Crawford Fund 2023 Annual Conference – keynote listeners report

September 12, 2023

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 to nominate members to be our Keynote Listeners each year and in 2023 we can thank Camilla Humphries and Anna Mackintosh, both active RAID members, for their report below, which will be particularly useful as we wait for the conference formal proceedings, yet to come!


Dr Éliane Ubalijoro, Chief Executive Officer of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and World Agroforestry (ICRAF)

The 2023 Crawford Conference, titled “Global Food Security in a Riskier World: Diversification for Resilient Food and Nutrition Systems was officially opened by the Hon John Anderson AC (Chair, The Crawford Fund), who outlined the three most significant impacts affecting global food security – COVID-19, Climate Change and Conflict (the 3Cs). The 3Cs demonstrate how sensitive the task of feeding 8 billion people is to extraneous forces. John officially congratulated Emeritus Professor Kym Anderson AC, the 2022 Crawford Fund Medal awardee, for his contribution to the development of economics in the overlapping fields of international trade and political economy, before welcoming the presenter of the 2023 Sir John Crawford Memorial Address, Dr Éliane Ubalijoro, Chief Executive Officer of CIFOR and ICRAF. Éliane began her address by outlining the challenge of achieving food and nutrition security as we navigate climate change, whilst also facing additional agricultural food security challenges.

According to the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition report, an additional 122 million people have been pushed into hunger since 2019. In 2021, 924 million people (11.7% of the global population) faced severe food insecurity and 3.1 billion people were unable to afford a nutritious diet, an increase of 134 million people compared to 2019. Whilst Éliane was optimistic that there are opportunities to improve food and nutrition security across the globe, she outlined the many challenges we face, including the safeguarding of biodiversity and effects of climate change on the environment. However, she explained that we also have access to decades of research and development data that show solutions to these problems, such as the importance of seed and gene banks around the world to safeguard biodiversity, and the critical role trees play in avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Éliane emphasised that solutions to these challenges can be achieved through global cooperation, knowledge sharing and a deep commitment to building a better world. One that respects nature and one where people can live healthy lives with enough nutritious food. Trees, forests, and landscapes play a critical role in this. Without them, a food secure and nutritious future is impossible. Éliane quoted Warren Buffett who said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago”. Some of the work we do today may take a long time to bear fruit, but there is an immediate impact on food and nutritional security. Éliane concluded her speech by encouraging scientists around the world to work together to develop innovative solutions to scale up investment in sustainable development and address the global challenges of our time.

The video of Éliane’s 2023 Sir John Crawford Memorial Address is available here.


Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs

Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate, began by acknowledging the incredible work of The Crawford Fund and ACIAR, before reflecting on the devastation caused by food insecurity around the world. Minister Wong provided an outline of the key issues currently impacting global food security. It was noted that conflict, economic shock, and climate change are all having negative impacts on food security, and that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is exacerbating the problem. The war in Ukraine is leading to increases in the price of rice, and climate change is affecting every aspect of food security.

Minister Wong encouraged us to consider how we can ensure a future where no one goes hungry; a world where food supply is adaptive, diversified, nutritious and accessible. Australia’s new international development policy underpins the Government’s record international development investment, which is delivering $1.7 billion in new spending over five years and a commitment to make food production systems more resilient to climate and economic impacts. Australia will continue to support partner governments to achieve food security. Minister Wong concluded with the comment that, whilst we are living in a risker world, by working together, we will find solutions to these significant challenges.


Dr Cary Fowler, U.S Special Envoy for Global Food Security

Session one was chaired by Dr Beth Woods, Member of Australia’s Commission for International Agricultural Research. Beth welcomed Dr Cary Fowler, U.S Special Envoy for Global Food Security, who addressed the Crawford Memorial lecture in 2015. Since then, the number of people experiencing food insecurity has increased to 800 million. He made mention of the book by Lloyd Evans, which outlines six ways to increase food supply with population growth, the changing climate and depletion of water aquifers. Dr Fowler talked about the challenges world agriculture faces to meet global food security amidst changing climatic conditions, noting that since 1961, grain production has reduced by half.

