Bilateral and regional research

Previous Country partnerships

ACIAR works with scientists in Australia and partner countries to use science and technology to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and the sustainability of food systems throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

Our work in each partner country and within our four regions is determined through various processes, consultations and forums. ACIAR-supported research addresses the specific challenges and opportunities arising in local environments and builds on established relationships.

The ACIAR research portfolio is organised into 10 programs:

 Agribusiness

The Agribusiness Program focuses on research and adoption of innovations to improve business outcomes for smallholder farmers, their communities and their industries at all points along the agricultural, forestry and fisheries value chain. This includes input supply, production and harvest at the farm level, as well as post-harvest activities such as shipping, processing, packaging and marketing of farm products.

 

The program seeks to understand and identify skills and opportunities to help smallholders, communities and industries manage complex and interrelated factors, issues and tasks in the production chain, to understand and link markets and adopt new enabling technologies. The program investigates the availability of finance for smallholders to participate in value chains, biosecurity, quality control and quality management of farm production, and compliance with market and government regulations. The program also works and co-invests with private firms to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of commercial agrifood chains that link smallholder farmers and their private sector partners to markets.

 

Projects brokered by the Agribusiness Program strive to build and improve communication and information transfer up and down the value chain, as well as management skills of value-chain participants. Projects supported by ACIAR also address factors that influence market development and opportunities, as well as regulations, policies and institutions that influence production, investment and infrastructure for agriculture. Projects include understanding and building capacity to adapt to structural and agricultural transformation.

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Howard Hall

Mr Howard Hall is the Research Program Manager for Agribusiness. Before joining ACIAR, Howard founded and operated a specialist agribusiness consultancy for almost 30 years, working across tropical and temperate horticulture, intensive and extensive meat and seafood industries, grains, pulses and field crops, and food packing and processing. He has also worked as a senior manager in corporate agribusiness in the agricultural inputs sector, and in both food manufacturing and food and grocery distribution. Howard has worked across north and South-East Asia, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific. He has a Bachelor of Applied Science (Rural Technology) from the University of Queensland and a Graduate Diploma of Business Studies from the University of New England.

Climate Change

In September 2020, ACIAR initiated a new research program—Climate Change—to focus on an issue that represents an acute threat to global food security and successful poverty eradication. ACIAR already has supported and brokered research that aims to build adaptive capacity and reduce vulnerability of smallholder agricultural systems to climate change.

Previously, through the Water and Climate Program, we worked with partner countries and national and international research agencies to improve our understanding of specific risks of climate change and potential transformational adaptation responses for smallholder farmers. We have invested in research that builds institutional capacity to understand and implement practical emissions reduction activities.

The new dedicated Climate Change Research Program will build on this work to:

  • develop innovative transformational adaptation responses that are country-based, region-based or commodity-based and include smallholder farmers
  • maximise opportunities to increase farm system health, increase productivity and maximise the opportunities from developing new markets
  • build regional capacity to reduce agricultural emissions and measure, report and verify emissions to meet country nationally determined contributions (NDC) targets
  • assist in the development of in-country regional/commodity-based climate change adaptation plans that include smallholder farmers in target countries.

The program will also work with other ACIAR research programs to:

  • increasingly consider the current and future risks of climate change when planning research project investments
  • incorporate emissions management considerations into research project investments.

ACIAR will continue to engage internationally on climate change and play a greater leadership role through participation and collaboration on national forums such as the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases. Working with other countries toward common goals by sharing expertise and resources allows scientists to achieve results that would be impossible if they were working in isolation.

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Veronica Doerr

Dr Veronica Doerr is the Research Program Manager for Climate Change. Her diverse research background has been characterised by integration of social and biophysical sciences, including research co-design with land managers and policy-makers. Before joining ACIAR, Veronica spent 15 years at CSIRO where she transferred to research management to shape collaborations for climate adaptation and transition. She built the Climate Risks and Resilience Group, served as Research Director for the Sustainability Pathways Program, and was a core member of the Land and Water Leadership Team. Veronica has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and a PhD from the University of Nevada – Reno.

