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Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Development partnerships in agriculture in the Indo-Pacific region

AUSTIN, Dr Nicholas Richard, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

HORNE, Dr Peter Malcolm, General Manager, Country Programs, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

SHEARER, Mr David Neil, General Manager, Corporate, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research


CHAIR: We now welcome the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. You are aware that we are having internal broadcasting of this hearing, and you are already aware of the conditions where we take your evidence and you do your best not to mislead the committee. I invite all or one of you to make opening remarks. Dr Austin, are you the leader of the delegation here today? Are you going to make an opening statement?

Dr Austin : I will make a brief opening statement.

CHAIR: Excellent. We can get stuck into the statement and then questions. You have already been a great help to us with this inquiry, Dr Austin. Would you like to make some opening remarks? We thank you for your submission.

Dr Austin : Thank you, Chair. We are very conscious that ACIAR's work is central to the terms of reference of this inquiry—

CHAIR: Yes, it is.

Dr Austin : so it is a pleasure to appear before you today. We also greatly appreciated the opportunity to participate in the expert roundtable on food security—which I think you were referring to—earlier this month. As the committee is well aware, ACIAR works in close collaboration with researchers from the developing world to build healthier, more equitable and more profitable and prosperous societies. It has been a key part of Australia's development assistance program since 1982. ACIAR supports research in developing countries to provide solutions drawing on Australian expertise in arid, tropical, temperate zone agriculture. Australia, of course, is highly regarded around the world for that expertise.

We broker partnerships between researchers, government agencies, non-government organisations and, importantly, the business community to generate innovative and lasting local solutions. They bring choice to those who need it most. We also encourage sharing this knowledge with policymakers and other researchers in communities across the Indo-Pacific. We work with the best and brightest in Australia and in the region to find these practical development solutions. Broadly speaking, the centre aims to reduce poverty, improve health, support innovation and safeguard the environment. Results-driven research helps to make developing countries more self-reliant, leading to improved health and nutrition outcomes, greater gender equity, higher incomes, stronger economies in the Indo-Pacific region.

ACIAR contributes to Australia's broader foreign policy and aid objectives, complementing the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and others. Although ACIAR accounts for less than two per cent of Australia's international assistance, we are among the world's largest funders of agriculture research for development. ACIAR's leadership in fostering applied science widens the choices available to poor people in poor countries and helps them reduce their dependence on aid.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Did you just say that while ACIAR is only about two per cent of our total aid budget, comparatively, across the globe, we are one of the higher funders of this type of research?

Dr Austin : Indeed. We draw on a significant capacity, so that direct contribution through the aid program, in reality, is only a part of the contribution made by all of our partners that bring networks, expertise, capability, intellectual property to bear both from Australia and internationally.

CHAIR: So it is a great lever of further work and—

Dr Austin : Very definitely.

CHAIR: Of course, I am more than aware that it is often women and girls who do much of the subsistence level agricultural work. I was very pleased when I finally got to pictures of women in your documents, having been a bit short of women in the first one—they were mostly of men. The reality is that we have to understand the gender politics if we are going to work in increasing productivity of output and also keep the nutritional levels of the food produced, or access by the families, high. How do you really make sure that you do have an appropriate focus on women when you undertake a project, whether it is in Indo, Asia or the Pacific, given that it will be men in positions of power in those places who will be, probably, the first to liaise with an expert agency or a funding body? What particular measures have you come up with to make sure that the extension work or the on-the-ground farm practice gets to the people who do the work?

Dr Austin : That really goes back to the conceptualisation of the program. ACIAR invests significant time and effort in endeavouring to understand the problem and whether we can offer some solutions and capacity. All of our programs take an impact assessment, or pathway approach. We start from the result we are looking to achieve and work back from that. Invariably, issues such as gender, or ethnic minorities, become important considerations in that impact pathway. That manifests in different ways in which the projects are undertaken in practice—the extent to which women and girls are involved with, or become the focus of, those projects. So it is not a prescription. It is very much designed around the particular needs and the context. For example, we work in Papua New Guinea with, largely, illiterate women's groups, improving their business acumen—being able to market vegetables into local markets. That has real benefits for nutrition, health and income. That is designed around that particular circumstance.