Dr Fowler noted an alarming statistic that we have experienced above average temperatures in the last 533 consecutive months. There have been historic droughts in Africa, bushfires in the US and Europe and floods in Asia. He spoke about how plant breeders need to adapt crops and soils to the changing climatic conditions and how social and political impacts on food security and the sanctions on free trade affects 60% of the population. Dr Fowler also highlighted the importance of trade in food security. Of all the countries on earth, 131 out of 196 are net food importers. Prior to the Russian invasion, Ukraine was in the top five global exporters of agricultural commodities, including wheat and barley, which accounted for 32 million MT (18 billion loaves of bread). Russia has since pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and is bombing ports along the Danube River.

Dr Fowler mentioned that focus needs to be placed on soil health and crop adaptation. Erosion is taking soils 100 times the replenishing rate in Africa. Wheat, maize and rice are staple crops in Africa; however, under-utilized crops have potential to perform well in a changing climate, whilst also meeting nutritional needs. This requires collaboration between breeders and nutritionists. Other areas that could be addressed with plant breeding are nitrogen fixing crops, aflatoxins, mycotoxins to reduce crop loss and C4 to C3 plants. Dr Fowler highlighted the importance of soil health and how it is intractably linked with food sustainability. He described how legumes enrich the soil with nutrition and fertiliser is insufficient for poor degraded land like Africa which relies heavily on amelioration to restore health. Dr Fowler concluded by acknowledging the unique importance of the Crawford Fund investing in agriculture for international development, and that we must invest in long-term agriculture for sustainable food security. The keynote address is available here.


Professor Wendy Umberger, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)

Session two was moderated by Nicola Hinder, Deputy Secretary of the Agricultural Trade Group, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. They introduced Professor Wendy Umberger, Chief Executive Officer, ACIAR, who began the session by explaining the significance of on-farm risks and how they are positioned at the root of global food security issues. On-farm agricultural risks, and the ability farmers to mitigate simultaneous risks, has compounding effects on food system resilience and economic stability. Smallholder farmers make critical contributions to global food security and economic and political stability.

Wendy outlined the simultaneous risks farmers face, including production, price/market, financial, institutional, and human risk. She noted that the outcomes of these risks cascade beyond the farm and affect global food systems. Smallholder farmers typically have less capacity to manage risks due to several factors, such as access to capital, poor infrastructure, land tenure, informal markets/institutions, little market power, poor information, and poor social safety nets. Global climate change was described as a risk multiplier, due to changing climate/weather, more variable and volatile weather events/shocks, new pests and diseases and availability of water quality and quantity. When considering how we can help farmers manage risk, Wendy reminded us that individual circumstances matter, and that we must understand conditions at the household level if we are to have meaningful impact.

However, Wendy was optimistic and urged us to consider how research and capacity building can contribute. She said that we can offer management tools to mitigate risk and build resilience for the family farm, as well as options to adapt the family farm business to changing circumstances to reduce production variability (yield and quality). The importance of diversifying options (products, resources, technologies, markets, policies, and business models) should not be underestimated.

Wendy concluded her presentation by highlighting the need to transition beyond business as usual to solve these agricultural challenges (e.g., climate, water, food, nutrition, energy, gender, resource competition, biosecurity, etc.), and that on-farm risks can no longer be solved solely on-farm. She urged the audience re-think innovation systems (what we invest in, where we invest, who we work with and how we partner) and stated that these systems require integration of research, technology development, private sector value chains, extension, education and governance.


Emeritus Professor Kym Anderson AC, Crawford Fund Medallist

Session three was chaired by Dr Cate Rogers, Assistant Secretary, Climate Financing and Programming Branch, Climate Change and Sustainability Division at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Prof Kym Anderson began by addressing off-farm impediments to global food security by speaking to the importance of improving markets and making policy reforms. The risks to agricultural production and food security were identified as market, technology and political uncertainty.

  • Market uncertainty – declining world trade is increasing volatility of international prices. Therefore, there is a need to open markets to boost economic growth. Prof Anderson mentioned China as a less reliable trading partner and Russia’s invasion causing monumental disruptions to markets and grain trade.
  • Technology uncertainty – researchers in the food supply chain are responding to climatic change and consumer preference. Information technology has helped households deal with corruption (e.g., mobile money account).
  • Policy uncertainty – the development of artificial intelligence is causing an anti- globalization push and erratic trade restrictive measures. Popularist Governments with bad policies have led to trade protectionism and less multilateralism, resulting in less economic growth, which is required for agricultural and economic stability. The Global Financial Crisis, Brexit and Trump’s leadership have also impacted policy uncertainty.

