Some of the major influences of our operating environment in the Indo-Pacific region have been in play for some time – such as rapid social, economic and political change within partner countries and an increasingly variable and changing climate. Many of our partner countries also contend with the complex triple burden of nutrition (acute hunger, malnutrition and nutrition-related disease).
ACIAR has well-established ongoing plans and programs to ensure continuity in building the partnerships, knowledge and capacity required to achieve more productive and sustainable agricultural systems, while also enhancing food security and livelihoods. However, all plans and operations must take into account the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is currently the most significant shaper and disruptor of our operating environment.
The work of ACIAR and our partners will be vital in the next few years. Smallholder farmers in the Indo-Pacific region need the knowledge, skills, technology and frameworks to restore disrupted production systems and value chains across the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors. During 2021–22, we will be refining the changes and adaptations we made to our traditional operating models during 2020. Historically, the operations of ACIAR have depended heavily on international travel by Australian scientists to partner countries, extensive regional travel within partner countries, and travel to Australia for training by scientists from partner countries.
While a global crisis precipitated this remodelling, ACIAR has been presented with new opportunities to experiment with new technologies and new modalities to achieve our purpose more efficiently. We will continue to strengthen our business models so we can continue to work with our partners on ongoing social, economic and environmental challenges.
This new way of working has built closer links with the more than 800 ACIAR alumni across our region, as we seek to maintain on-ground momentum within ACIAR-funded programs and projects. We look forward to maintaining these stronger connections into the future.
Regional stability and economic security
Australia’s security and economic interests remain linked with the countries of the regions in which ACIAR operates. The Australian Government’s investment in agricultural development, through ACIAR, supports regional processes for promoting peace and economic growth, ensuring Australia is a trusted science partner and leader in the agriculture and natural resources sectors.
Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is central to our first strategic objective of ‘improving food security and reducing poverty among smallholder farmers and rural communities’ in our region.
Many of the projects we commission – across regions, countries and programs – have the core endeavour of improving food security and reducing poverty among smallholder farmers and rural communities. This strategic objective means ACIAR is well placed to be an integral and constructive part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in our region, with our ability to harness the strengths of the Australian agricultural innovation system to provide scientific leadership.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health and economic crisis that is disrupting the lives and livelihoods of diverse communities around the world, with impacts to be felt for years to come.
The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing vulnerabilities in food systems around the region. However, agriculture has played an important role as a ‘shock absorber’ by sustaining food production, and absorbing significant movements of people and providing useful work.
As partner countries tackle the multifaceted challenge of ‘building back better’, a key aspect of recovery will be improving the safety and resilience of food systems. The ACIAR response to the pandemic reflects the Australian Government’s policy, articulated in Partnerships for Recovery — Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response, published on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Impacts of COVID-19 on food systems: stage 3
During 2020 ACIAR conducted 2 stages of a 3-stage assessment of impacts of the pandemic on food systems in the Indo-Pacific region. An initial rapid assessment was followed by an in-depth report, COVID-19 and food systems in the Indo-Pacific: an assessment of vulnerabilities, impacts and opportunities for action (ACIAR Technical Report 96). The findings of this work will inform ACIAR investments in 2021–22 and beyond.
Stage 3 of our assessment centres on 4 focus areas that are recognised as vulnerabilities in food systems but have not featured in research to date. The projects (listed below) have been commissioned to assess the impact case for investment, potential entry points and modalities of engagement, and potential synergies with other areas of ACIAR and development partner endeavours. Findings will be delivered by the end of 2021.
- Agrifood systems transformation through circular migration between Pacific islands and Australia [Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu] (CS/2020/212)
- COVID-19: gendered risks, impact and response in the Indo-Pacific: rapid research and policy guidance [Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Philippines] (LS/2020/203)
- Rapid assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on wet market reforms: case studies from Vietnam, Kenya and the Philippines (LS/2020/204)
- Vulnerability in the Anthropocene: a prospective analysis of the need for social protection [Myanmar, Vietnam] (LS/2020/206)
One Health is a framework that recognises that the health of people, animals and the environment is interconnected, and it provides an approach for developing far more effective integration across the human and animal health systems in regards to regulations, surveillance, diagnostics and responses to disease outbreaks.