The reality of each of our investments and partnerships is that they are quite locally specific, but they have learnings that can be taken to scale in other areas, including through new partnerships with DFAT, to endeavour to do exactly that—that is, to take the successful programs that are working with tens to hundreds of smallholder farmer families to thousands, or, in some cases, millions.

CHAIR: So you specifically require, as outcomes from numbers of your investments, that women are targeted with direct support or engagement? You do not just hope that that will be an outcome at the end of the day. That is, I think, what you are suggesting.

Dr Austin : No, we do not leave it to chance. It is designed very differently. It goes to the beneficiaries of the work, but it also has a significant role in building capacity. So it is how we also involve particularly younger women researchers through formal and informal training opportunities. Within the project teams we will often go back and specify that we are looking for a more diverse capability across the project partner institutions in the developing countries—and, indeed, in Australia, as well—in those partnerships. There is a role in modelling that as well. In many ways that may be the largest lasting legacy, and the capacity that is built. We very definitely take an active engagement in ensuring that there is gender representation.

Ms PARKE: I was thinking about the brilliant Seeds of Life program that you run in Timor-Leste and I wanted to ask how that is going. When I was in Timor-Leste to see that, you were talking about how this is a very great example of the practical application of research and you were looking at expanding the practical application and working with civil society partners to do that. What has happened on that front?

Dr Austin : There is a lot to report. I will make some brief introductory comments and then I will turn to my colleague Dr Horne to follow. Dr Horne has been in East Timor relatively recently, and I am going to travel there in April for the conclusion of the current work. That has been a particularly successful program in a number of dimensions, not least of which has been taking early successes to scale—the creation of new private sector opportunities in communities, seed groups and then businesses that have emerged around that. The ambition was to develop a national seed system in the last phase, and the program has been successful in that respect.

Dr Horne : The program has overachieved on expectations in that area. The program set up some excellent yardsticks of adoption—that is, that more than 60 per cent of the population of Timor-Leste would have repeated access to and use of improved staple varieties of food crops; regular access—whenever they wanted those varieties, they could have them; repeated use—there were at least two consecutive seasons where they were choosing to use these improved varieties. These were indicators of the impacts that were happening. The program is achieving those targets.

The program very quickly recognised that to source the planting materials of these varieties in remote places you cannot go through a formal seed system; you have to have a mix of a formal seed system feeding into an informal seed system. So that program set the target of establishing at least 1,000 community-based, certified seed producers. These were farmers groups that were trained in business skills and seed production. It exceeded that number. I think the target was 700, and it is more than 1,000 now. So that is a good example of the resourcing and enabling of the emergence of small entrepreneurship in a situation where that was what was needed. It was not large companies that were going to have a national approach to production and distribution of seed; it was local seed production.

It is a very interesting example of ACIAR's role and us knowing when we have a role and when perhaps it is a role for another set of organisations and institutions. As an organisation that funds research, we take the responsibility—the mandate—of starting with the very small technical research. In that case, it was research on which varieties could fill the gap that happened in Timor-Leste after the war, right through to what ended up at the end, which was very much about understanding extension approaches, enabling the emergence of business and, particularly, supporting policy development in government.

I would just like to finish by saying that one of the key things, I think, that has happened there was in the area of rice. The Timor-Leste government, in recent times, has been subsidising the importation of cheap rice, which was undercutting the ability of local entrepreneurs to make money out of producing—these local seed producers. This program was able to engage with the government, identify this as an issue, map out a pathway of how you can not have overnight but transition towards less subsidisation of imported rice, which then creates the opportunity for the local entrepreneurs to have a market to provide the varieties that they need. I think there have been a lot of successes there. As Dr Austin was saying, after 13 years the program Seeds of Life 3 is now coming to an end, and there is a big showcase event soon. We recognise now that ACIAR support to Timor-Leste is probably in other areas. Where we can have the biggest influence from our investments is in other areas of research and agriculture. We are now exploring those with the Timor-Leste government, particularly in the areas of livestock and the possibilities for development of local irrigation systems and efficient water use in cropping.