 

 

 

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Lee Nelson

Mr Lee Nelson is the Associate Research Program Manager for Climate Change. Lee joined ACIAR from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, where he worked in policy and research positions on climate change and natural resource management. Lee had leading roles in the development of the Australian Government’s Climate Change Research Program, the Carbon Farming Futures program and the agriculture component of the National Landcare Program, Phase 2. Lee holds degrees in science, law and business.

Crops

The Crops Program aims to increase the productivity, sustainability and use of major crops by applying genetic and agronomic innovations to cropping systems of mutual importance to Australia and partner countries. The program is built on two complementary and integrated themes of genetic improvement and sustainable intensification and diversification.

 

Projects within the genetics theme address specific issues, such as incorporating tolerance or resistance to pests and diseases, or building skills and technological capacity of plant breeding programs (modernisation). ACIAR-supported projects are partnerships to enable the release of improved breeding germplasm, rather than directly disseminating new varieties. Current projects supported by the Crops Program identify genes for important traits, and support their introduction into breeding lines. Variety release may also be a direct outcome of the gene discovery work.

 

Projects supported under the sustainable intensification and diversification theme consider the productivity, profitability and resilience of the whole cropping system. These projects design, test and disseminate cropping system innovations, using farming systems research methods, to increase productivity, returns and the sustainability of targeted systems, while exploring opportunities to reduce their climate change footprint. Concentration of poverty in rural areas, migration out of farming, the increasing gap between urban and rural incomes and lower growth for agriculture compared with the overall economy all challenge family farming as a viable, profitable and satisfying pursuit. The Crops Program explores sustainable intensification as one response to these issues.

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Eric Huttner

Dr Eric Huttner is the Research Program Manager for Crops. He started his career in plant molecular genetics, working in the public research institute, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, in France. He has worked for more than 20 years in various private companies, including founding a start-up plant genetic analysis service company. Eric has also managed public–private research initiatives in both Australia and France. Eric was a founding partner and director of Australia’s Cooperative Research Centre for Plant Science, and a member of the Australian Biotechnology Advisory Council. He is a graduate of France’s leading agricultural science school, Institut National Agronomique (AgroParisTech), and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Chinese Academy of Science in 1987.

Fisheries

The Fisheries Program brokers research partnerships that improve fishers’ livelihoods from productive aquatic farming systems and sustainable wild-catch fisheries. The program’s focus is on small-scale artisanal fisheries and low-technology aquaculture methods, suitable for both men and women, and includes research on post-harvest processing and trade along the supply chain.

 

The Fisheries Program also invests in a small number of challenging and emerging-needs research initiatives that address important priorities for our partner countries. It aims to improve food security and human health by making food systems and policies more nutrition-sensitive through research on sustainable food systems and fish’s contributions to human nutrition, health and wellbeing.

 

Another key goal of the program is improved sustainability of fish resources, providing economic and social benefits through research on viable fisheries-management policies, both for artisanal fishery communities and for national or export fisheries sectors.

 

The program also focuses on people in fisheries industries and communities. It has an objective to improve gender equality, empowerment and household income for women through research on small businesses and collective enterprises to meet market demand. The program strives to strengthen the capacity of fisheries researchers (both Australian and partners) and fisheries managers, through better knowledge of practice-based education and training.

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Ann Fleming

Dr Ann Fleming is the Research Program Manager for Fisheries. Ann came to ACIAR from Monash University, where she was a research development specialist for two years. Before that, Ann was Manager of Aquaculture in Northern Territory Fisheries for five years, and for the 10 years prior she was Assistant Leader and then Leader of the Abalone Aquaculture Program for the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. Ann has a PhD in Aquaculture from the University of Melbourne, a Bachelor of Science (Honours) from Monash University and a Graduate Certificate in Public Sector Management from Flinders University. She is currently undertaking a Master of International Development at RMIT.

Forestry

Forests and trees provide social, economic and environmental benefits. The goal of the Forestry Program is to increase these benefits to the human community in the present while enhancing environmental integrity and natural assets for future generations. The program focuses on opportunities to support livelihoods of the rural poor in partner countries from enterprises associated with forests and agroforests. The densification of tree cover outside forests now occurring globally has heightened the economic opportunity associated with tree crops.

