural biocontrol agent, Clidemia thrips (Liothrips urichi).
‘Using biocontrol agents for weed management will be cost-effective and environmentally friendly. The weed and biocontrol agent insect are both present in Fiji and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Queensland is interested in importing the thrips to Australia—where Koster’s curse is also a problem—for further research,’ she said.
Mrs Deesh is also supporting the Ministry of Agriculture team to upgrade their first biocontrol nursery with separate cubicles to rear different biocontrol agents on specific host plants. She has high hopes for the rearing of biocontrol agents as it will be beneficial for other Pacific island countries that face similar weed problems but do not have biocontrol agents.
‘I consider myself lucky to have brilliant mentorship through the MWF. They have been able to support and inspire me to continue my research remotely and innovatively. I look forward to going back and sharing my findings with them. I am honoured to be part of the MWF and I hope to inspire other Pacific women to turn challenges into opportunities.’