South Asia

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South Asia region program 2022–23

Partner country

No. projects









Sri Lanka


Note that a project may be conducted in several countries, therefore the total number of projects in this table will be greater than the number of projects in the region.

28 projects, 20 research projects, 8 small projects

South Asia is an immensely diverse and densely populated region. It is home to 1.5 billion people – one-quarter of the world’s population. The region has the highest concentration of poor people in the world, with more than 500 million people living in extreme poverty. 

Despite the population pressure, the region has shown impressive annual economic growth at an average of 6.7%. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is projected to significantly and negatively impact the region’s economic growth, pushing another 71 million people into extreme poverty. Many more people, particularly women, live marginally above the poverty line but do not have the opportunity to participate in the process of economic growth. 

Compared with other regions in the world, South Asia has the highest regional Global Hunger Index and a very low Human Development Index. Half of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. Although the share of agriculture in rural employment remains high, growth of the rural non-farm sector is accelerating and now provides a sizeable share of rural income and employment, primarily in services. 

Malnutrition is prevalent in South Asia. The region has among the highest burdens of child undernutrition in the world. Thirty-six per cent of children under age 5 are stunted, or too short for their age, which is an indicator of chronic undernutrition. Sixteen per cent are wasted, or too thin for their height, which is an indicator of acute malnutrition. South Asia also has a high prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies, overconsumption and diet-related non-communicable disease. 

While the countries of South Asia face common challenges and opportunities in agriculture, there are also fundamental differences between and within these countries in terms of the broad characteristics that influence the nature and success of agriculture. India has 15 distinct agroecological zones. Nepal has 3 distinct topographical zones. The northern hilly region of Bangladesh is geographically distinct from the southern coastal areas, mostly alluvial, with fertile floodplains associated with 3 major rivers. Pakistan’s Indus plains are in sharp contrast to the arid regions of Sindh and the hilly and semi-arid areas of the north-west. Sri Lanka’s landscape is clearly defined by its dry and wet zones. These regional variations throughout South Asia must be considered when designing a meaningful program for research collaboration to accommodate regional distinctions and varying degrees of vulnerability of the local population. 

According to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2021 Global food policy report: Transforming food systems after COVID-19, South Asia faces continuing and, in some cases, intensifying problems related to climate change, natural disasters, poor food safety and distortionary policies. Fall armyworm devastated Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India and Nepal in 2020. Bangladesh and India struggled with flooding during the pandemic, and bird flu caused a nationwide food-safety scare in India. Distortionary policies, and the increasing costs of implementing them, remain, despite overwhelming evidence of their negative impacts and the potential to repurpose these much-needed resources for climate-smart investments or to build robust food-safety institutions. A perplexing reality remains the relatively low volume of agricultural trade among the countries of South Asia. 

Given the high population densities and large numbers of vulnerable people, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge challenge for South Asia. Agriculture is highly dependent on informal labour, which has been severely limited during lockdowns and restricted by social distancing measures. These were all disruptive factors for supply chains and agriculture markets. 

India aims to export a record 10 million tonnes of wheat in 2022–23 amid rising global demand exacerbated by the Ukraine crisis, which will impact buffer stocks and pricing and threaten the region’s food security, significantly impacting low-income groups.

Partner countries in the in the South Asia region

Drivers of regional collaboration

Countries in South Asia share many opportunities and threats that drive the need for regional cooperation, especially in the Eastern Gangetic Plains. Rice and wheat are the region’s major staple crops, accounting for about two-thirds of total dietary energy. However, food consumption patterns have changed in the region over the past few decades, and the changes are most apparent in rural areas. Consumption of cereals is declining while consumption of animal-sourced foods, fruits, vegetables and processed foods is increasing. 

Pressure to expand food production to meet growing demand is putting stress on natural resources. The resulting expansion and intensification of agriculture is leading to land degradation, deterioration of soil quality and loss of biodiversity, potentially jeopardising the region’s capacity to meet future food demand. 

Agricultural growth also poses risks for water resources. Facing the world’s lowest per capita renewable freshwater resources, millions of rural people in South Asia have benefited from the growing use of groundwater. But aquifers are being depleted and, across the region, watertables are falling, particularly in India. Water quality is also deteriorating throughout the region due to nutrient overloads and industrial pollution, raising concerns about food safety and drinking water quality. 

Large areas in several countries of South Asia are prone to natural disasters. Bangladesh and coastal parts of India are threatened frequently by cyclones and floods. Recurring droughts are a common feature in the arid and semi-arid parts of India and Pakistan. The impact of natural calamities is most severe on food-insecure households. 