Globally, approximately 75% of newly emerging infectious diseases are zoonoses (diseases that can transmit from animals to humans). These diseases arise as a result of one or several factors that may be anthropogenic, genetic, ecologic, socioeconomic or climatic in origin. Across the Indo-Pacific region, animal production systems are changing rapidly; however, local and regional capacity to diagnose, treat and control diseases is generally weak and under-resourced.
COVID-19 is the most recent zoonotic disease that has ‘spilled over’ from animals to humans. It follows previous diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Ebola and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
ACIAR continues its involvement in the program, Research for One Health Systems Strengthening. The program is delivered through a partnership between ACIAR and the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The program was built on a suite of 9 projects, of which the final 3 will be completed in 2021–22.
Our second research-based objective, ‘managing natural resources and producing food more sustainably, adapting to climate variability and mitigating climate change’, is fundamental to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, fishers and foresters throughout the Indo-Pacific.
While adaptation to climate change and extreme weather events is intrinsic to all ACIAR research projects, the new ACIAR Climate Change program enables us to focus and strengthen our capacity to work towards this strategic objective.
Commencing its first full year of operation, the new 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. Many of our partner countries are interested in tapping into deep Australian expertise developed through, for example, the Carbon Farming Initiative, as they seek to meet their own nationally determined emissions reduction contributions to the Paris Agreement.
Our enhanced capacity to identify and build new partnerships to facilitate adaptation to climate change in our region also provides opportunities to be involved in the climate change arena at the highest levels. ACIAR will attend events associated with the UN Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26) in November 2021.
Australia is a member of the Global Research Alliance for Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA), an organisation finding ways to grow more food without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. ACIAR is Australia’s representative on the GRA and ACIAR CEO Professor Andrew Campbell is Chair of GRA for 2021. Australia’s priorities for its year as Chair of the GRA include enhancing GRA engagement with Pacific island countries and developing synergies between mitigation and adaptation research. The GRA and our participation are described in more detail here.
ACIAR projects supporting climate change adaptation and mitigation in 2021–22 include:
- Transformational pathways for Pacific fisheries communities (WAC/2020/178)
- Conservation agriculture and sustainable intensification systems for transformational climate adaptation and greenhouse gas mitigation in Pacific island countries (CLIM/2020/186)
- Mitigation and adaptation co-benefits modelling trial in Bangladesh (CLIM/2020/109)
- Transforming Pacific coastal food production systems (FIS/2020/108)
- Improving greenhouse gas inventory systems to support the mitigation ambitions of Fiji and Vietnam (WAC/2019/150)
- Regional networks for large-scale coral and fish habitat restoration in the Philippines (FIS/2019/123)
- Responding to emerging pest and disease threats to horticulture in the Pacific Islands (HORT/2016/185)
- Livestock climate lens Part 1: data landscape analysis (LS/2020/207)
- Resilient and low-carbon livestock systems for trade and food security in the rangelands of eastern and southern Africa (LS/2020/152)
- Climate smart agriculture opportunities for enhanced food production in Papua New Guinea (ASEM/2017/026)
- Reducing uncertainty in greenhouse gas emissions from Indonesian peat fire (SLAM/2020/140)
ACIAR works across the Indo-Pacific region with the strategic objective of ‘enhancing human nutrition and reducing risks to human health’. In our region, there are countries, provinces and communities experiencing the triple burden of nutrition – acute hunger and malnutrition alongside increasing levels of obesity and diet-associated diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Leaders in farming, business, science and government recognise that if the UN Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved by 2030, there must be a global transformation in how food is produced, processed, distributed and consumed.
Many projects in our research portfolio are designed with an element of enhancing human nutrition and reducing risks to human health. During 2021–22, ACIAR will continue to develop partnerships and broker research relationships that address the many factors that influence the nutritional value of food harvested and the safety of the food production system.