Ms PARKE: I remember in that program that you had put a big focus on the widows of the veterans being involved in the seed distribution and farming. That was very much about empowering those women. Is that a focus that you have in other parts of your work?

Dr Horne : It is a really good point. It is contextually very diverse. I think you have highlighted a vulnerability in a lot of the communities that we work in right across the Indo-Pacific region: households that are headed by women, for whatever reason, where there is not another source of income, whether it is through being widowed or left alone—or indeed, for example, in Africa, where men are often away for a long period of time, because they are off getting work far away.

CHAIR: You talk about the remittance population.

Dr Horne : That is right, and sometimes the remittances are not getting there. This requires a targeted approach to understanding, first of all, what the issue is and how we reach that issue. It is quite surprising that some of our expectations of the difficulty of targeting towards women can actually be overturned as we start working. I point to the example of Pakistan, where the perception from the outside may well be that it is very difficult to work with women and to target technologies and activities towards women. But we work through longer-term approaches and partnerships, and also we partner with smart people in the country—researchers who are very committed to social justice and social improvement in their country—and they have a passion for finding ways through this. In Pakistan we have been able to reach very large numbers of women dairy producers through that ongoing engagement, to say, 'How do we actually do this?' In the case of our Pakistan dairy program, I did a specifically targeted piece of research to see: 'What do we have to do to be able to ensure that women dairy producers can participate in our project? What are the structural impediments to them being able to come along to meetings, to be able to get the extension materials and to be able to have access to finance—all of those kinds of things?' That informed the program's ability to target not only the technologies that would benefit them but the approaches so that they could actually participate in the program.

CHAIR: Can you give us more details of that project, Dr Horne? I presume what you are describing is a real-life project that you are engaged with. And it has been going a little while? You have got some results?

Dr Horne : Yes. It has been going for two phases now.

CHAIR: Is that four years?

Dr Horne : Three years and three years, so six years. We are just about to start a new collaboration with DFAT in Pakistan where this is going to be taken to scale. Essentially, it has now been proven by working with both men and women farmers—indeed, working in an extension approach through schools in Pakistan—that very substantial improvements in productivity, efficiency and profitability of those smaller dairy enterprises can be achieved. We are now taking a whole of dairy value chain approach, you might say, to make sure that the productivity improvements are translating into profitability improvements in the pocket, and livelihood improvements. We are going to be measuring those on a much larger number of smallholder producers. Pakistan is an amazing case with dairy; it has 12 million smallholder producers. It is the world's third-largest producer of milk, and yet the average yield is about four litres per cow per day. So there is very low productivity, but a very large number of producers.

Ms PARKE: Are you familiar with the work of the NGO BRAC in Bangladesh?

Dr Horne : Yes.

Ms PARKE: They have a big dairy component, where they get women with no microfinance to buy a cow. Then they found that the women did not have access to food for the cow and they did not have access to markets for the milk, and so they developed a food production arm. They developed a dairy company that is now the second-biggest dairy company in Bangladesh. It is all not-for-profit. It all goes back into BRAC. It seems that they have a pretty good model for getting to women and supporting them.

Dr Horne : Yes, thank you. We are aware of that in Bangladesh. I guess we learn lessons from across the region, in similar production systems, but where the solutions are locally different. So we are aware of that. Your point about BRAC is a very good one in that we do seek to work with organisations like BRAC who have both a network and a capability to deliver outcomes from research much more broadly than we can, but are hungry for technical advice to provide to their farmers which is locally relevant. And that is where ACIAR projects can fit really well with NGOs and small private-sector companies. That is what we hear quite often—they say, 'What we can really get from your programs are the things that work that we can offer to our networks of farmers.'