 

The current Forestry Program portfolio includes projects that span the value chain from seedlings to processed timber products. During the period 2020–25, the aim is to develop research projects in which the science is strong, prominent and broadly applicable across geographies and forest types while development outcomes are concentrated in focal countries.

 

ACIAR is participating in the UN Decade of Forest Restoration (2020–30) with research examining management actions to channel natural processes toward ecosystem aggradation—the building of carbon stores, water-holding capacities, trophic complexity and biodiversity. These projects aim to restore and expand forest cover and the benefits of forests for a diversity of stakeholders.

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Nora Devoe

Dr Nora Devoe is the Research Program Manager for Forestry. Before joining ACIAR, Nora worked in commercial hardwood production in Victoria and Western Australia, New Zealand and several tropical countries. She has also been employed in public policy, academia and forestry for rural development. Nora has a longstanding interest in the social dimensions of forestry, with prior research in community forestry and sustainability, including social, economic and ecological aspects. Nora holds a PhD in silviculture and a Master of Forest Science in forest ecology from Yale University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in environmental science from Antioch University, USA.

Horticulture

The Horticulture Program aims to improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of fruit, vegetable, ornamental and beverage crop production in partner countries and Australia.

 

The program focuses on improving production practice to increase yield, and minimising pre-harvest and post-harvest loss. The program works along the supply chain and across a large variety of commodities, including banana, mango, pineapple, citrus, sweetpotato, coconut, cocoa, coffee and various indigenous and traditional vegetables. Research supported by the program increases on-farm productivity through integrated crop management, disease and pest control, and improved post-harvest storage and management. Beyond the farm, the focus is on biosecurity, export development and market development of new products. Priority is also given to nutrition-sensitive solutions that link production to nutrition.

 

The Horticulture Program takes a complete supply-chain approach to crop production, which considers consumer needs for safe, high-quality food, and works with the whole chain to deliver sustainable competitive advantages to the smallholders that comprise most farmers in the countries where ACIAR works.

 

The challenges for horticulture research are to improve livelihoods in rural areas and deliver the safe nutritious food necessary for health and nutrition in both rural and urban regions. Higher intensity systems—such as protected-cropping and production systems that are resilient to climate effects and can withstand pest and disease pressure—are complemented by projects that effectively reduce loss along the chain.

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Irene Kernot

Ms Irene Kernot is the Research Program Manager for Horticulture. Irene started her career in 1978 as an agronomist with the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industries. Moving to north Queensland in 1990, Irene worked in education as a horticultural instructor and managed an Open Learning Centre. She joined the Department of Primary Industries in Queensland as an extension horticulturist in tropical fruits and served on the board of the Australian College of Tropical Agriculture. In 2003, Irene transferred to research management as the Director of Tropical Fruit and Value Chain Research Development and Extension with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Livestock Systems

The Livestock Systems Program brokers research partnerships that develop more productive, profitable and sustainable livestock systems for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. The program takes a holistic view of livestock systems, considering animal health and production technologies within the broader sociocultural, policy and economic contexts. Animal welfare and gender-sensitive approaches are central to the research design.

 

The program has three key areas of focus:

  • livestock and climate change—there is an urgent need to consolidate existing evidence (and identify gaps) in global research that demonstrates the greenhouse gas emissions reductions that occur with more efficient, climate-smart livestock production systems.
  • trade and market access—research into the transition from low-input to more market-oriented livestock systems has been a key ACIAR theme for many years. A whole-system approach that focuses on livestock production and biosecurity improvements within the relevant sociocultural, gender, policy and market aspects of the value chains will continue to be a key focus of the program.
  • the role of animal-sourced foods in nutrition and food security—understanding and enhancing animal-sourced food, particularly for women and children, is a key focus in environments more prone to food insecurity, such as those experiencing recurring drought or higher-than-average malnutrition and/or stunting.
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Anna Okello

Dr Anna Okello is the Research Program Manager for Livestock Systems. Since graduating as a veterinarian from the University of Melbourne in 2002, Anna has spent most of her career working in international livestock development and public health programs in Africa and South-East Asia. This included working in project management and technical advisory roles for international non-government organisations, the University of Edinburgh, the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, the World Health Organization and the Australian Government Department of Agriculture. Anna joined ACIAR in 2017 as an Associate Research Program Manager for One Health. Anna completed a PhD in political science at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for African Studies in 2012.

