2019 Crawford Fund Conference Keynote Listeners Report

August 23, 2019

If you missed the Crawford Fund’s Annual Conference last week in the Great Hall of Parliament House, you can now access all the highlights via our Keynote Listeners report, a convenient and succinct summary capturing the important messages from our flagship event.

Crawford Fund conference 2019

Our Keynote Listeners, play an integral role in summarising and communicating key messages from our conference. This initiative is delivered, as part of our RAID program (Researchers in Agriculture for International Development) – the Australia-wide network that brings together early to mid-career researchers with an interest in agriculture and international development.

RAID is also an integral part of our conference scholar program, assisting with our scholar activities and mentoring some of the scholars. Most of our conference scholars go on to be members of RAID.

Our RAID keynote listeners this year, Dr Madaline Healey and Ms Rebecca Cotton, are former conference scholars who have maintained their interest in agricultural research for development and are both active international researchers.

For a more complete picture of the issues raised at our conference, the presentations from our highly respected expert national and international speakers are already available, as well as the report from our conference synthesiser, Professor Timothy Reeves, and Professor Ross Garnaut AC’s Sir John Crawford Memorial Address which opened the event. These resources are linked throughout the following report.



Sir John Beddington’s prediction of a perfect storm a decade ago, set the theme for this year’s Crawford Fund Conference. Fittingly, the Sir John Crawford Memorial address was presented by Professor Ross Garnaut AC, a former student, and colleague of Sir John Crawford, who spoke of Australia’s global role as the engine room of the low carbon world economy. He highlighted the challenge of adapting to weakly mitigated climate change. In order to reduce the weight of our global footprint we need coordinated and context-specific policy development and science innovation.  His address was the underpinning of the conference, with the speakers all united in the message that without significant change, a global climate disaster will be upon us.

Professor Sir Charles Godfray, in his morning keynote asked, “Is the perfect storm still on track to happen?” And the answer was yes, but he was more positive about our ability to make changes to address the third wave of Malthusian pessimism. The coming challenges – growing demand, hunger and over- and under- nutrition, agricultural pressure and water scarcity will see more frequent climate and geopolitical shocks. Which led him to ask, what if we ate healthily and adhered to planetary resource boundaries to feed the increasing global population? What would the outcome be? Ultimately, we would see reduced nutrition-related deaths, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and increased economic benefits, but to do so we need to look at the effects of both our food production systems and our food consumption patterns. Sir Godfray stressed that there needs to be another green revolution that takes into consideration the environment, in its delivery, to avoid a global crisis. Our mid-term food security goals, need to be achieved at a pace that has never been seen before to feed the world without destroying the environment.

Weathering and Halting the Perfect Storm: Food System Solutions

The theme of transforming food production systems was continued by Dr Bruce Campbell, who addressed the mega food challenges faced by the global community. He stated that “farming as we know it will not be feasible under the current system.” Climate change is already with us, and this reality was made clear when Dr Campbell highlighted that we only have 11 growing seasons left to reach our SDG goals by 2030. Current agricultural technologies can only take us part of the way to achieving our goals, so we need to scale up climate innovation, adoption, and change, particularly to the 500 million global smallholder farmers. Through climate-smart villages (CSV), Professor Alice J. Ferrer provided examples of how climate-smart agriculture is being integrated into existing farming systems to transform smallholder farming food systems. By generating best practice evidence, CSV is seeing change at the local and national scale. This provides evidence for policymakers at the local and global levels to act. The use of policy to enable change was discussed by Dr Di Mayberry in the context of considering multiple dimensions of red meat production to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In the Australian landscape, emissions can be reduced through whole farm system approaches in feed, vaccines and energy inputs and improved efficiency of production and land management. In the developing context, millions of smallholders rely on livestock for food, income, and labour and she stressed that such changes need to be context-specific. Dr Mayberry also echoed Dr Campbell’s thoughts that there needs to be GHG reductions in all farming sectors to achieve our goals. 