Ms GAMBARO: You started by saying that it was two per cent of the DFAT budget—

Dr Austin : Overall ODA, official development assistance, is slightly less than—

Ms GAMBARO: Yes—the official development assistance budget. You have mentioned on page 92 that you have to be on top of innovation. How do you assess which projects you are going to do the research on? It must be so difficult. You are doing great stuff with sorghum, with the University of Queensland I see, and you are doing a whole lot of fantastic programs around the world. How do you risk-assess which ones you should get involved in? I think it would be an enormously difficult task.

Dr Austin : It is enormously difficult and there is no precise calculus for it, clearly. What ACIAR has the benefit of, though, is now more than two decades of assessing impacts of investments. We pride ourselves on being a learning organisation, so we look at investments that deliver—and not all do. The nature of research is that some are not performing, in terms of rates of return or social or environmental benefits. It does not mean it was not worth undertaking that research, but we do want to try to maximise returns. We do that in the context of the broader aid program priorities and the aid investment plans at a country level that set Australia's engagement. Within that, ACIAR has its own strategic plan that has been signed off by government, which sets five-year emphases—geographic and thematic. We go through a process annually of looking at what is new and emerging in the region, where there are opportunities. That is from the Australian side. But, as I said at the outset, we invest significant time and effort in understanding the priorities of partner countries, and so it is that sweet spot where there is the alignment between the Australian priorities and our partner country priorities.

Ms GAMBARO: So in PNG that would be the National—what is it called?

Dr Austin : The National Agricultural Research Institute or NARI. That is one of a number of partners. We work with the commodity boards, with faith-based organisations and with the private sector, so it is a very broad sweep. Then the partners come after, I guess, that process bit. Essentially, we look at programs that are succeeding. We talked a little before about Seeds of Life. That is a good example. It began as a three- to four-year investment, looking at just identifying: 'What are the potential staple crops that we are sourcing globally as the genetic material that can lead to increases?' and, over the subsequent investments, we built on that, subsequently in partnership with DFAT, to take that program to scale. So as to investments, as I say, it is not a precise calculus. We look at where there are successes, how we can recreate those successes and what we can learn from the failures. Importantly, through our impact assessment program, we try to put some hard numbers on those as well, both from an economic cost-benefit analysis and—

Ms GAMBARO: Is there something that ACIAR would never invest in again? You do not need to specifically name a program but, in a broad sense, is there something that really did not meet all of those objectives that you have just outlined?

Dr Austin : I would say no. But I would say that projects at conclusion look very different to what was envisaged at conception. They will evolve. One of the aspects is the very hands-on nature of the research program management. We work very collaboratively and closely with the commissioned organisation and partners, and we are very open. That is the nature of research. I think if we know the answer, we should not have invested in the first place. So we do evolve the projects.

We do something else quite different too. We go back, three to four years after the conclusion of the project, bringing members of the project team, sometimes with independent assessors, to look at what changes actually happened on the ground and try to infer to what extent the project had an influence on those changes and if can we do more with what has been achieved.

Ms GAMBARO: Thank you for that—because we see examples of multilaterals getting together with infrastructure and having less than effective results. You have a whole bunch of researchers, including Australian researchers, with many multidisciplinary talents working together. It is just interesting to hear how you bring it all together with the in-country priorities and the Australian foreign aid priorities, and then how you go back and assess it. Thank you for that.

Dr Horne : In almost every country, we get more priorities that we can afford to address. Building on what Dr Austin was saying, once we have partnerships addressing a very key priority, we want to stick with those while ever we have value to add in the research space. But, where there are new priorities coming, there are other considerations, such as: is there capacity in Australia to partner in working on this particular issue? Is the issue that is being raised fundamentally a research issue? Sometimes it is not, fundamentally; the systemic problem is something else, and so we analyse that. If it is researchable, is there a genuine chance that we think it could be addressed through that research? Finally, is it a high enough priority issue that we see evidence that the partner country is investing some of its own resources in this as well? Because, as Dr Austin was saying, it is really important that we have partnerships with mutual obligations in this research—

Ms GAMBARO: And buy-in from that country.

