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Senate Estimates: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee

Estimates hearings 31 May 2012

  • Senator Bob Carr, Minister for Foreign Affairs
  • Dr Nick Austin, Chief Executive Officer

Full transcript available here

Senator RHIANNON: On page 132, section 5.2, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research—one of your documents, obviously—table 4, ACIAR programs 2012-13, there is a budget statement there that includes 'research collaboration to understand and develop domestic and export market opportunities for cattle'. Can you outline what this work involves? I am particularly interested in the export market opportunities for cattle.

Dr Austin : Could I clarify which document?

Senator RHIANNON: It has Australian International Development Assistance Program at the top. It is table 4, ACIAR programs in 2012-13. The table is broken up into programs in one column and focus in the next.

Dr Austin : And the paragraph you were referring to?

Senator RHIANNON: It is the fourth dot point, second-last line.

Dr Austin : The paragraphs referring to productivity of rice based farming systems in South Asia and South-East Asia? ACIAR's program—and, indeed, the food security efforts of the broader aid program—have a strong productivity focus but also a strong market focus. The paragraph you refer to is in relation to identifying opportunities for connecting smallholder producers, cropping and livestock, into both domestic and export markets.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you indicate the countries involved and the programs involving the export of cattle from those countries?

Dr Austin : ACIAR has technical programs broadly clustered in four areas: cropping and horticulture, natural resource management, livestock and policy socioeconomic and agribusiness areas. Within our agribusiness program we have a number of projects that address market opportunities for smallholders, including those in the livestock sector.

Senator Bob Carr: Excuse me, Dr Austin. Madam Chair, with your permission, could I be represented by my colleague Senator Kim Carr until I can return?

CHAIR: Yes, you can be replaced by Senator Carr.

Senator Bob Carr: It keeps it simple! I think I am scheduled to return. If not and the committee adjourns before I can, I record my appreciation of the interest in my portfolio areas and say that I have learnt an enormous amount.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. It has been a pleasure to have you at your first estimates outing.

Senator Bob Carr: I regard it as a wonderful primer, and there are a lot of things I am going to pursue.

CHAIR: Dr Austin.

Dr Austin : Thank you. We have agribusiness components and market chain components in many of our other projects. The focus predominantly, though, is on domestic opportunities rather than more international opportunities. As it is targeting smallholders, it is very much looking at opportunities to connect smallholders into local markets. There are some exceptions, and those include considerations around animal health—for example, in cross-border issues in the Mekong region—but predominantly our programs have a domestic orientation.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Could you take on notice what countries have been involved with the cattle export trade that is identified there and how much money was involved. I want to put on record that we get excellent feedback about ACIAR's programs in the main. I am interested in hearing from you about some of your work on women in agriculture. I noticed that you are developing some programs in PNG in this area. Can you outline what the 2012-13 ACIAR program supporting women in agricultural groups in PNG by enhancing their business skills will involve?

Dr Austin : We appreciated the opportunity at International Women's Day for a number of women from PNG to present the benefits that they felt from engagement in ACIAR's program in PNG. I think it was raised in earlier questions today. The role that women play in food production in developing countries is a very significant one. ery clearly, the way in which our programs can have impact needs to not only take account of this important role but actively build the role of women into the design and conduct of our research programs. We have a number of projects specifically looking at the role of women in agriculture, including the one you mention in PNG and similar projects in Vietnam through the Vietnam Women's Union. The program has interaction with Australian women in agriculture and is very much about building the capacity and skills of and empowering women involved in those projects.

Senator RHIANNON: We were just talking with AusAID about this disaggregating the data and the new policy of sustainable economic development food security that came out last November. Is ACIAR also working is disaggregate its data according to gender in relation to its rural development agriculture work?