To address these uncertainties, Prof Anderson highlighted the importance of needing better markets to service natural capital. This requires investment into research to boost global food security and more sustainable systems. With GHG emissions and biodiversity loss, farmers need incentives to mitigate these challenges through carbon taxing and emissions trading. More public and private collaboration is pertinent to support farmers to adapt to climate change. This also requires property rights for the sale, lease and allocation of water to account for seasonal changes. Markets are required for sequestering carbon in soil and other underdeveloped ecosystem services. More public investments is needed in agricultural research, especially in underdeveloped countries where benefits are shared between producers and consumers. Returns on these investments will be enhanced with less market distortions around the word and less government intervention in national agri-food markets.

Prof Anderson mentioned that policy reform needs to address subsidies and import tariffs, which still contribute to 90% of global costs due to importing market restrictions. There is also a need to insulate against international food spikes. Reforms should redistribute activities in agriculture to make better use of existing resources. To boost global food availability, diversification by agri-food traders needs to occur, with the support of governments who can change the current policy to get better environmental and social outcomes.


Professor Jamie Pittock, Fenner School of Environment and Society, ANU – Sustainable Intensification: Decoupling Resource Use from Socio-Economic Benefits

Prof Pittock highlighted the importance of irrigated agriculture to produce food and the challenges for smallholder farming communities to scale up to larger production systems when access to high quality grains is limited. Prof Pittock said the failure in smallholder irrigated agriculture in Africa is due to policies where cheap grains have been grown on some of the most fertile lands in Africa. The study sought to engage with irrigation communities and identify solutions to increase yield and profitability. The irrigation schemes where the communities were situated had an average farm size of 0.5 ha. Interventions included technological tools to see if sub-soil had sufficient moisture. The project identified a saving on irrigation duration, reduction in water and energy use and labour.  Water savings were measured using a GIS technology for evapotranspiration, which was funded by the Crawford Fund. In Tanzania the irrigation interval changed, which was an example of a functioning irrigation scheme that could produce more food with less water; “More crop per drop”. Farmers are now diversifying into dairy cows in Kiwere (TZ). The study also aimed to help communities find ways to identify problems with a focus on increasing farming profitability by negotiating lower costs with suppliers. In the study, multiple social and technological interventions were required to achieve sustainable and profitable farming system. This project was successful in empowering farming communities and business and is an example of how long term ACIAR investment for sustainable farming systems in developing countries can enable positive and lasting change.

Professor Kadambot Siddique AM, Hackett Professor of Agriculture Chair and Director, The UWA Institute of Agriculture – Future Smart Crops: The key to improving dietary diversity and fighting hunger and malnutrition

Prof Siddique talked about the Global Food System and how global hunger is largely caused by malnutrition. In 2019, 690 million people were hungry. This was magnified by COVID-19, which added 150 million to the number of people suffering from hunger in 2021. Childhood stunting is a significant malnourishment issue, in addition to dysentery from tainted water. Prof Siddique explained that the global food system must consider environment, infrastructure, people, inputs, process, and institutions to achieve positive nutrition outcomes. It was suggested that global food supply relies on staple commodities and that the importance of diversity is required for improved land productivity and nutritional needs.

Food production must increase by 70% to meet the need of 9.7 billion people by 2050. To address crop diversity, Prof Siddique identified underutilised crops (including cereals, roots and tubers, and pulses) that are drought tolerant and rich in essential macro- and micro-nutrients. It is important that other crops are integrated into the system to increase the benefit both agronomically and nutritionally. Prof Siddique explained that there needs to be a coordinated approach to develop solutions to create more diversified, nutritious and sustainable farming systems.