Dr Horne : and buy-in from them. We do not want a situation where they are pushing a priority for us to address which has not reached a high enough priority for them to be addressing themselves. We look for those kind of indicators.

CHAIR: You mentioned the Pakistan dairy project earlier. Do you actually engage with the women parliamentarians? Are they key to what you do in any of those countries?

Dr Austin : We do, in a range of ways, including delegations to Australia. All of our programs are endorsed by the governments we work under agreements with in each of the countries where ACIAR have active programs, and they are signed off by the national counterparts before commencing. So nothing we do in-country is—

CHAIR: Do you target the women parliamentarians, who often come here? As women MPs ourselves we work with women parliamentarians across the Asia-Pacific region, don't we, Teresa? I am just wondering whether you are making much of those close associations we have with other women MPs. In fact, as you know, we are spending a lot in aid to bring more women MPs through, in the Pacific in particular.

Dr Austin : It is a good question, Chair, and I think it is something that we could potentially give more thought to. Again, it has not been as targeted as I think you are suggesting it could be.

CHAIR: Because, when we meet those women, we find that often one of their driving motivations in becoming members of parliament is to enhance women's opportunities and empower women in their countries, especially women MPs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as in Bangladesh. That is their driving motivation.

Dr Austin : A good example, if I might draw on one, is the edition of Partners magazine which is coming out to coincide with International Women's Day—

CHAIR: That is a particular edition?

Dr Austin : It is.

CHAIR: What did you call it?

Dr Austin : Partners in Research for Development. It is ACIAR's quarterly—or three to four times a year—magazine that showcases activities and successes. Her Excellency Naela Chohan is the author of the foreword, and as High Commissioner for Pakistan to Australia she is particularly passionate—

CHAIR: Yes, she is.

Dr Austin : about women's and girls' issues and opportunities.

CHAIR: That is right.

Dr Austin : So she has been very good—

CHAIR: As she depicts through her art, very effectively.

Dr Austin : Indeed.

CHAIR: That is good. Make sure we get a copy of that. You are going to produce it for International Women's Day?

Dr Austin : We will certainly provide the committee with a copy.

CHAIR: In fact, the last few editions might be helpful for us. Ian, you had a question?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I should not really ask you this—perhaps it is more of a policy question. If you had a clean slate—a clean sheet of paper—would you set up ACIAR and what you do in the same way that it is now? That is probably a bit unfair!

Dr Austin : It is not at all unfair.


Dr Austin : Absolutely. I had the benefit of going back and reading some of Sir John Crawford's work when he chaired the original committee that was established to travel the world and look for models that could be utilised here in Australia. I think that ACIAR's role—its mandate—and its work remain as important now as they did when he was envisaging it in the late seventies. I think the elements of the design in which ACIAR brokers partnerships and builds capacity but does not undertake the research itself operates within government autonomously and independent of the research delivery parts of government. It is extraordinarily well designed and has stood the test of time. I could not see an element of the current design that would change with benefit.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: How long has ACIAR been going?

Dr Austin : Since 1982.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: And what is your annual budget? I have read this somewhere, but—

Dr Austin : We have an appropriation of under $100 million and we have opportunity to manage funds on DFAT's behalf at different times, which has been in the order of up to 20 per cent of our budget on top of our core appropriation.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am just wondering about the extent of research, compared with the actual on-the-ground results from activities. For example, I noted the sweet potato in PNG in your submission. I suppose you have this in your annual reports, but is there a specific cost for that? What it cost you to do that and then the results of that? I see there was a virus that someone discovered. Do you feel that the return on your investment in those things is worthwhile?