ACIAR projects supporting healthier food systems in 2021–22 include:
- Agribusiness-led inclusive value chain development for smallholder farming systems in the Philippines (AGB/2018/196)
- Transformational pathways for Pacific fisheries communities (WAC/2020/178)
- Increasing productivity and profitability of pulse production in cereal based cropping systems in Pakistan (CIM/2015/041)
- Agriculture and fisheries for improved nutrition: integrated agri-food system analyses for the Pacific region (FIS/2018/155)
- Improving root crop resilience and biosecurity in Pacific island countries and Australia (HORT/2018/195)
- Safe Pork: market-based approaches to improving the safety of pork in Vietnam (LS/2016/143)
- Managing heavy metals and soil contaminants in vegetable production to ensure food safety and environmental health in the Philippines (SLAM/2020/117)
- Understanding agrichemical use in South-East Asian agriculture (SSS/2020/143)
- Regional foresight for food systems in the Eastern Gangetic Plains (WAC/2020/158)
Our fourth strategic objective is to improve gender equity and facilitate empowerment of women and girls. Gender equality is crucial to alleviating poverty in rural communities and a key consideration in all the contexts in which ACIAR operates. All projects, regardless of country, sector or enterprise, will lead to changes in communities and societies that have gender implications.
ACIAR recognises the potential for improved production, income and family nutrition when women play a more visible and equal role in agricultural decision-making. As more than half the world’s women are farmers, ACIAR cannot credibly pursue its objectives unless we also promote gender equality vigorously, both internally and externally.
The ACIAR Gender Equity Policy and Strategy 2017–2022 informs the design and implementation of our research activities with partners. There is compelling evidence, in both the public and private sectors, that organisations drawing equally on the talents of women and men at all levels outperform those that do not.
Consistent with the strategy and Australia’s aid program targets, we aim for 80% (at a minimum) of ACIAR investments reflecting the principles of gender equity in project design and implementation.
The strategy also guides our internal planning and organisation. The proportion of senior positions occupied by women within ACIAR increased from 11% in 2016 to 55% by June 2021.
ACIAR projects improving equity and empowerment in 2021–22 include:
- Improving smallholder farmer incomes through strategic market development in mango supply chains in southern Vietnam (AGB/2012/061)
- Rapid breeding for reduced cooking time and enhanced nutritional quality in common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) (CROP/2018/132)
- Towards more profitable and sustainable mabé pearl and shell-based livelihoods in the western Pacific (FIS/2019/122)
- Enhancing private sector-led development of the canarium industry in Papua New Guinea – phase 2 (FST/2017/038)
- Improving smallholder well-being through participation in modern value chains: sustaining future growth in the Pakistan citrus industry (HORT/2020/129)
- Improving agricultural development opportunities for female smallholders in rural Solomon Islands (SSS/2018/136)
Through its strategic objective of ‘fostering more inclusive agrifood and forestry value chains and engaging the private sector where possible’, ACIAR brokers projects that identify opportunities and improve business outcomes for people all the way along the value chain, from the input providers and smallholder farmers, to their households and communities.
Effective, efficient and inclusive value chains have the power to transform livelihoods of some of the poorest regions of the world. Unlocking the potential for people to participate equitably in markets and benefit from the opportunities provided by business is a proven way to create employment, improve business outcomes for smallholders and communities and increase economic security in developing countries.
The ACIAR Agribusiness Program brokers research-for-development to create new or better business systems and build partnerships to increase the efficiency of supply chains, improve food safety, reduce food losses and promote inclusive value chains. However, right across the ACIAR research portfolio there are opportunities to use best practices in agriculture production, supply-chain management and market-based solutions to build inclusive and profitable value chains.
