2022 Keynote Listeners report

August 30, 2022

Each year a succinct summary of our annual conference is delivered by our Keynote Listeners who play an integral role in summarising and communicating the key take home messages from the event.

We invite RAID Network members to be our Keynote Listeners each year and our 2022 Keynote Listeners were Jessica Fearnley, who is on the central committee of RAID and previously received a Crawford Fund student award for her research in Cambodia; and David Gale, who is an ACT RAID rep and former Crawford Fund conference scholar, conference speaker (2021) and student awardee.

Here is their report which will be particularly useful as we wait for the conference formal proceedings, yet to come!

Conference dinner

The 2022 Crawford Conference, Celebrating Agriculture for Development – Outcomes, Impacts and the Way Ahead was officially opened by the Honourable John Anderson (Chair, The Crawford Fund), who welcomed guests and outlined the three most significant challenges facing us today – COVID, Conflict and Climate Change. This year we were excited to be celebrating 35 years of the Crawford Fund and 40 years of ACIAR. John welcomed the 2022 presenter of the 2022 Sir John Crawford Memorial Address, Audrey Aumua, Chief Executive Officer, Fred Hollows Foundation NZ and Member, ACIAR Policy Advisory Council, who began her address by outlining the opportunities as we step forward to the bright future of agriculture after COVID.

Although Audrey encouraged that there would be opportunities in research for development, she also outlined 5 key messages to gain success in this field. These were:  

  • Understand where you are starting from, know what has worked and hasn’t worked before.
  • The importance between nutrition, health and sustainable livelihoods
  • The opportunities with the Blue/Green Economy
  • The value and importance of traditional technologies and knowledges
  • It takes a village for success

Audrey outlined how we are challenged with long term planning in Small Island States because of the impact of climate. To help us start to understand how we ensure these communities are resilient. Audrey talked about how traditional knowledge has provided the answers to these questions in the past and how these can be captured to help us in the future.

“Our region is so big so we need to think big, I am looking forward to a future where we are all fit and valued.”

The video of Audrey’s 2022 Sir John Crawford Memorial Address is available here.  

Session 1

In his keynote address, Prof. Andrew Campbell, CEO of ACIAR, sought to cover the key points from ACIAR’s 40 year history in 20 minutes, by discussing what we have learned and where to from here. The objective of ACIAR when it was founded in 1982 was to “fund solutions to the agricultural problems of developing countries”.  Since then, over 1500 project have been commissioned in 35 countries including: Happy Seeder (India); Seeds of Life (Timor-Leste); Hybrid Acacia and Eucalypt plantations (Vietnam and China); biosecurity projects covering bananas, poultry and wheat; Fishways (Laos); and Reef restoration (Philippines).

It was explained that the magnitude of some of these projects has been substantial, with “more concrete in fish ladders in Laos than the MCG” as part of ensuring access to protein in local diets. Prof. Campbell emphasised that there are lots of good news stories through long term partnerships and social capital; good leadership; getting the right people around the table; ensuring there is a shared understanding of the problem; making sure the investment is right for the problem; ensuring there is sufficient resources and time to do the job; and building local capabilities. It has been estimated that the total benefit of ACIAR projects to partner countries since 1982 is greater than $64 billion with an average cost benefit of 42:1. Moving forward, however, Prof. Campbell explained the innovation system needs to reflect the changing times and become more interconnected to bring together climate, water, food nutrition, energy, gender, resource competition, biosecurity, OneHealth and social licence. This requires good governance though, for which Prof. Campbell offered the following definition “how does society share power, benefit and risk?”.

Session 2

Session 2 was moderated by Dr Sandro Demaio, CEO VicHealth and former CEO of the EAT Foundation. He introduced Dr Phillip Pardey, Director, GEMS Informatics Centre, University of Minnesota, who began the session by benchmarking Global Agricultural Production to help set the scene of the day. Phil outlined that the world had increased agricultural outputs by 4-fold from 1961-2020, with most of these outputs now being generated by the Asia Pacific regions. Phil spoke about the importance of investment in R&D and how global R&D spending has decreased from the 1980s to 2016 from 7.4 to 4.4%. Phil highlighted that there has been significant change to investment in research and is impacting agricultural research across the globe.    

“Unprecedented structural shifts in the geography, research orientation and research performance of agri-food R&D worldwide.”