Dr Austin : As I said in response to an earlier question, the return on investment is not uniform across projects. We find that some are the real rainmakers there—the projects that return triple-figures: 100-to-one investments for each dollar. A recent assessment of meta analyses of a history of impact assessments suggests, on average, a return of five to one for the projects assessed. We assess about 10 per cent, roughly, in any year, of our projects. Of those, the benefits just from that 10 per cent more than pay for the total budget of ACIAR over its lifetime. And that is a conservative estimate.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: After—what?—30 years I would have thought that you have researched every possible problem or improvement that you could ever find in South-East Asia—

Dr Austin : Interestingly, not! The problems keep growing, and I think that is the nature of the work. There is a maintenance investment required. With climates changing we are seeing new and emerging diseases or diseases that are known moving into different regions. We are seeing different pests and we are seeing new opportunities. We have really only scratched the surface.

One of the things that is important for impact assessment is that it shows that there is not a decrease in return over time. That suggests that, globally and from ACIAR, there is still underinvestment in research for development in agriculture.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: There is underinvestment?

Dr Austin : Underinvestment. It is showing that we are not close to getting near the flattening in that curve between investment and return over time. So there is no doubt that there is an enormous amount more needed. I think that Australia can play to its strengths in that space, in building on the model on which ACIAR was established.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I suspect this is in your annual report somewhere, but of your total expenditure every year what part goes to the Pacific, what part to South-East Asia and what part to East Asia and elsewhere?

Dr Austin : I can give you the numbers for the current year specifically.

CHAIR: They are not in your submission, I don't think, are they?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Are they in your submission?

Dr Austin : They are not in the submission—

CHAIR: But you can supply those—

Dr Austin : We can supply—

CHAIR: Or please talk about them now.

Dr Austin : Certainly. In the Pacific, the target is 20 per cent for the current year. These adjust over time in response to opportunities. The target is 47 per cent in East Asia. It is 16 per cent in West Asia and it is 17 per cent in eastern and southern Africa. In the near neighbourhood are our most significant partner countries—Papua New Guinea is the largest, in terms of expenditure. It has long been one-two or two-one between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, but it is certainly in concentric circles, so our focus is closer to home.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes. That is something I have always agreed with. I know that, with your research, you use the CSIRO and Australian universities a lot. Are there others that you use regularly? I appreciate that, per project, it would be whoever had the expertise in that area. Are there others that are regular recipients of your research grants?

CHAIR: Have you ever had a joint venture with a company like Monsanto or DuPont?

Dr Austin : We have worked with a number of private sector companies, but they are generally not recipients of our funding—they contribute their own funding to the partnership. I think there would have to be some really compelling reasons to want to fund a private sector partner. As with all our partners, the partners bring capability or resources, financial or otherwise. With the private sector, we would look to their financial resources and their networks in the partnerships. I think we now work with virtually all universities in Australia, apart from maybe one or two, and the Regional Universities Network is increasingly important to us. In addition to the CSIRO and the universities, historically, state agencies like departments of primary industries, water resources and natural resources were, in aggregate, one of the largest sources of capability in our Australian partnerships.

CHAIR: They are now so defunded that there is hardly a shell of them left to liaise with.

Dr Austin : They have gone from being more than half of our partnerships to being less than a third, broadly speaking. Universities and state agencies have a different focus and a different reward mechanism. At universities, researchers are rewarded more from publications than they are in state government, so there is a different skill set. It is also getting increasingly difficult to broker those partnerships from a value-for-money sense. ACIAR works on that partnership model, where all parties are involved because they stand to gain from that involvement, rather than a commission, or a contractual or consulting arrangement where we are just paying for a capability. I think it is fair to say that the cost of doing business has increased as the capacity domestically, the Australian research capability, has declined over a long period. But we draw on research globally as well, through the CGIAR—what was previously called the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. Australia has been a longstanding supporter of that, through ACIAR.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Where is that based? Who runs that?