Social Sciences

The Social Sciences Program takes a people-centred approach to agricultural research-for-development to reduce poverty.

 

The Social Sciences Program commissions research to address questions most effectively answered, or led primarily, by qualitative social scientists, with elements of quantitative social science where relevant to the issue under investigation. All projects endeavour to conduct trans-disciplinary research to deliver innovation and reduce poverty.

 

The program’s key research areas are:

  • agricultural extension
  • gendered social relations
  • women’s empowerment
  • natural resource management
  • climate adaptation.

Social science theories and methods can contribute significantly to systems research, particularly when considering systems as a descriptor of holistic approaches that encompass complex interactions. However, the contribution of social science extends beyond systems thinking. In both research for, and in, agriculture-for-development and development more broadly, empirical research and development practice have clearly shown that engaging with people as active agents, rather than passive recipients of research and aid, results in far greater impact.

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Jayne Curnow

Dr Jayne Curnow is the Research Program Manager for Social Sciences. Jayne is an anthropologist with extensive leadership experience in international aid and research-for-development, spanning the water, agriculture, natural resource management, legal, economic and health sectors. She chairs the ACIAR Gender Committee and led the development of the ACIAR Gender Equity Strategy and Policy across the agency and its research programs. Jayne holds a PhD in Anthropology from the Australian National University and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Jayne is fluent in Bahasa Indonesian and Malay.

Soil and Land Management

The Soil and Land Management Program aims to help smallholders boost productivity, while ensuring soil and food security are achieved, through sustainable use of limited resources in a changing climate. The program takes an integrated approach to identify promising practices within farming systems in specific agroecological zones. Intersecting with socioeconomic factors, it develops technologies that enable farmers to sustainably use resources and intensify production.

 

In some regions, the research aims to improve soil security, increase production and achieve sustainability by improving the efficiency of resource use, while maintaining and enhancing ecological services. In other regions, the goal is to improve livelihoods by raising yields and increasing profitability of agricultural enterprises.

 

Scarcity of resources, increasing population growth and climate change place huge burdens on smallholder farmers. Inappropriate farming systems and overexploitation of resources are degrading land, affecting soil security, depleting nutrients and speeding up soil acidification, salinisation and desertification. Ensuring that agricultural production is sustainable—and benefits smallholder farmers—is a key challenge for long-term food security.

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James Quilty

Dr James Quilty is the Research Program Manager for Soil and Land Management. Before joining ACIAR, James worked at the International Rice Research Institute, based in the Philippines, for seven years. After completing his PhD, James worked with Forests New South Wales, studying the impacts of managed pine forests on soil carbon and soil respiration in the central tablelands of New South Wales. He completed his PhD in Soil Science at the University of Sydney, studying the soil health implications of organic amendments in conventional irrigated cotton systems in central western New South Wales.

Water

The Water Program (formerly the Water and Climate Program) addresses the challenge of efficient, sustainable water use to support agricultural production in a context of increasingly uncertain climate, competition from other sectors and declining water quality. The program works to improve agricultural water management through innovative technical and policy approaches under three main themes:

  • improving access to, and outcomes from, irrigation
  • sustainable use of groundwater in agriculture
  • risks and opportunities for safe productive use of low-quality water.

In South Asia, the Water Program coordinates activities that were established by the DFAT Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio and focus on sustainable ways to intensify and diversify food systems in the Eastern Gangetic Plains, by examining the technical, policy and social dimensions of widespread agricultural change.