Dr Austin : We do as appropriate. Obviously, as part of the broader aid program we are very much aligned with the reporting commitments under the comprehensive aid policy framework. We will be contributing the appropriate data to that reporting. We also report specifically project by project, so at a much greater level of granularity and for projects that specifically target women. That is obviously a key aspect of the reporting. It is very much a case of the reporting designed around the specific project and program objectives. For example, a third of the funding that ACIAR administers, roundabout, is directed towards the CG system, the international research system. There is a separate reporting commitment and approach through that channel of funding than there is to the specific bilateral programs country by country, but some of our larger programs are increasingly looking to disaggregate that data, recognising that our program is very much focused on the research questions and technical innovations. We work with AusAID and other partners for impact and scale out. The reporting of the impact of a lot of that work is actually captured through our partnership with AusAID and reported in that way.

Senator RHIANNON: Is this disaggregated data already available, or are you still working on the methodology?

Dr Austin : The disaggregated data and the way in which it is collected is specific, as I say, to the projects and for our bilateral projects—for example, a program in eastern Africa working on maize-legume systems in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. There was a baseline survey undertaken in part to achieve what you are asking so that we could actually establish the situation before the project got underway. The performance against that benchmark, the baseline, will be monitored. That project has a target of increasing the productivity of 500,000 smallholder farming families by 30 per cent and reducing the risk—including climate variability induced risk—on their production. So disaggregating against gender is part of that baseline data for the reasons that I think you are raising.

Senator RHIANNON: That certainly will be very useful. It sounds like we are getting the disaggregated data within projects. Are we heading to or do we have the disaggregated data across all ACIAR programs or within certain countries? Have we got the bigger picture?

Dr Austin : I would come back to the point that I raised around a technical cooperation: at a project level, we work with researchers in partner countries in the national research system, men and women. We also have a program of training for masters and PhD, where, while we do not have a specific target—it is a merit based selection—we do what we can to encourage women to apply for training in Australia, masters and PhD, jointly connected to the ACIAR supported projects in their countries. I think we have been fairly successful at getting close to fifty-fifty, male-female participation on our program in recent years. In terms of our specific project activity, we do have information available. As we contract the project, we have the project teams spelled out, including by gender. In many cases there are obviously limits on the technical capability in country, so we invest in trying to build that capability through our training programs, short-course work, masters and PhDs. So, at a project level, yes, we do have that information. As I said in my response to your previous question, the impact of the technologies and innovations that come from our project depends in many cases on our partnership with development agencies, most particularly AusAID. Through those programs we also capture some of that impact and work on developing those targets jointly.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I am interested in an update following on from the Prime Minister's announcement at CHOGM about the Australian International Food Security Centre. I understand there is a $36 million investment in setting this up. First off, starting with the conference that I think is one aspect of that, how is the work going and what will be the involvement of women farmers, who, as we know, are the majority of farmers in the developing world?

Dr Austin : There has certainly been a lot of activity in getting the Australian International Food Security Centre up and running since the Prime Minister's announcement last October. There have been many visits to African countries. In February, ACIAR, with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa—the technical arm, if you like, under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, or CAADP—co-hosted a workshop to bring together key decision makers and relevant players with the subregional and national research systems to identify priorities and start to scope out broad themes and then move through to programs of work within the centre. The intention is that that planning work be undertaken in preparation for the conference, which is to occur during this calendar year.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you have the key responsibility for all this?

Dr Austin : ACIAR has responsibility for the food security centre, which was part of a broader announcement that included responsibilities beyond ACIAR. We have responsibility for the roughly $33 million of activity that was announced by the Prime Minister.

Senator RHIANNON: What is your role at the conference? Do you have the driving role or is that out of the PM's office?

Dr Austin : ACIAR has responsibility for the conference. We are developing the planning with our counterparts in Africa, and I think that approach has been critically important, recognising that Australia will always be a relatively small player in the agricultural research landscape in Africa and the focus on food security. We are ensuring that we are well aligned under NEPAD, the CAADP program and the priorities that have been identified by the African system and the African countries themselves and looking for where Australia actually can add value. I think we have an enormous amount to offer through partnership because we share so many of the same agricultural challenges in our soils, our landscape and our agroclimatic conditions.

Senator RHIANNON: Where will the conference be held?