Dr Roya Khalil, Director of Research and Development, Incitec Pivot Fertilisers – Biofertilisers and Enhanced Efficiency Fertilisers – Solutions for the Future

Incitec Pivot is a 100-year-old Australian manufacturer and distributor of fertilisers that provides fertiliser solutions for the future of farming. Dr Khalil explained some fertilisers have slow-release technology for the benefit of soil health and the environment by reducing nitrogen leaching and atmospheric loss as nitrous oxide. She also touched on some emerging technologies that have the potential to improve environmental outcomes whilst also improving the productivity of Australian soils.

  • Nitrogen Inhibitors are designed to reduce nitrous oxide emissions by up to 90%. The technology achieves this by slowing the conversion of ammonium to nitrate. This product is available as a coating on granular fertiliser and can be added to liquid and nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Urease inhibitors reduce ammonia emissions by slowing the conversion from urease to ammonium.
  • Bio fertiliser is an organic mineral fertiliser derived from chicken manure. It activates carbonates in the soil to stimulate microbial activity and increase functional carbon. A study by La Trobe University in 2022 demonstrated that nitrous oxide emissions were reduced when using this bio fertiliser technology. Also, green hydrogen technology is being produced by electrolysis of water to produce green hydrogen for fuel and green ammonia for fertiliser application.


Ben Fargher, Environmental Markets Lead, Cargill Asia Pacific – Supply Chains in a Modern Geopolitical Environment

Ben Fargher, Environmental Markets Lead, Cargill Asia Pacific, began his presentation with an overview of Cargill and its commitment to helping the world thrive. Cargill creates connections across the global food system and empowers communities to nourish the world in a safe, responsible, and sustainable way. Moreover, Cargill leverages its supply chain capabilities to create a more sustainable, food-secure future.

During his presentation, Ben spoke to the importance of supply chain resilience and explained how COVID-19 exposed vulnerabilities in production strategies and supply chains across the globe. Temporary trade restrictions and shortages of critical supplies emphasized supply chain weaknesses and worsened global hunger. Those developments, combined with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, highlighted the importance of innovation and technology in transforming the way we feed the world. Ben attributed Cargill’s success to simple operation efficiency and a focus on technology, digitalisation and R&D to feed the growing population within planetary boundaries. He concluded his presentation by suggesting that agriculture is how we will address climate change, protect our environment and sustainably feed a growing population and that we must understand the vulnerabilities of our supply chains, and take action to improve their resilience through innovation and technology, to change the way we feed the world.

Dr Warren T K Lee, Senior Nutrition and Food Systems Officer, UN FAO – Climate Solutions for Healthy Diets, Nutrition and Health

Dr Warren T K Lee, Senior Nutrition and Food Systems Officer, UN FAO, began his presentation by outlining the potential of agri-food systems for healthy diets, nutrition and health. He noted that our current food systems are failing to deliver their full potential for healthy diets and nutrition, leading to increases in food insecurity, child stunting, obesity and non-communicable diseases.

Warren spoke about the impact of climate change on agri-food systems, noting that whilst climate change affects agri-food production (e.g., decrease in crop yield and nutrient concentration), it also contributes to climate change (e.g., one third of global GHG emissions are generated from agri-food systems). He spoke about how biodiversity loss threatens the resilience of the environment and gave several examples of off-farm solutions for agri-food transformation, including:

  • Infrastructure investment – cold storage for nutritious foods that are perishable;
  • Increase access to technologies and innovation for nutritious food production with reduced production cost; and
  • Enhance policies that stimulate income-generating economic activities to close the poverty gap and income inequality.

He also gave several examples of off-farm solutions for creating consumer demand for healthier diets, including:

  • Develop food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) to empower consumers to make healthier and diversified food choice;
  • Nutrition-sensitive social protection schemes for vulnerable groups to access nutritious foods;
  • Regulation and legislation on advertising and promotion of foods high in fat, sugar and salt; and
  • Repurposing fiscal policies to enhance nutrition-sensitive food production, affordability of diets and trade policy for nutrition enhancement.

In his final remarks, Warren reflected on the challenges and opportunities outlined in his presentation. He noted that sustainable and resilient agri-food systems transformation is required to increase diversity of nutritious food production and that we must develop key policies to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change on diet, health and the environment. Warren concluded by encouraging us to be optimistic and work together to transform agri-food systems to benefit both humanity and the environment.