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Robyn Johnston

Dr Robyn Johnston is the Research Program Manager for Water. Before joining ACIAR, Robyn was a principal researcher with the International Water Management Institute, including three years as the institute’s representative in Myanmar. Robyn previously worked with the Murray–Darling Basin Commission and the Mekong River Commission, as Environment Advisor for AusAID, and with the Bureau of Rural Sciences and Geoscience Australia, working on science and policy of land and water management. She holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) from the Australian National University, a Master of Science (Geochemistry) from University of Leeds and a PhD from the University of New England.

While each program focuses on priorities within its field, the development of projects across programs is also guided by the objectives of the ACIAR 10-Year Strategy 2018–2027.

From September 2020, ACIAR has a new research program that focuses and strengthens our work in relation to our strategic objective that addresses climate variability and climate change.

We identify research priorities collaboratively with partner countries, and broker research partnerships and projects to tackle those priorities. Once projects are established, ACIAR manages and monitors these investments throughout the research process to maximise impact and return on investment.

Research projects developed as bilateral and regional partnerships are led by a commissioned organisation (such as an Australian university, CSIRO, state government agency or private firm) or an international agricultural research centre. The projects are a collaboration between the commissioned organisation, other Australian or international research providers and in-country organisations. ACIAR works closely with collaborators to determine and monitor the achievement of project milestones.

We also work with other government agencies to implement programs and projects with shared goals. Since 2006, our largest and most important partnership with another government agency is with portfolio partner, DFAT. A new partnership agreement (Record of Understanding) was established during 2019–20, under which ACIAR will manage 11 activities and an investment of almost $11 million. These activities include projects and activities associated with programs such as the Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (page 132) and Research for One Health Systems Strengthening (pages 48 and 77).

Relationships with our in-country partners change as partner countries develop more capability in research and change focus on their research priorities. Our approach to research prioritisation and partnership brokering adapts in order to deliver research projects that are consistent with jointly agreed priorities, needs and capabilities.

Our research portfolio evolves in response to new research opportunities enabled by new knowledge and technologies, and new research and development imperatives. For example, during 2020–21, we are developing areas of activity addressing:

  • links between human, livestock and ecosystem health
  • the application of digital technologies to smallholder production systems, including the
    full value chain
  • the contribution of agriculture to greenhouse
    gas emissions
  • new biosecurity threats such as fall armyworm and African swine fever.

Projects and partners

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202 projects, 34 countries, 58 commissioned organisations, 404 collaborating institutions

 

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Projects: 25 Agribusiness, 5 Climate Change, 21 Crops, 25 Fisheries, 19 Forestry, 18 Horticulture, 31 Livestock Systems, 18 Social Sciences, 14 Soil & Land Management, 16 Water

Cross-cutting issues

The ACIAR research portfolio is designed and implemented on the basis of 10 key research areas that address the gaps in knowledge, technology and capacity encountered in agricultural research-for-development. However, many aspects of the research challenges associated with converging food, water and energy insecurities sit at the interface between our program areas.

ACIAR has identified cross-cutting issues, and engaged Associate Research Program Managers to work with the research programs and projects, to connect areas of common focus and research. The Associate Research Program Managers have been appointed to support the following high-priority cross-cutting issues:

Economics and Policy

Our economics and policy activities focus on research and initiatives that support sustainable and inclusive economic development. This addresses ways to manage profitable and sustainable food and resource systems from smallholders to policymakers.

 

Access to, and integration with, markets are essential to enable these systems to be developed, because they provide the means for smallholder communities to move from subsistence to commercial scales of production. Achieving sustainable development requires equipping managers at all levels with accessible information, digital technologies, decision-making tools and financial products to manage their systems effectively.

 

The Associate Research Program Manager for Economics and Policy works to understand the trade-offs involved in management and policy decisions, and the opportunities to find balanced pathways for development. Key examples include:

  • markets that fail to provide participants with conditions for equitable access
  • competing demands on resources among alternative uses, both over time and under uncertainty
  • production activities with the potential to create negative environmental or social externalities.

Each requires carefully designed management and policy solutions. Our work in this area is concerned with the processes that support the translation of scientific, social and economic knowledge into policy for sustainable and inclusive economic development.