Dr Austin : It is a global network. It has 15 centres distributed around the world, 13 of which are in developing countries. It currently has a headquarters in Montpellier, hosted by the French. The centres include—and I am sure you are familiar with some of them—the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines; CIMMYT, the wheat and maize improvement centre in Mexico; ICARDA; and ICRISAT. These are centres that have considerable capability. They work in 60 countries and have a network of at least 10,000 scientists. Australia has played an important role and the benefits to Australia from that engagement, including through our impact assessments, have been significant.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You will excuse me for being a fraction parochial. As you know, I come from the North, but there is a big push now on northern Australia's interaction with the tropic zone, or between the two tropics, which is principally where you work. At James Cook University, there is a new Institute of Tropical Medicine, which is just in its forming stages. I appreciate that universities all around Australia, the CSIRO and other research institutions all do good research; you do not have to live there to do good research. But I am just wondering if, on notice, you might just indicate to me just how involved JCU or Charles Darwin in particular—I pick those two as clearly tropical universities—are in a lot of this work. Would your guess be a lot or a little? Is it increasing? Give it to me on notice, if you would not mind.

Dr Austin : I am happy to come back with the specific projects. It is a significant contribution and, I would say, increasing as the capacities of those universities have been growing as well. Of course, ACIAR are working across agriculture, fisheries and forestry—in agriculture, crops, livestock and horticulture—as well as natural resources. JCU, for example, is an important source of capability in our fisheries program and our aquaculture work, for example. So it is quite a broad engagement, but we would certainly be happy to come back with the actual project details where those universities are either the commissioned organisation or a partner. Every one of our projects has multiple partners, both from Australia and internationally, so the universities would play an important part in the vast majority of our projects. As I say, the growth in our collaboration has been, importantly, through the regional universities in addition to the longstanding relationships with the more sandstone Australian universities.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I will finish here. There has been a report that the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia tabled in the last day or so on tropical aquaculture. If you are not aware of it, someone in your organisation might like to have a glance through it and see if there is any useful stuff in that that might be able to be used somewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, because I note from your submission—or was it in the previous submission?—that the availability of fish in a lot of the nations whose staple diet originally was fish is increasing.

CHAIR: They are going more to tinned fish and manufactured products.


Mr Shearer : The other element that I will add in terms of universities—particularly in a partnership approach, which is the focus of the inquiry—is the role the universities play in supporting quite an intensive scholarship program that ACIAR contributes to, and that is through the Australia Awards. So it is important to recognise in that partnership approach that is not only a flow one way from the university in terms of university capability; it is an incredibly important component of the work that ACIAR does in building that long-term capacity, and they are key elements of that. The universities that you described are becoming a more important foundation for ACIAR's capacity-building approach.

CHAIR: Thanks, Mr Shearer. I was going to invite you, if you had any particular comments—

Mr Shearer : I avoided saying anything when the roundtable was on, due to opportunity costs, but I had to get on the record this time.

CHAIR: Excellent. Thank you so much for that. Our time is nearly up. We could obviously go on talking indefinitely about these issues. You have given us a good, comprehensive submission. We know we can come back to you and flesh out any of those issues, with as many actual examples as possible. What we have heard you say, Dr Horne, about Timor-Leste and so on is really helpful. You will receive a transcript—you know the way this works—within about 10 days. We would like you to check that. Have we asked, Madam Secretary, for anything specifically out of that conversation? I think Melissa Parke was interested in any more details on the BRAC dairy program—that was it, wasn't it?

Secretary interjecting—

CHAIR: Yes, the information Ian has just referred to.

Mr Shearer : The International Women's Day partners magazine.

CHAIR: Yes, you are going to provide that. That is fantastic.

Mr Shearer : We will give some budget figures, and our annual operational plan was called for.

CHAIR: Yes, and also, in your scholarship program, perhaps you could give us a bit of an idea of how many of your scholarships are directed to women specifically and what areas they cover.

Mr Shearer : You will be pleased to know that our leadership group came to Australia at the beginning of this week. It is a small group, and they will meet with Minister Bishop on 15 March.