Crops, Drops and the Climate Challenge: Configuring the Perfect Storm

The impact of climate change on agriculture is complex, and in reference to Sir Godfrays’ keynote, Dr Ajay Mathur stated that we do not have many options as we move into the third Malthusian wave. Enhancing farm efficiency will be the central solution. Dr Mathur talked us through configuring the perfect sustainability storm to maintain our climate at a 2°C rise scenario. This would entail enhancing water, energy and fuel efficiency, developing the technology to move toward electrification, addressing the cost and most importantly the adoption at scale by farmers. Expanding on the concept of farmer incentives for adoption, Dr Jim Woodhill highlighted the need for cross-institutional dialogue to make transformational changes in farming systems. In his case study on the Lower Mekong Basin, Dr Oudom Phonekhampheng gave an example of finding solutions for fish passages under infrastructure development in the Mekong, of the interaction between science research, engineering innovations and people to create change was emphasized. Neighbouring countries are now looking to adopt Lao research findings in relation to dam design. It was evident from these talks that by breaking down silo’s in the context of policy, institutions, countries, and regions, there is a strategic global approach for transformation that can be implemented.

Circular Food System and Solutions: Addressing the Nexus Issues

Dr Aditi Mukherji spoke on addressing these nexus challenges in South Asia. She called us to think globally whilst acting locally. She described the drastic effects of global warming in the mountains and glaciers of Northern India and their implications on water availability and management. She highlighted two major studies. The first on the melting of glaciers and the effect this has on downstream communities. The second on ground water over-exploitation and unsustainable tapping. These two studies highlighted the challenges faced by communities as temperatures increase, particularly at higher elevations where increases are occurring at an accelerated rate.

Dr Mukherji’s address was followed by two supporting case studies. The first by Mark Noyce from Biofilta, a private company supporting the growth of urban farming, under space constraints. The company is now working towards translating the success of a low cost, low tech urban farming system in Australia to Tuvalu. This implementation of climate resilient food growing systems in the form of raised garden beds unraveled three main challenges for island food production: the lack of top soil, water access issues and compost production.

Dr Ângela Manjichi due to technical difficulties was unable to address the conference, however Dr Eric Huttner presented in her absence. The second case study, an ACIAR-funded project SIMLESA (Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa), has been working with different sustainable intensification options for improving maize and legume productivity. Through the use of Innovation Platforms different farmer adoption preferences have been identified.

Climate Change Through a Finance and Liability Risk Lens

Ms Sarah Barker, the afternoon keynote presented on this complex nexus from an alternative perspective. Ms Barker spoke about climate change through an economic liability vantage. What she made clear, is that business has already taken climate change into account. She stated that climate change is already here, we can’t plan for climate change risk, as it is already happening. She identified the power of the stakeholders, their values and their changing perceptions. She concluded by stating that leadership in this nexus issue needs to come from business, communities and individuals, with the hope that the government will support with policy.

During the final panel discussion of the day, Sir Godfray explained that we are moving into a world where past data doesn’t really tell us a lot about the future. This statement was followed with comments by Sarah Barker that companies are looking at their risks and mitigating them before their governments.

Final thoughts

Professor Timothy Reeves provided a succinct conference synthesis reinforcing that the greatest challenge for us in the coming decades is food security. However, he deduced that the overriding message is one of optimism, but not with business as usual. He concluded by reminding us that sustainability is a moving target, that there is a need for policy cohesion and decisions cannot be made in isolation. Professor Reeves left us with one final thought; we usually say more for less, perhaps we should change this to enough for less.

Dr Colin Chartres gave the closing remarks, stating that this is probably the biggest challenge we are going to face in the next 20-30 years. If we are going to solve this, we need to do it together.


2019 Keynote Listeners

Ms Rebecca Cotton

Rebecca Cotton was a Crawford Fund conference scholar from the University of the Sunshine Coast in 2016 and went on to be a Graduate Research Officer at ACIAR based in Canberra and an active RAID member. Bec’s B.Sc. majored in sustainability. She then completed her honours thesis on improving agricultural extension based in Fiji and the Cook Islands, with three months in the Islands conducting research with the subsistence and small holder farmers. A reflection by Bec on research and field work is in her RAID blog here.


Dr Madaline Healey

Madaline Healey is a member of the RAID Networking Executive, a Crawford Fund mentor in Laos and a former Crawford Fund conference scholar. She studied a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at Melbourne University and a PhD in thrips ecology at CQU before heading off to Laos as a volunteer and then mentor in our plant pathology and mentoring activities there. On returning to Australia in 2015, Madaline started working at the University of the Sunshine Coast on ACIAR projects in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. Her interests are integrated pest management, biological control and all things veggies. A short video on Madaline’s time in Laos as a volunteer in our biosecurity work is here.