Forging partnerships in agricultural research

 Peter Core   |  

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) contributes to the Australian Government’s Official Development Assistance program by forging partnerships in agricultural research and development.

The key to ACIAR’s operations and success has been partnering with agricultural research organizations, including the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and other Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centers, to develop solutions to the problems and barriers that limit productive and sustainable agriculture.

ACIAR works with IRRI in two ways: we provide Australia’s core funding contribution to CGIAR centers, and we commission IRRI to undertake specific projects.

In 2003-04, Australia contributed US$650,000 in core funds to IRRI out of a total of $4.2 million allocated in core funding to CGIAR centers. Another $3.5 million was distributed among the centers as project-specific funding, based on the comparative research strengths each offered in addressing issues that matched Australia’s regional priorities.

Project-specific funding aims to build three-way linkages by connecting the specialist research skills and knowledge of CGIAR centers with Australian and developing-country agricultural research institutes, ultimately breaking down barriers that hamper agricultural productivity.

ACIAR’s annual budget of approximately $38 million is comparatively small in a global context.

Our activities are therefore carefully targeted, recognizing that sustainable and environmentally benign productivity enhancements can unlock agricultural potential. This remains a proven avenue out of poverty for the rural poor — if not for today’s farmers, then for their children.

ACIAR’s project activities, and its support for IRRI and other CGIAR centers, are based on both formal and informal consultations with partner countries — an approach that reflects ACIAR’s  mandate to solve the problems of developing-country agriculture through partnerships in research and development.

Every 4 years, ACIAR consults with major partner countries to set broad priorities, from which more detailed annual priorities are set, and outlined in ACIAR’s Annual Operational Plan. Projects, developed against these annual priorities, harness research and extension expertise to overcome obstacles to sustainable productivity increases.

By involving developing-country agricultural research institutions and, where appropriate, CGIAR centers including IRRI, projects deliver applicable results as well as build scientific capacity, creating home-grown and home-owned solutions.

ACIAR focuses on delivering these solutions in the Asia-Pacifi c region, home to more than half the world’s population and almost two-thirds of the world’s poor. Many of these poor have not benefited as much as they should have from the Green Revolution. While global food production has more than matched population growth in the past three decades, agricultural productivity among the rural poor remains low.

ACIAR works to raise productivity in a range of areas. The ACIAR-funded Seeds of Life project matches crops to growing conditions by tapping the genetic resources of five CGIAR centers, including IRRI, to introduce improved and better-suited crop varieties to the fledgling nation of East Timor.

Another sustained research effort, supported by ACIAR and led by IRRI, is developing so-called apomictic hybrid rice varieties that reproduce asexually, are high-yielding, and whose seeds are genetically identical to those of the parent plant, overcoming the high cost and inflexibility of hybrid seed production.

ACIAR-IRRI collaboration is also helping the cropping systems of Laos and Cambodia. Researchers are introducing plant breeding strategies for lowland rice, intensifying rice-based cropping systems in rainfed lowlands, developing direct-seeding technology, increasing the productivity of dry-season irrigated rice, and developing agroecological maps for Laos.

ACIAR’s investment in global agricultural research and development is carefully targeted. This focus is refl ected in our investment in, and support of, rice research. By working with stakeholders in setting and addressing research priorities, ACIAR ensures that benefits will continue to flow to the rural poor of the Asia-Pacific region.

IRRI has been, and remains, vital to ACIAR’s efforts to deliver research results that improve the livelihoods of the people most in need.

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