CEO’s message

Previous ACIAR Annual Review 2019-20

The 2019–20 financial year began with the world enjoying historically high levels of aggregate food supply after good seasons in major food-producing regions. It ended with a global pandemic (the sixth major zoonotic disease since 1980) exacerbating food insecurity in vulnerable regions everywhere.

Like many organisations in Australia and around the world, ACIAR has had to completely change the way we work in order to keep our staff and our partners safe. Importantly, our work to help countries and communities grow more and healthier food, improve nutrition and reduce poverty has continued.

While the global health crisis of COVID-19 is yet to precipitate a full-blown global food crisis, many international experts and agencies have highlighted that risk. In May 2020, ACIAR commenced a three-stage assessment of the impacts of the pandemic, and the responses to it, on smallholder farmers and food systems in the Indo-Pacific region.

As we continue to grapple with the multifaceted and far-reaching implications of the pandemic, the ACIAR value proposition is more compelling than ever. Australia’s deep and broad scientific expertise in sustainable and resilient food systems is a strategic national asset. We work with partners across the Indo-Pacific region to tackle the intersecting challenges of health security, food security, water security and biosecurity—all of which ultimately affect our own national security.

Throughout the year, we have continued our important work, pursuing strong partnerships and better science to catalyse and share innovations that farmers can use now and in the future to grow more and healthier food, earn more and reduce environmental impacts.

We invest in research through three partnership models:  bilateral research programs, multilateral research collaborations and co-investment alliances with like-minded donors.  I have been extremely impressed with the resilience of all three models in the face of the multifaceted and ongoing disruptions of COVID-19, thanks to the commitment and hard work of our many partners. 

Australia is a major investor in the CGIAR, and ACIAR is charged with managing that investment.  The importance of the One CGIAR reform process to improve cohesion and impact across the CGIAR system has only been underlined by the pandemic, and Australia remains committed to the objectives of this historic reform. 

To focus and strengthen our capacity to build knowledge to manage natural resources and produce food more sustainably, while adapting to climate variability and mitigating climate change, this year we established a new climate change research program. This program will focus on agriculture’s contribution to climate change and opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors in our region.

In October 2019, Australia was elected Vice-Chair of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases. When I represent Australia as chair of this important global collaboration in March 2021, ACIAR will consolidate Australia’s reputation and expertise in climate science in agriculture. This alliance of more than 60 countries works to create an enabling environment for research collaboration on the most promising ways to reduce agricultural emissions. Australian researchers play an important role in the alliance, often through ACIAR-supported projects.

Our work is guided by eminent experts on the Commission for International Agricultural Research. I would like to acknowledge the outstanding contributions of the commissioners who retired in 2019–20: Mr Don Heatley (Chair), Ms Catherine Marriott and Professor Gabrielle Persley.

The achievements reported in this publication are only made possible by the people running our research projects on the ground—committed and talented scientists from our research partners in Australia and our partner countries, who have continued to operate in difficult situations throughout the year. I must also acknowledge the smallholder farmers—the women and men who are the intended beneficiaries of our work—who are often willing participants and helpers in our important work.

In delivering on our far-sighted mandate, I am lucky to be leading an organisation staffed by very talented and committed people in Australia and our 10 country offices who are doing an outstanding job in often challenging circumstances. Our people remain our greatest asset and I am proud of the achievements of my colleagues across the Indo-Pacific region, whose devoted work contributes to the global effort to tackle poverty, hunger and major nutrition imbalances.

Over the last year (like many of our partners I suspect) I have participated in more than 150 videoconferences.  Personally, I am hoping for a year with more direct face to face contact, but that may not be realistic for many months yet.  In the meantime, this annual review illustrates that the ACIAR research portfolio has continued to exemplify the strategic importance and value of Australian aid in our region and beyond.

Professor Andrew Campbell
Chief Executive Officer

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