Natural resources and climate change

Previous Food security and poverty reduction
Natural resources and climate change


Managing natural resources and producing food more sustainably, adapting to climate variability and mitigating climate change

Degradation of natural resources, climate change and extreme weather events threaten our ability to ensure global food security, eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development. The hardest hit are the rural poor, who mostly depend on agriculture, fish or forests for their livelihoods in the context of increasing scarcity and competition for natural resources. Effectively managing these resources—including land, forests, vegetation, water and energy—requires a coordinated approach with local communities to slow down, stop and ultimately reverse natural resource degradation to secure sustainable agricultural production and protect these unique assets for future generations.

Our work

ACIAR is committed to investing in projects that tackle climate impacts on agriculture and encourage sustainable use and management of natural resources, including rehabilitation of soils, forests, landscapes and waterways. Across the Indo-Pacific region, we strive to improve livelihoods through sustainable intensification of farming systems, develop innovative transformational adaptation responses for smallholder farmers and build institutional capacity to understand and implement practical emission-reduction activities.

During 2019–20, we started planning a new research program to assess agriculture’s contribution to climate change, and identify opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors in our region.

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

  • support low- and middle-income countries to tackle climate impacts in agriculture, in line with their national plans and strategies
  • promote natural resource conservation and rehabilitation through scientific support for the establishment, management and sustainable use of forests, soils and waterways
  • address the challenges of efficient, sustainable water use to support agricultural production
  • identify and provide realistic options to deliver meaningful emissions reductions in agriculture
  • improve access to, and outcomes from, irrigation and sustainable use of groundwater in agriculture
  • develop innovative transformational adaptation responses that increase resilience of smallholder farmers
  • build linkages between Australia and developing countries to better adapt to changing climates, and to understand, measure and mitigate emissions
  • strengthen Australia’s own agricultural climate change capabilities through trialling innovative approaches.


ACIAR raises profile through global climate collaboration


Professor Andrew Campbell was confirmed as Vice-Chair of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA) on 6 October 2019. This will be followed by a one-year term as GRA Council Chair beginning in March 2021, taking a leadership role in agricultural and climate change research. This alliance of 64 member countries and more than 20 partner organisations was initiated in 2009 and Australia has been involved from the outset. The GRA works to create an enabling environment for research collaboration on the most promising ways to reduce agricultural emissions, for example, from ruminants and cropping systems. Leading Australian researchers in these areas have played important roles in the GRA, often supported by ACIAR. To mark the beginning of Professor Campbell’s tenure as chair, Australia will host the GRA annual council meeting in March 2021.

Australian app game changer for Pakistani farmers

Pakistan | Water and Climate | Charles Sturt University

‘Apna paani’ (‘our water’ in Urdu) is a new app that assists Pakistani farmers who are challenged by declining groundwater levels. Pakistan is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world. The app has tools to improve groundwater management by Pakistani farmers. It allows them to better monitor and report on the quality and quantity of groundwater. Farmers input water data, including water usage and consumption. The app provides overall water details to each farmer in the area who has the app. It also provides farmers with soil data, to help them determine the best farming practice in relation to the soil content.

Helping Tonga recover from Tropical Cyclone Harold

Tonga | Social Sciences | University of Western Australia

Tropical Cyclone Harold hit Tonga in April 2020, causing significant damage to food crops and critical infrastructure, including water supplies. The destruction caused by the Category 5 cyclone is estimated to cost more than US$111 million. ACIAR is providing additional support to help the small island nation recover its agrifood systems and prepare for future natural disasters, with a focus on climate resilience. This includes providing high-resolution imagery to identify priority areas for recovery, developing an interactive web map to visualise satellite images, and new refrigerated seed storage to replenish seed supplies to farmers. Additionally, 657 citrus trees and elite citrus root stock have been imported into Tonga to help rebuild domestic fruit production as part of an ACIAR project.

Changing crops reduces erosion without changing practices

South Asia | Soil and Land Management | University of Queensland

Landscapes in Vietnam and Laos are changing, and soil erosion is decreasing through adopting new crops without changing cultivation practices. An ACIAR-funded project is working with farmers and agricultural commodity traders to introduce strategies to improve soil health and reduce soil erosion. In 2016, most of the farms were growing corn; today, many fields have been converted to fruit tree orchards. An ACIAR-funded project identified that using ricebean as an intercrop with maize and as a cover crop under fruit trees was effective at reducing erosion and stabilising soil without the need for additional cultivation practices.

Australia and China combine knowledge on climate action

China | Livestock Systems | Charles Sturt University

Scientists from Australia and China have continued a long-running agricultural research partnership, publishing new findings that will help safeguard one of the world’s largest ecosystems. The vast grasslands of China cover approximately 400 million hectares and support the livelihoods of 16 million herders and their low-income pastoral households. However, more than 90% of these grasslands are now overgrazed and considered degraded. The latest research has demonstrated, at a significant scale, that herders can halve their stocking rates while maintaining or increasing their income by up to 60%. This is being used to help target China’s investments of $2 billion a year, focusing on poverty alleviation and improved grassland management.


Tracking tree DNA to protect the world’s forests

Man standing next to the trunk of a very large tree

A new forestry innovation is helping curb illegal timber smuggling by assisting farmers and forest owners to protect and restore this vital natural resource.

ACIAR research has successfully developed cost-effective DNA tests for one of the most valuable timbers in the world: teak. This is helping authorities thwart the illegal trade in timber from South-East Asia and the Pacific region by ensuring teak comes from legal sources. This important work is vital for the long-term sustainability of teak production and improve environmental outcomes.

Across the project, more than 1,600 samples were collected from the natural and planted range of teak in South-East Asia and the Pacific islands. Samples sent to the University of Adelaide were used to develop a DNA reference map of genetic variation for the valued species.

Project leader, Professor Andrew Lowe from the University of Adelaide, said the DNA tracking will help to reduce the $42.8 billion illicit trade of teak.

Teak is one of the most commercially important timbers in the world. It is durable and water-resistant, and is used for boats, buildings, veneer, carving, turnings and furniture. Illegally logged timber products, including teak, can enter markets through mixing legitimate supply chains and associated document fraud.

In Indonesia, the project used DNA to trace teak timber along a large plantation supply chain from the Perhutani Forest Management Unit at Cepu. ‘We trialled two methods that worked for large-scale industrial state-owned plantations in Indonesia—the first to check that logs at different points in the supply chain came from the same tree, which proved 90% accurate,’ Professor Lowe said.

‘The second tested whether logs matched the genetic profile of their source plantation. This was 100% accurate, and that’s what we recommend for large-scale and smallholder plantations.’

DNA tracking has previously been used in the USA to successfully prosecute the illegal trade in bigleaf maple. It is hoped this teak DNA map will be used in the same way to abolish illegally traded teak, support a sustainable teak supply chain and deliver better environmental outcomes.

Sustainable development goals 6, 12, 13, 14, 15


Next Human health and nutrition