ACIAR projects fostering inclusive value chains in 2021–22 include:
- Improving livelihoods in Myanmar and Vietnam through vegetable value chains (AGB/2014/035)
- Agricultural innovations for communities for intensified and sustainable farming systems in Timor-Leste (AI-Com) (CIM/2014/082)
- Innovating fish-based livelihoods in the community economies of Timor-Leste and Solomon Islands (FIS/2019/124)
- Coconut and other non-traditional forest resources for the manufacture of engineered wood products (FST/2019/128)
- Enhanced fruit systems for Tonga and Samoa (Phase 2): community based citrus production (HORT/2019/165)
- High quality markets and value chains for small-scale and emerging beef cattle farmers in South Africa (Stage 2) (LS/2016/276)
- Improving livelihoods of smallholder coffee communities in Papua New Guinea (ASEM/2016/100)
- Soil management in Pacific Islands – Phase 2: investigating nutrient dynamics and the utility of soil information for better soil and crop management (SLAM/2020/139)
New program to reduce food loss
About one-third of global food production is lost or wasted each year. In developing countries, up to 83% of food loss occurs during production, processing, storage and transportation – before it reaches the consumer. In industrialised countries, food waste is the main problem and occurs in people’s kitchens, restaurants or supermarkets.
During 2021, ACIAR and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) launched the Food Loss Research Program, which will work with partners in developing countries to address food loss through innovative, locally driven solutions.
Curtailing food loss and waste is highlighted as a major opportunity for reducing the environmental impacts of food production.
A key focus of the new program is to gain a deeper understanding of the drivers of food loss at a systemic level, to uncover new approaches to prevent food loss in developing countries. The program aims to share and extend these learnings to help find more solutions to this global problem.
The program marks an important evolution in looking at food from a systems perspective. In some countries in which ACIAR research teams operate, there is a general lack of post-harvest infrastructure for reducing food loss. While there are many potential technology solutions, they have not been adopted or implemented at scale.
The Food Loss Research Program comprises a suite of projects that have been developed and planned to provide useful information for the development of locally relevant solutions.
Food Loss Research Program projects
- Adopting a gender-inclusive participatory approach to reducing horticultural food loss in the Pacific [Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga] (CS/2020/191)
- Developing food loss reduction pathways through smart business practices in mango and tomato value chains in Pakistan and Sri Lanka (CS/2020/193)
- Food loss in the catfish value chain of the Mekong River Basin [Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam] (CS/2020/209)
- Managing food value chains for improved nutrition for urban vulnerable populations in Africa (Africitiesfood) [Malawi, Zambia] (CS/2020/210)
Building capacity in partner countries is a strategic objective for ACIAR. Innovation in agriculture is a key pathway to poverty reduction, increased food security and economic growth. Building the capacity of agricultural researchers, their networks and institutions contributes to innovation potential and supports partners to deploy relevant and effective agricultural practices and policies to reduce poverty.
The ACIAR 10-Year Strategy 2018–2027 committed ACIAR to building its investment in postgraduate research training for individual scientists, as well as value-added training in management and leadership. The strategy also identified the value in developing ongoing relationships with the network of ACIAR collaborators.
In 2021–22, ACIAR will continue formal and informal programs of capacity building. Our formal activities of fellowships and alumni programs will be delivered in modified and adapted ways to ensure success within the restrictions of placed on Australia and partner countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic (see Capacity Building section).
Capacity building is an intrinsic factor in many of the research projects we broker. It ensures that the people we work with have the skills, resources and knowledge to sustain new initiatives, systems and approaches, so our investment leads to lasting change.
ACIAR programs and projects building capability in 2021–22 include:
- Meryl Williams Fellowship Program for female agricultural researchers
- ACIAR Alumni 360 – a platform to support a virtual alumni network
- ACIAR Learn – bespoke online learning for agricultural researchers
- Improving milk supply, competitiveness and livelihoods in smallholder dairy chains in Indonesia (AGB/2012/099)
- Enhancing farm-household management decision-making for increased productivity in the Eastern Gangetic Plains (CSE/2012/108)
- Accelerating the development of finfish mariculture in Cambodia through south-south research cooperation with Indonesia (FIS/2016/130)
- Building effective forest health and biosecurity networks in South-East Asia (FST/2020/123)
- Development of area-wide management approaches for fruit flies in mango for Indonesia, Philippines, Australia and the
Asia-Pacific region (HORT/2015/042)
- Gender equitable agricultural extension through institutions and youth engagement in Papua New Guinea (SSS/2018/137)
- Transforming smallholder irrigation into profitable and self-sustaining systems in southern Africa (TISA) (LWR/2016/137)