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Todd Sanderson

Dr Todd Sanderson is the Associate Research Program Manager for Economics and Policy. Before joining ACIAR, Todd was a CSIRO research scientist working in the area of digital economics and markets. His research and teaching career covers a wide variety of economic and policy dimensions, in contexts ranging from agricultural trade to climate adaptation and smallholder decision-making under uncertainty. Todd has worked with ACIAR projects in Papua New Guinea and Laos, providing economic insights and developing productive relationships with in-country research partners. He has a PhD in Agricultural Economics from the University of Sydney.

Farming Systems Analysis

In many of the agricultural contexts in which ACIAR works, there is a high degree of complexity, meaning many factors might be interacting to cause a problem.

 

Smallholders farmers do not just manage one crop type. They can be actively involved in growing many crops and vegetables, practising forestry and producing livestock. They also produce food for home consumption, and sell products into local markets and processing chains, and they might produce internationally traded commodities. As such, methods and tools to examine the farming system as a whole are required to assess the value of proposed interventions.

 

A farming systems approach can be used in these contexts to help assess the costs and benefits of alternative crop rotations or the impacts of new farming practices on the farm household or the broader environment. The farming systems analysis program has been examining how farming system analysis is currently being used by research teams to address diverse project objectives.

 

The goal of this work is to find ways to build capacity for systems thinking in research teams and document practical approaches that researchers might use to understand complex systems. This is of particular relevance to questions about how to sustainably intensify production systems.

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Sarina Macfadyen

Dr Sarina Macfadyen is the Associate Research Program Manager for Farming Systems Analysis. Before joining ACIAR, Sarina worked for CSIRO as an entomologist. She has many years of experience working on pest-management issues in broadacre grain crops across southern Australia, and cassava production systems in eastern Africa. She holds a PhD from the University of Queensland, and completed her undergraduate science degree at Macquarie University in Sydney.

Gender

Gender equality is a key consideration in all the contexts in which ACIAR operates. Every ACIAR project triggers changes that have gender implications, whether explicitly acknowledged or not. Research on gendered social relations covers men and women, and might include norms, rules, resources, responsibilities and power. Women’s empowerment is about creating more equal systems of access and recognition of women’s agency, decision-making and participation. As more than half the world’s women are farmers, ACIAR cannot credibly pursue its strategy around food security, human health, nutrition, climate change and ending poverty unless we also promote gender equality vigorously, both internally and externally.

 

Our in-house gender expertise creates a gender focal point and guides all ACIAR staff, partner agencies and program leaders to understand and identify opportunities for gender equity impact and transformation. This allows us to ensure that 80% (at a minimum) of ACIAR investments reflect principles of gender equity in project design and implementation, consistent with the ACIAR Gender Equity Policy and Strategy and Australia’s aid program targets.

 

Projects brokered by ACIAR strive to build and improve gender equity and inclusion. Understanding and building capacity to take a gender lens to agricultural research, and comprehensively integrating gender equity into the research portfolio will have impacts including boosting women’s influence in setting the research agenda, making decisions, and opportunity to benefit from research and capacity building, and structural and agricultural transformation for women’s empowerment.

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Jane Alver

Ms Jane Alver is the Associate Research Program Manager for Gender. Before joining ACIAR, Jane worked as a public servant and lawyer, including across the Pacific region. She has a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) from the University of Sydney, a Master of Studies (Women’s Studies) from the University of Oxford, and a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice from the University of Technology Sydney. She is currently completing her PhD in Political Science at the University of Canberra.

One Health

One Health uses a trans-disciplinary approach to address issues at the human–animal–ecosystems interface. Such an approach in low- and middle-income countries can have a profound impact on human health, livestock productivity and trade. It has links with farming systems, livestock management, climate change and food security considerations. ACIAR funds a number of One Health projects under pillar three of its Livestock Systems Research Program. One of these initiatives is the Research for One Health Systems Strengthening program, a co-investment partnership between ACIAR and DFAT’s Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security. The partnership is one of several programs under a Record of Understanding between ACIAR and DFAT.

 

The Research for One Health Systems Strengthening program comprises a portfolio of projects that are investigating human communicable diseases in the context of land use changes, veterinary systems strengthening and antimicrobial resistance. These projects are described on page 48 (Pacific region) and page 77 (South-East Asia region).