Dr Fathiya Mbarak Khamis, Senior Scientist, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) – Insect Farming: A Circular Economy Solution to Create Value for Food Loss and Waste

Dr Fathiya Mbarak Khamis, Senior Scientist, icipe, began her presentation with an overview of icipe’s mission to help alleviate poverty, ensure food security and improve the overall health status of peoples of the tropics. This is achieved by developing and extending management tools and strategies for harmful and useful arthropods, while preserving the natural resource base through research and capacity building.

During her presentation, Fathiya outlined several challenges to population growth and food security, including:

  • Food and nutritional insecurity;
  • Demand for organic fertiliser;
  • Global demand for meat protein;
  • Global demand for animal feed protein; and
  • Sustainable management of municipal waste.

Fathiya provided an insightful case study on the use of black soldier fly (BSF) for the sustainable management of organic waste. BSF larvae can convert food waste into high-value, low-impact protein and fertiliser (hereafter, insect-based feed (IBF)) within 12 days. These high-quality alternative protein ingredients are used in animal feeds and organic fertilisers. The use of IBF in agri-food systems has resulted in many socioeconomic and environmental benefits, including significant increases in poultry weight and improved chicken gut health, without the reliance on antibiotics.

In her final remarks, Fathiya highlighted importance of icipe’s work to improve the wellbeing and resilience of people and the environment to the challenges of a changing world. She concluded by encouraging us to work in partnership across multiple disciplines to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers across the globe.


The Hon John Anderson AC, Dr Cary Fowler, Professor Wendy Umberger, Emeritus Professor Kym Anderson and Dr Éliane Ubalijoro

Session five was chaired by The Hon John Anderson AC, who premised the discussion by describing the global challenges of food production with the government’s policies making farming challenging. He questioned the panel on what areas of agriculture for international development have the greatest impact. The panel addressed the young scholars by providing the following advice:

  • be enthusiastic about what you do as there are many exciting challenges and opportunities in international development;
  • understand all disciplines and how our systems work;
  • value the broader world and understand what drives people; and
  • find networks and work together to achieve positive outcomes.

John then asked the panel to consider if Australia should be investing in agricultural research and extension abroad, given our focus on adaptation to climate change. Dr Fowler responded by saying we must continue to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Australia’s competitive advantage is our R&D, which is closely linked with adaptation and provides value through improved technologies. There is a lot of social sensitivity surrounding climate change, and the government must create policies that support farmers to adapt and grow food for the growing population.

John asked the panel about Australia’s new international development policy and the need to be culturally sensitive when working in country. Dr Ubalijoro said that countries must have a vision that builds on where they want to go and how the work can be implemented. Prof Umberger agreed and said that ACIAR is excited to see partnerships in Australia for policy development. ACIAR has 13 country network offices to service the needs of our Southeast Asian and Asia Pacific partnership countries. She noted that ACIAR only receives $110 million, thus, they must leverage partnerships to have the greatest impact on the ground.

Finally, the panel was asked about the implication of GMOs on food security. Dr Fowler stated that biotechnologies are not the problem or the solution. Prof Umberger said that GMOs offer huge opportunities for inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary teams to achieve great impact. Dr Ubalijoro concluded by noting the challenge of how to account for natural capital and how to achieve community stewardship to ensure both community and economy benefits.


Dr Colin Chartres, Chief Executive Officer, The Crawford Fund

Dr Colin Chartres provided a very insightful and succinct summary of the key messages and learnings from the conference. The focus of the conference was on managing risk. Each speaker addressed the management of the key risks, including COVID-19, Climate Change and Conflict, and demonstrated that risk comes in all forms including biophysical, trade, markets, and geopolitics. Dr Chartres provided examples of the impacts of climate change across the Asia pacific, including cyclones in Fiji and floods in the Mekong Delta. Farmers across the world must deal with these risks whilst also being blamed for being the cause of risk to climate change (e.g., methane production from cows, land clearing and deforestation). Dr Chartres made a point that we all fall too easily into blaming farmers whilst at the same time demanding good quality and nutritious foods from them. We are responsible for incentivising production practices to minimise climate impacts and improve the supply chain to mitigate risk. This debate needs to be depoliticised to achieve success.