Climate variability, competing and increasing demands from agriculture and industry (including energy production) and population growth are creating severe demands on water availability. Regional cooperation is increasingly essential to manage these shared resources and address shared issues. There are also significant opportunities in regional cooperation to improve the productivity and diversification of agricultural crops, especially beyond cereals, and to improve the sustainability of farming systems through technical, institutional, value-chain and policy research and development. 

Sri Lanka is witnessing one of the worst economic and political crises in its history, and the Ukraine crisis has further amplified uncertainty in the region, with oil and fertiliser prices rising. 

ACIAR South Asia region program

Australian agricultural and resource management expertise is highly regarded in the South Asia region. ACIAR has a long history of research collaboration in improving crop productivity, forestry, water use efficiency and policy reforms. The South Asia regional program of the Australian Government seeks to underpin Australia’s economic engagement in the region by addressing some of the key regionwide barriers to sustainable economic growth and connectivity. Gender equality is a focus in all the investments under the regional program. 

The ACIAR strategy in South Asia focuses on communities, production systems and resource management in the 3 main ecosystems of the region – highlands, plains and coastal areas – that are common to Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. 

Research in these areas looks to identify appropriate reform policy, increase adoption of technology (including post-harvest management), improve productivity and livelihoods in marginalised communities, and improve the productivity of crop, livestock, forestry and fisheries systems. 

The major pathways of development in the region are modernisation of agrifood systems, technology support, strengthening service providers, developing rural non-farm sector, and local governance at district and state level. Overproduction in some areas and unequal distribution networks due to poorly developed supply-chain management are the major issues in India. Addressing these could play a major role in achieving food and nutrition security and stability in the region. 

The medium to long-term strategy in the region focuses on creating regional collaborations that: 

  • sustainably intensify and diversify cropping systems using conservation agriculture/zero tillage, farm mechanisation, saline land management and adaptation to climate change 
  • eradicate extreme poverty through improved productivity of food-grain crops (especially wheat and pulses), livestock (in Pakistan), agroforestry (in Nepal) and fisheries (in Sri Lanka) 
  • better manage agricultural water, including rainfed areas in the Eastern Gangetic Plains and coastal zone 
  • influence policy about agricultural and farmers’ livelihoods and climate change 
  • increase the emphasis on meaningful gender inclusion and empowerment. 

Current and proposed projects in the South Asia region, 2022–23

Project title

Project code




Developing competitive and inclusive value chains of pulses in Pakistan



Understanding the drivers of successful and inclusive rural regional transformation: Sharing experiences and policy advice in Bangladesh, China, Indonesia and Pakistan


Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Pakistan

Developing food loss reduction pathways through smart business practices in mango and tomato value chains in Pakistan and Sri Lanka (Food Loss Program)


Pakistan, Sri Lanka

Climate Change


MAC-B: Mitigation adaptation co-benefits modelling trial in Bangladesh



Locally led learning to turn polders into flexible assets for adaptation



Supporting the tracking sharing learning platform of the Adaptation Research Alliance





Incorporating salt-tolerant wheat and pulses into smallholder farming systems in southern Bangladesh



Increasing productivity and profitability of pulse production in cereal based cropping systems in Pakistan



International Mungbean Improvement Network 2


Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Myanmar

Managing wheat blast in Bangladesh: Identification and introgression of wheat blast resistance for rapid varietal development and dissemination



Accelerating genetic gain in wheat through hybrid breeding in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Pakistan


Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan

Intercropping for intensification and diversification in the Eastern Gangetic Plains


Bangladesh, India

Enhancing farm-household management decision-making for increased productivity in the Eastern Gangetic Plains


Bangladesh, India, Nepal



Improved productivity, efficiency and sustainability of the culture-based fishery for finfish and giant freshwater prawn in Sri Lankan reservoirs


Sri Lanka



Enhancing livelihoods through improved forest management in Nepal





Strengthening vegetable value chains in Pakistan for greater community livelihood benefits



Improving smallholder wellbeing through participation in modern value chains: sustaining future growth in the Pakistan citrus industry



Soil and Land Management


Developing and translating soil health information in Bangladesh with farmers and for farmers to build resilient agricultural systems





Cropping system intensification in the salt-affected coastal zones of Bangladesh and West Bengal, India


Bangladesh, India

Nutrient management for diversified cropping in Bangladesh



Adapting to salinity in the southern Indus Basin



Water management for smallholder farmers: Outscaling ACIAR research in the Andhra Pradesh Drought Mitigation Program



Transforming smallholder food systems in the Eastern Gangetic Plain


Bangladesh, India, Nepal

Opportunities for brackish and saline aquaculture in Pakistan



Virtual Irrigation Academy business models in Pakistan



Supporting inter-provincial water allocation decision making in Pakistan



Groundwater management in Pakistan



Trees for salinity management, Sindh, Pakistan



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