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Francette Geraghty-Dusan

Dr Francette Geraghty-Dusan is the Associate Research Program Manager for One Health. With degrees in agricultural science, veterinary science and public health management, Francette has an excellent understanding of food production systems, strong technical skills in disease epidemiology and biosecurity, an understanding of both animal health and human health systems, and expertise in developing and growing relationships with stakeholders built on collaboration and innovation. Before joining ACIAR, she worked on emergency animal disease preparedness with Animal Health Australia for five years, and as a zoonotic disease epidemiologist and One Health practitioner for the World Health Organization in Laos and China.

Planning and evaluation

Portfolio planning and impact evaluation helps us refine our priorities and learn lessons from current and past projects, as well as enabling accountability to our Minister, the Australian Government and the Australian public.

An important aspect of our work lies in strategically planning for, and measuring, the impact of our investments. Our Portfolio Planning and Impact Evaluation team is responsible for the ongoing development of organisation-wide performance frameworks and the evaluation of our investments in the medium and long term. The team engages with emerging thinking on the design of effective research-for-development portfolios, and invests in developing methods to appropriately monitor and assess the contribution of our investment to development outcomes.

ACIAR investments are evaluated through a combination of medium-term adoption studies and longer-term impact assessments.

Adoption studies enable research teams to assess the extent to which research findings are taken up, and identify the effects of the project on the scientific community and next-users in partner countries and Australia. They also provide a deeper understanding about the pathways to change.

Impact assessments are done by independent consultants with specialist expertise in measuring the impact of agricultural research. They analyse economic return on investment, assess social and environmental impacts and understand the contribution that ACIAR has made to complex systems change processes. These assessments apply various methods to quantify impacts and findings from all studies, and are published in the ACIAR impact assessment series.

Consistent with the ACIAR 10-Year Strategy 2018–2027, the Portfolio Planning and Impact Evaluation team has two key areas of focus during 2020–21.

Systematic portfolio planning, monitoring and reporting system

This system explicitly links our bilateral, multilateral and capacity-building investments to our strategic objectives. It enables us to clearly explain how, and to what scale, our current portfolio is anticipated to contribute to these objectives, provides a framework to demonstrate progress towards these, and facilitates adaptive management at the portfolio level in response to lessons learned and changing contexts.

We are continuing to revise our existing planning and reporting documents to ensure that projects are designed and budgeted in a way that enables effective project-level monitoring, evaluation and reflection throughout implementation, and longer-term impact assessment after project completion.

Commissioning studies that quantify our contribution and produce lessons relevant to the achievement of all ACIAR objectives

We will build on, and continue to develop, methods to understand and value the different contributions of agricultural research to human development and environmental sustainability. We will look for opportunities to undertake truly integrated impact assessments that explore the multiple values of our work. In response to the ACIAR Gender Equity Policy and Strategy 2017–2022, we will trial the application of both formative and ex-post gender integrated assessment methods.

We will also commission studies that will inform how we design and commission future work to deliver our objectives. These studies will aim to understand how and why research is influencing the knowledge, attitudes, behaviour and practices that support the achievement of longer-term development outcomes. This will include cross-cutting reviews of common strategies for translating knowledge to impact, and developing and/or applying analytical frameworks for systematic pathway assessment. We will also seek to develop ways to more accurately analyse the contribution of our work using methods that acknowledge the co-contributions of enabling innovation systems, policy environments and other aligned investments.

Ms Bethany Davies is Research Manager for Portfolio Planning and Impact Evaluation
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Bethany Davies

Bethany has extensive experience of practical and applied approaches to project planning, participatory program design, theory of change, monitoring and evaluation framework development and implementation, evaluation training and capacity building. Before joining ACIAR, she worked for five years specifically in research-for-development programs, including as the Research to Impact Team Leader for the Center for International Forestry Research, and as the Forest Trees and Agroforestry Monitoring Evaluation, Learning and Impact Assessment Coordinator. Bethany holds a Bachelor of International Relations and a Master in International Development from RMIT.

Impact assessment

 

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