Agricultural innovation is a strategic national capability that the Australian Government, through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), mobilises to build international research partnerships that improve food security, food system resilience and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the Indo-Pacific region.
The 2021–22 year will culminate with the 40th anniversary of the establishment of ACIAR. So much has changed in the world since 1982 for smallholder farmers, fishers and foresters. Advances in plant and animal production technologies have enhanced productivity and profitability. The development of smart technologies has assisted efficient use of resources and inputs, improving productivity and sustainability. Access to microfinance and more-inclusive value chains have improved livelihoods throughout our developing partner countries.
While there is improvement and progress to celebrate, the purpose of ACIAR to identify or find solutions to agricultural problems of developing countries remains as relevant now as it was in 1982. More than 10% of the world’s population lives in poverty and, of particular relevance to the work of ACIAR, poverty is 3 times higher in rural areas than urban areas. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated rural poverty and food security, as well as impacting livelihoods – for women in particular.
Tackling shared challenges through agricultural research collaboration remains a compelling element of Australian soft power in the Indo-Pacific region. Australia is well equipped to play a leading role within our region and globally – disproportionate to the size of our population and our economy. Through our research partnership model, ACIAR supports regional stability, health security and economic recovery, and builds scientific and policy capability for more-productive and sustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors.
The zoonotic origins of COVID-19 have shone a spotlight on biosecurity and One Health (the intersection of animal, human and environmental health). ACIAR will continue our involvement in partnerships and programs that strive to develop far more effective integration across the human and animal health systems. This is critical if our region and the world is to prevent even more infectious and deadly zoonotic diseases in the future.
The pandemic has transformed our modes of operation and, as we embark on 2021–22, we will continue to revise and adapt our programs. The most notable changes have been in the areas of operation of our Country Network, where our locally based staff and in-country partners have taken a leading role in maintaining and implementing field work. Several of our capacity-building programs are now delivered online and our 600-strong alumni network is more active in-country.
Another global challenge that deeply affects our partner countries in the Indo-Pacific region, through impacts on food systems, livelihoods and environments, is climate change. Recognising that Australia has both a responsibility and the ability to find solutions, ACIAR added the Climate Change Program to our portfolio of research programs. This program commences its first full year of operation in 2021–22. Through this new program ACIAR will participate in the UN Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26) in November 2021. ACIAR represents Australia at the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (page 27), and will chair the Alliance for one year from March 2021.
Australia’s support of international agricultural research centres was embedded in our enabling legislation, and funding to these centres is managed by ACIAR. During 2021–22, we will continue our involvement with CGIAR, a network of 15 research centres dedicated to reducing rural poverty, increasing food and nutrition security for human health and improving natural resource systems and ecosystem services. As with previous years, this coming year will see our very hands-on involvement in the One CGIAR reform process continue.
On the international arena, ACIAR is a highly respected partner in agricultural research-for-development. We continue our 8-year relationship with our sister organisation in Canada, the International Development Research Centre. The Cultivate Africa’s Future program (page 24) continues with projects supporting innovation and the Food Loss Research Program, launched in June 2021, will encompass a number of projects to find ways to reduce losses along the food production value chain (page 8).
We will be participating in the United Nations Food Systems Summit, convened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in 2021, as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 (page 26). While improving food security and reducing poverty are key components of food systems, the transformation to sustainable food systems will support the world in achieving all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
This Annual Operational Plan provides a comprehensive outline of the investment by ACIAR of around 2.5% of the Australian official development assistance budget during 2021–22. It explains the context and priorities of our program areas in the Indo-Pacific region and describes our partnerships and projects. These range from our support and governance role with our largest partner, the CGIAR system, to our brokering and management role of 178 individual bilateral and regional research projects.
I have every confidence that our committed and skilled staff and partners will deliver this plan successfully. Through ACIAR partnerships, we will continue to grow the knowledge base for agricultural research-for-development, and in turn improve livelihoods of smallholder farmers and fishers in our partner countries. Along the way, we will introduce new technologies, risk management and capabilities to Australian agriculture and agricultural sciences, generating a very high return on public investment.
Chief Executive Officer