Panel members Dr Ravi Khetarpal, Executive Secretary, Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), Dr Madaline Healey, Crawford Fund Laos Volunteer; ACIAR Project Leader; Research Fellow, University of the Sunshine Coast and Regina Bi Nukundj, Senior Food Security Policy Officer, Department of Agriculture and Livestock, Papua New Guinea spoke about the elements which are critical for the success of high impact projects. This included the impacts of volunteering and mentoring, to which Dr Healey highlighted the importance that everyone feels invested and wants success for the program. This is where the collaboration partnerships are created by peer-to-peer learning. Regina then gave valuable insight to the major opportunities in using the SDGs within projects and ensuring that project findings are extended to populations, and help inform policy change. She also stressed the importance of having policy officers at the design phase of the project to ensure the project can achieve tangible actions for the country. 

Ministerial address

Senator the Honourable Murray Watt, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister for Emergency Management began by acknowledging the incredible work that the Crawford Fund has done over its 35 year history and suggested that it is a great time to reflect on what the organisation has achieved.

Minister Watt then provided an outline of the key issues currently affecting the agriculture sector in Australia. He noted that  Australian farmers are in good condition due to recent above average rainfall, however, biosecurity issues including varroa mite and the threat of foot and mouth disease (FMD) and lumpy skin disease were taking their toll. Minister Watt emphasised that the government is working in partnership with Indonesia on FMD and lumpy skin.  Major biosecurity risks such as these present a good opportunity to build relationships to maintain food security based on a partnership approach.

The war in Ukraine is leading to increases in the prices of fuel, fertilisers, and other farm inputs, and significantly impact global food production. Whilst some Australian farmers are able to capitalise on lower global grain supplies as a result of this conflict all Australian farmers are impacted by the rising costs. Minister Watt suggested that access to farm labour is a significant issue, but that that part of the solution is to make working in the agriculture sector more attractive to Australians.

Minister Watt emphasised that Australia is deeply concerned about the amount of hunger around the world. He suggested that to play our part we need resilient agricultural systems. Changes in seasonal conditions have reduced annual farm profits by 23% and the agriculture sector is more vulnerable than many other industries to climate change. Government is supporting farmers to become more adaptive to climate changes – “climate smart agriculture.” 

Globally, Minister Watt said that all countries need to maintain open and transparent trade and getting global rules around trade is extremely important for the current food crises.

In all of these things we need a strong spirit of collaboration because it’s “not just a humanitarian issue, also a diplomatic one.”

Session 3

Dr Jean Balié, Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, CGIAR; and Director General, IRRI, delivered a session overview with a focus on the impact of the CGIAR on social, environmental, and other sustainability outcomes.  He began by highlighting that “most food security challenges are anthropogenic” and then outlined the approach of the ‘One CGIAR’, as a reformation of the CGIAR, to address the new challenges of climate, environment, gender, health and food security. 

Dr Balié explained that this revised focus means that the CGIAR is not just about agriculture but also food, land and water systems, together with capacity development and policy work, with a need to focus on scalable innovation to be sustainable and create “transformative change”. Some specific areas of work which were then discussed by Dr Balié included: ‘climate smart rice’ that is resilient to stresses such as drought, salt, flood and temperature extremes; securing ‘Asian mega deltas’ against sea level rise, flooding, salinization and water insecurity; and greenhouse gas mitigation in rice through use of techniques such as alternate wetting and drying, and improved direct seeding, which can reduce methane emissions by 48% and greenhouse gas emissions by 47% respectively. In response to the number of undernourished people not declining, research is also being undertaken through the CGIAR into biofortified crop varieties, sustainable production practices (including how to obtain a price premium), and polyculture of micronutrient rich indigenous fish species.

Panel member Ms Logotonu Meleisea Waqainabete, Programme Leader – Genetic Resources, Land Resources Division, SPC, Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) outlined the need to ensure that the genetic resources in gene banks are utilised to improve biodiversity, climate change resilience, and nutrition. She pointed to the specific example of taro showing great results in Samoa through a partnership approach which is delivering good research outcomes. 

Panel member Dr Anika Molesworth, CF NSW Committee, author, Young Farmer of the Year, NSW Young Achiever Award for Environment and Sustainability explained that “large scale transformative change needs policy to be brought into line with the science”. To do this science needs to be communicated better, but this requires scientists to be connected with those who need to know and understand.

Session 4

Ms Jessica Raneri, Senior Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture Advisor to ACIAR and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, started the session with an overview of nutrition-sensitive food systems and the importance of agriculture in impacting the rates of malnutrition. Therefore, it is critical when we are designing research projects that a nutritionist or thoughts about nutrition are front of mind. Jessica highlighted that more income doesn’t lead to better foods, they can often lead to more “desirable” junk foods or other lifestyle options. Jessica indicated that it is time to move away from just looking at yield and income at the end of the projects, we need to improve food environments and capacity and knowledge of food.

