Food security and poverty reduction

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Food security and poverty reduction


Improving food security and reducing poverty among smallholder farmers and rural communities

Food is a basic human right. But one in 10 people—700 million people around the world—do not have enough food. Poverty and food security are intricately linked, and hunger is on the rise. Without an income or resources to grow food, more people are chronically undernourished or malnourished. Scarcity of natural resources, increasing populations and climate change are placing huge burdens on food security. Investing in smallholder farmers is an effective way to reduce poverty, hunger and malnutrition, particularly in rural areas, where most of the world’s poorest people live. We must simultaneously increase the productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers while building more sustainable and resilient food and agricultural systems.

Our work

ACIAR works throughout the Indo-Pacific region to improve food security and reduce poverty among smallholder farmers and rural communities. This contributes to our mission to improve livelihoods and make production systems more sustainable.

We partner with leading Australian research institutions to invest in programs that:

  • increase productivity, sustainability and utilisation of major crops by applying genetic and agronomic innovations to cropping systems
  • develop appropriate technologies and policy recommendations to support productive aquatic farming systems and sustainable fisheries
  • develop more productive, profitable and sustainable livestock systems, including breeding and raising healthy animals
  • improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of fruit, vegetable, ornamental and beverage crop production in low- and middle-income countries
  • improve production practices to minimise pre- and post-harvest loss
  • adapt soil, water and nutrient management, and other agronomic interventions, to local conditions
  • contribute to income and food security by assisting smallholder farmers to generate saleable timber, fruit, nuts and other forest products in agroforestry systems and smallholder woodlots.


Flagship project culminates in increased food security

Eastern and Southern Africa | Crops | International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center

One of our flagship projects—the Sustainable Intensification of Maize–Legume Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA)—concluded in October 2019. This ambitious project sought to help create more productive, resilient, profitable and sustainable maize–legume farming systems across seven African countries. Over the nine years of the project, an estimated 484,000 farmers adopted reduced tillage, cutting their time spent in manual labour by half while increasing farm labour productivity, food production and household income. The project resulted in the release of 40 new maize and 64 new legume varieties, the establishment of 58 agricultural innovation platforms and 57 policy briefs. At the farm level, the impact of adoption rates of at least two conservation agriculture practices could lead to yield increases of 4–6% per year across the region, compared to recently reported increases in Australian crop productivity of about 1.2%.

ACIAR expertise on the frontline fighting African swine fever

Timor-Leste | Livestock Systems | University of Queensland

African swine fever has been spreading steadily throughout Asia, seriously affecting economies and global pig production and meat supply. The recent discovery of the virus in Timor-Leste has caused significant concern for Australia. ACIAR-funded researchers have been present and active on the ground since the outbreak was first reported in Timor-Leste in September 2019. Our research teams have been working directly with the Timor-Leste Chief Veterinary Officer and Australian Department of Agriculture veterinarians to support the initial outbreak investigation and provided research findings to highlight the potentially devastating economic impact of African swine fever on Timor-Leste.

Improving incomes of smallholder sandalwood

Vanuatu | Forestry | University of Western Australia

ACIAR has supported sandalwood research in Vanuatu for more than 15 years. A 2020 assessment of the impact of this work found a clear, positive and enduring impact on institutional capacity and smallholder capacity. The economic impact for smallholder farmers is expected to be positive, with sector-wide returns of $3.8 million from mature trees at harvest, reflecting a benefit-cost ratio of 5.7 from our investment. Social analysis of the policy context identified that future policies will play a critical role in maximising returns to smallholders. This relates to the transparency of prices and alternative policy systems that allow for public auctioning of heartwood.

Enhancing tropical fruit industries in the Pacific

Fiji | Horticulture | University of the Sunshine Coast

Two ACIAR projects have delivered benefits to tropical fruit industries in Fiji. New research is helping fruit trees quickly regain productivity following tree damage after cyclones. Preliminary research on breadfruit trees—one of the most important Pacific staple food crops—in Fiji has shown that applying the plant hormone paclobutrazol has an immediate and positive impact in tree recovery and fruiting. A major study of post-harvest mango diseases in Fiji has reduced fruit losses by up to 95%. The study identified six new pathogens never previously reported in Fiji, and a simple hot water fruit treatment of 55°C for 5 minutes has been successfully developed and tested, helping farmers improve fruit quality and reduce loss.

Tackling cassava diseases

Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and China | Agribusiness | International Center for Tropical Agriculture

A new project developed management solutions for farmers across South-East Asia who are battling cassava diseases. Cassava is an important cash crop in the region and a staple food of millions of people. This project addresses two disease threats—cassava mosaic disease and cassava witches’ broom disease—that could devastate this multibillion-dollar industry. The project is taking a multipronged approach involving breeding, surveillance, agronomy and seed system interventions, coupled with engagement with government institutions and agribusiness. It highlights deep collaboration between six countries and has successfully progressed during COVID-19 due to the quality and organisation of in-country teams in multiple countries.


Empowering communities is the key to food and job security

Four men in a small boat with many colourful fish that they have caught

The sustainable supply of fish to feed the Pacific island region’s growing population is in doubt. Researchers predict that, unless resources are better managed, the region will experience a significant food gap over the coming decades.

A research team led by Professor Neil Andrew from the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security at the University of Wollongong is developing a community-led approach to improve coastal fisheries management and tackle food insecurity in the Pacific region.

Inshore fisheries—those closer to shore—are typically used by local communities as a source of income and food in Pacific island countries, including Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

However, fast-growing populations and unsustainable fishing practices are reducing the availability of fish and putting pressure on the long-term health and viability of these fisheries.

ACIAR and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) are co-funding a research team to work across the three countries to facilitate a process that supports community-based fisheries management to tackle these challenges.

So far, more than 100 communities have engaged with the project, with the long-term aim of setting their own fisheries management goals and rallying resources to meet them.

In Vanuatu, Pita Neihapi, a community-based resource management officer for the Pacific Community, is supporting 31 communities in community-based fisheries management.

In the Maskelyne Islands, three communities wanted to have a management plan. One of these previously managed a large outer reef, but not the inshore area. ‘[This community] wanted to have a management plan because an agreed management plan would help them to better manage the resources,’ said Mr Neihapi. ‘They said it would be something that was not from the chief but was a community initiative with community input.’

In its management plan, the community also identified taboo areas where fishing was not allowed, except to satisfy an urgent community need—and then, only with approval. ‘In accessing those taboo areas, they use the management plans. Their fishers are not allowed to use certain nets. They have to use what was in the management plan,’ said Mr Neihapi.

Mr Neihapi said that, since the community implemented the management plan, it has reported seeing a greater variety of fish species and more fish overall in the reef inshore area. He said people were very happy with both the plan and the increased number of fish they have observed as a direct result.

Sustainable development goals - No poverty & zero hunger


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