FEDERAL Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop may be well versed at keeping top-level government secrets in prosecuting her international diplomatic role.
But there’s one farm-related aspect of the Liberal deputy-leader’s ministerial job that she views as being a “national treasurer” and she wants it out in the open so the world can know about its “extraordinary achievements”.
This week, Ms Bishop launched the 10-year strategic plan for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
In its 36-years, ACIAR has promoted the enhancement of productive and sustainable agricultural systems and practices in third world countries in the Indo-Pacific region, utilising Australian farmers’ skills to cut poverty and tackle food security while boosting and improving economic sustainability.
But Ms Bishop said while the Researcher’s reputation was well-known and acknowledged abroad for its high level work, back at home in Australia there was virtual silence about its deeds.
She said she met with the ACIAR Chair - Queensland cattle producer and former Meat and Livestock Australia Chair Don Heatley - a while back and they talked about some of the “extraordinary stories of ACAIRs’ achievements, transforming the lives of people in the region”.
“It seemed to me that not enough people knew of the work that ACIAR was doing,” she said.
“It is a national treasurer, this agricultural research institute, and when I was in the region people would tell me about the amazing work of ACIAR.
“I’d hear about it in the Solomon Islands, in Vietnam, in Cambodia, and PNG but I wasn’t hearing about it here in Australia.
“But I think Australian people would be proud to know that Australian scientists and Australian expertise is being developed here and being used in countries in our region to transform lives.”
Ms Bishop gave two examples of the work that impressed her - when making her speech during the launch of ACIAR’s strategic document at Parliament House in Canberra - from projects in PNG and Timor-Leste.
But she said there were “literally hundreds of examples” of the agency’s agricultural scientific expertise in action overseas.
“ACIAR is results driven,” she said.
I’m always heartened by the impact that ACIAR is having on communities on families and individuals.”
Ms Bishop said ACIAR’s new strategy document refined a high-level strategic direction which would guide the organisation’s work, consistent with Australia’s aid policy and the priorities outlined in the Foreign Policy White Paper released last November.
“It reinforces ACIAR’s crucial role in building a scientific platform for tackling some of the biggest issues facing our region,” she said.
“ACIAR’s work over the next 10 years will be vital to improving nutrition and supporting economic growth in many communities throughout our region.”
ACIAR CEO Andrew Campbell said ACIAR had a “tried and proven business model” and scientific knowledge was the nation’s best agricultural export.
“We broker and fund research partnerships between Australian research organisations, and relevant ministries, research institutes and companies in our partner countries,” he said.
“Those partnerships tackle research priorities that we identify jointly, with our partner countries.
“We also invest strategically to strengthen research and policy capabilities within partner countries, by funding postgraduate and professional scholarships linked to ACIAR programs, and training and mentoring through the Crawford Fund.
“Australian agricultural scientists and Australian farmers have battled over the last 200 years to work out how to make a living from poor soils in a highly variable climate, on the world’s driest continent, without large subsidies.
“Agricultural science and innovation is now a strength – a strategic national capability.
“Australian expertise is widely applicable in developing countries, from Africa, through Asia, to the Pacific.
“Our most important agricultural export, in my view, is between our ears.
“It’s our know-how.”
ACIAR 10-year strategy more ‘integrated’
Mr Campbell said ACIAR’s new long-term strategy positioned it to be a more effective investor and broker in tackling “multifaceted challenges” like food security, while consolidating its best attributes.
“Human nutrition and health, managing natural resources more sustainably, mitigating and adapting to climate change, empowering women and girls, and working better with the private sector are now high-level objectives for ACIAR, alongside our traditional goals of food security and poverty reduction,” he said.
“This more integrated outlook is at the heart of this new long-term strategy.
“This new strategy sees greater emphasis on outreach, to better promote research findings and to showcase the impacts and benefits of ACIAR’s highly strategic aid investment.
“It also focuses our investment in capacity building to enable us to train more scientists from developing countries, to transform their leadership and management skills, and to stay in closer touch with our alumni after they go back to their own countries.
“The wonderful staff in our 10 country offices will be the front line of our new alumni program.”
Mr Campbell said the new strategy would also see the establishment of a Chief Scientist position - won by Dr Daniel Walker - and new Associate Research Program Manager positions in cross-cutting areas like nutrition, gender, and climate.
“These measures are all designed to help us to tackle more complex, intersecting issues more effectively, and help us to build on ACIAR’s well-earned reputation as a learning organisation – a ‘keeper of the long view’,” he said.
“We’re conscious that we play a unique role in Australia’s innovation system.
“We aim to be an even more strategic and demanding investor in the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) and to co-invest with larger donors, as we are already doing with our Canadian sister agency the IDRC, and private sector partners.
“Our most important co-investor however, is our portfolio partner, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“It is crucial that aid investments are built on good science and strong partnerships.
“We want to ensure that our 2.5pc of the aid budget informs DFAT’s 97.5pc.”
Mr Campbell said there were few more compelling challenges facing humanity, than how to ensure food security for a growing population, on a “crowded planet”.
“The challenge of feeding ourselves is no longer just about increasing agricultural production,” he said.
“Aggregate global food supply has kept up with a burgeoning human population since the 1950s, and that will likely continue.
“Food security is also about access, distribution, safety, health and nutrition.
“The number of people suffering from acute hunger appears to be rising again, to over 800 million, after a promising declining trend over the previous decade.
“Two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, many with lifelong impacts.
“More than two billion people are overweight or obese, with profound associated health impacts through non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
“Hunger, micronutrient deficiency and obesity represent the so-called ‘triple burden’ of food insecurity.”
Mr Campbell said for the first time in human history, there were more people with too much to eat than not enough and more people living in cities than the country.
He said there were around 525 million farmers in the world, 90 per cent of whom are smallholders.
“Many smallholder farmers are women, but most people along the value chain are men,” he said.
“The evidence is clear: lifting agricultural productivity in ways that help smallholders – especially women – to access higher value markets is among the most effective forms of international development, with the highest return on investment.
“Food security cannot be considered in isolation from water security, energy security or biosecurity – what I call the ‘converging insecurities’.
“All are amplified by climate change – which national security agencies call a ‘risk multiplier’.
“Our challenge is to grow more and healthier food and to distribute and share it better, to waste less, and to do so in more difficult climates, using less land, water, energy and nutrients.
“This is one of the most formidable scientific, policy and political challenges of our age.
“Australia is well equipped to play a leading role, disproportionate to the size of our population or our economy.”
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The story Julie Bishop says farm researcher Australia’s best kept secret first appeared on Farm Online.