Dr Austin : The specific location and date have not been finalised. We are in consultation around that. Likewise, regarding our presence in Africa, under the announcement there was a staff increase in ACIAR in Canberra, but also there will be an office opened in Africa. We are currently working through that prioritisation process to identify the most appropriate place, recognising that that centre is going to need to work across a large number of countries to interact with subregional organisations.

Senator RHIANNON: If you do not have a location or date yet and we are halfway through the year, do you think it will still happen this year?

Dr Austin : It will happen this year.

Senator RHIANNON: Will women small-scale farmer organisations be represented at the conference?

Dr Austin : ACIAR has a governing body—a policy advisory council—with 13 international members. Our African member, Professor Ruth Oniang'o, will make sure that they are. She has been closely engaged in the negotiations in developing the themes and priorities for the program already. The short answer is, yes. That will no doubt remain a focus as we plan the program through. There is a draft strategy in preparation, and gender is a cross-cutting theme through the three research components and the two technical and capacity and communication programs. It has been embedded specifically in each one of those programs.

Senator RHIANNON: I also picked up that there has been some talk of the centre working on policy development beyond simply technical research in the area of agricultural development. Is that the case, and could you explain what policy outputs the centre has envisaged to deliver?

Dr Austin : We recognise that policy settings are particularly important in any country in which we work to have the opportunity for technical innovations to have impact. One of ACIAR's programs is devoted to agricultural development policy. The specifics of those policy questions are yet to emerge and they will be in response to the consultations within those themes. In many cases, our policy program is about exploring options jointly between Australia and partner countries rather than developing policy prescriptions, which clearly is not Australia's role. The policy elements will not be large programs within the overall efforts within Africa. But we work closely with the International Food Policy Research Institute, IFPRI, one of the 15 CGIAR centres. IFPRI hosted a conference in food security in Addis Ababa last November that ACIAR co-sponsored. The conference that you were asking about previously will build on the outcomes of the food security conference, which had a strong policy focus, held by IFPRI last year.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I want to go to your agency resources and planned performance. On page 137, under 1.1 strategic direction statement, you say you will focus on improved security by social protection. What does social protection mean? If you count the dot points, it is the fourth paragraph in the middle of the document.

CHAIR: What book are you reading from, Senator Rhiannon?

Senator RHIANNON: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), agency resources and planned performance, page 137.

Dr Austin : I do not have that specific document. I am not familiar with it, but I can certainly talk about the social protection.

Senator RHIANNON: I am interested in what it means.

Dr Austin : Within the broader aid programs effort on food security, there are three components. I referred previously to the market component in particular. ACIAR's work has long focused on the first of the three: productivity. Productivity, agri-business and marketing efforts support the broader aid program. The third component, social protection, is really an area that AusAID has responsibility for. ACIAR currently does not undertake research in relation to that element. The document you are referring to, I can only assume, is talking about the broad aid program objectives in food security in which we support and deliver the technical components for pillars 1 and 2.

Senator RHIANNON: It actually says,

… ACIAR's program will focus on the key development objective: improving food security by investing in agricultural productivity, infrastructure, social protection and the opening of markets.

That is why I thought it was part of your work , and I was interested in what it means.

Dr Austin : Without knowing precisely which document you are referring to, we certainly support elements within that statement, but not specifically those on social protection.

Senator RHIANNON: Just quickly, I am interested in your work in the Mekong. Have you had any involvement with governments or agencies in those countries regarding dam projects?

Dr Austin : No. As a technical cooperation agency, we are conscious of the broader context in which we work. For example, our fisheries program is impacted on by the management of river systems. So too, therefore, are smallholders. We only work in countries where we have the support and agreement of the respective governments, and recognise sensitivities to do with water management in the Mekong region. But our program does not specifically look at their management.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Rhiannon. There being no further questions for ACIAR, I thank you very much gentlemen for appearing before us today and for your assistance to the committee. It is appreciated.

Dr Austin : Thank you, Chair.

Full transcript available here



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