We then heard from Robyn Mudie, First Assistant Secretary, DFAT/ Former Ambassador to Vietnam about the success of Vietnam and the importance of the two-way partnership between Australia. The key elements that contributed to success in Vietnam were commitment, working on a level playing field and having tangible and meaningful programs.

The session was rounded out by Dr Jenny Gordon, Member of the Australian International Agricultural Research Centre’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Advisory Panel, and the Asian Development Bank Institute’s Advisory Committee who outlined the social benefit of agriculture research. Research raises incomes, which releases labour, which promotes urbanisation and reduces food insecurity.

Session 5

Dr Alison Bentley, Australian Director of CIMMYT Wheat Program began the session by outlining the pivotal role which wheat plays as the staple food for 2.5 billion people, of which 50% is grown in the “global south” where instability disproportionately impacts production and supply. Climate change and labour supply in hotter/drier climates, together with conflicts such as that in Ukraine, have a big impact on global wheat supply – the current Ukraine conflict has exposed the large number of countries who have become dependent on cheap Ukrainian wheat. CIMMYT continues to breed wheat and maize but there is an increasing focus on accelerating breeding at scale by looking at innovation from outside of the agriculture sector – for example the time to develop a COVID vaccine was cut from a typical 10 years to 1 year, which may provide learnings.

Looking to the future Dr Bentley said that collaboration, innovation and the coming together of diverse ideas, is how we will address the challenges of our times. In response to a question from the audience, Dr Bentley explained that CIMMYT has decentralised the breeding selection process so that it is undertaken in the region where the crop will be grown, which provides additional training opportunities.

Prof Neena Mitter, Director of QAAFI Centre for Horticultural Science and the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformational Research HUB for Sustainable Crop Protection at The University of Queensland, identified the key issues which exist with conventional crop protection products: resistance, residues, run-off, lack of specificity, and availability of new actives.  BioClayTM, which Prof. Mitter’s team has developed, uses clay as a carrier for RNA to deliver specific control to pathogens and invertebrate pests. To date, trials on pathogens of capsicum and zucchinis, and white fly of cotton, have been successful. The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator has also determined that these are not GM products opening up significantly more opportunities for the use of these products, with a nil or short withholding period.

The session was rounded out by Dr David McGill, Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, The University of Melbourne who detailed the learnings gained from three small-holder cattle/buffalo dairy extension projects, over 15 years, in Pakistan. The context for these projects was: >95% of Pakistan’s milk is supplied by 9 million farming households, and identified that “reaching the ‘end users’ is one of the most difficult challenges facing us in development”. It was explained by Dr McGill that a “whole family extension approach” was used to engaged with men and women on farms, together with their advisors including government veterinarians, for example, with targeted interventions at the three layers – field mentoring visits for farmers, farm advisors, and organisations and institutions; training workshops for farm advisors; and a community of practice for organisations and institutions.

Session 6

To begin the afternoon the Honourable John Anderson facilitated a conversation from outside agriculture. This included Allan Gyngell, National President of Australian Institute of International Affairs; Robert Glasser, Australian Strategic Policy Institute and Kylie Walker, CEO of Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. This thought-provoking session included the importance of America in keeping the world turning, understanding the development of post WW2 institutions what the future of research and development should look like, what observations of the climate can we see region by region. There was also debate about the state of climate change and different countries’ promises to reduce emissions. The conversation rounded out by discussing Ethiopia and how they have increased investment in agriculture and helped support growth of the country.

Wrap up 

Dr Colin Chartres, Chief Executive Officer, The Crawford Fund provided concluding remarks for the conference including:

  • Although ACIAR is only 40 years old and the Crawford Fund is 35, there have been 50-60 years of sound progress in dealing with food insecurity globally.
  • Based on a return on investment of 10:1 the CGIAR has produced $600 billion in gains.
  • The focus has been on productivity which has fed a lot of people as the world has gone from roughly 3 billion people in 1960 to around 8 billion in 2022. 1 in 9 people are still hungry, however, due to challenges in distributing food.
  • The challenges we’re facing are changing and becoming more complex – traditional challenges but also biophysical ones. Climate change and water are real challenges globally, as are ongoing biosecurity threats due to increased ease of travel.
  • Improving nutrition is an ongoing challenge as is sustainably intensifying production without destroying the natural environment.
  • All of this sets some challenges for the Crawford Fund and the training program it oversees.