CHAIR: Leadership of what?

Mr Shearer : Of agricultural research—management and future leaders of the partnerships that we have pursued.

CHAIR: I see. And they are mostly women?

Mr Shearer : Half of them are women.

CHAIR: Fantastic.

Mr Shearer : But from a very traditional base of agricultural research.

CHAIR: How do we find them so we can make sure they come before us? Can you pass on those details.

Mr Shearer : I am sure Sonya, the secretary, and I can work it out.

CHAIR: When are they coming?

Mr Shearer : They have arrived in Australia for a six-week program.

CHAIR: So they are here a while.

Mr Shearer : They will be here meeting with Minister Bishop on 15 March.

CHAIR: So they will be in parliament on that day. Is that a sitting day?

Secretary interjecting—

Mr Shearer : They have organised a tour on that side of things.

CHAIR: That might give us time to catch up with them. We often do not hear about visiting people. You were in the right place at the right time to help facilitate your conference key speakers. That was very useful for us. If you can also let us know about when the leadership group is actually coming—they are in relation to innovation and agriculture, are they?

Mr Shearer : It is a long-term program that we have established and run since the early 1990s. It is a key part of our capacity development in terms of future leadership in agricultural research partnerships. This is a group of 10 scholars that have been intimately involved with ACIAR projects, usually for a long period of time, and we bring them to Australia in part to provide some insight to contemporary leadership approaches.

CHAIR: So where are they from mostly?

Mr Shearer : Interestingly, this year there are three people from Myanmar. It is a real insight to me of how the nature of our programs is changing and where the focus is becoming—five years ago, the majority were Vietnamese et cetera. It is really interesting to see how the John Dillon fellows are now coming from areas where we look to invest in the future, and as we have pointed out throughout the hearing it is this long-term approach that we really need to commit to. It is that investment now in people over the long term that really pays dividends, and for the kind of partnership approach that ACIAR supports.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Apart from coming to Parliament House, what exactly will they be doing over six weeks?

Mr Shearer : At the moment, they are down in Melbourne undertaking a 'getting to know you', but it is really focused on communication in agricultural research: communicating with a whole range of different stakeholders from farmer groups through to policy making—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: So they are going to a series of meetings to farmer groups, to state government departments, to universities?

Mr Shearer : We have put them with some experts around communication with different areas.

CHAIR: So like extension work versus some other means—Dairy Australia, maybe, or Fruit Growers Australia?

Mr Shearer : They are at Mount Eliza for some theoretical insight in leadership. I think one of the great things we do is that we split them in half and we send them off to states. This year, one group will go to Tasmania and one group will go to the Northern Territory, so they might compare the climates of the two—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Tasmania would be useful for sub-tropical countries to go and see their agriculture..

Mr Shearer : Sure, it is about the agricultural systems, but what is insightful for them is how Australian innovation systems interact with industry, how our research bodies can interact with industry and play a role in supporting not only productivity development but sustainability, long-term profitability et cetera, because we in Australia have really unique models around research and development in the agricultural system.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I would have thought they might be able to teach Tasmania something. I should look around and see who else is here before I say that.

Mr Shearer : Partnership is two-way learning.

CHAIR: Are you dealing with countries like Mongolia and Azerbaijan in that mix too? Is Mongolia part of this leadership group?

Mr Shearer : Certainly not in the John Dillon program that I am describing. It is a very selective group. It is very competitive.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: How many?

Mr Shearer : Ten every year, and our broader scholarship program that funds PhDs or masters in Australia and in Australia awards. Last year, we only funded 22, so a very small number.

CHAIR: We are setting up an embassy in Mongolia this year—it opens in a few weeks. They have very serious livestock, open grazing system issues right now, and they are very keen to learn from us.

Dr Horne : Just very briefly, we have just started a program with Mongolia. Dr Austin referred to an annual review of our strategy that we have It is really looking at what is driving what we invest in, where and why. Mongolia was a country that emerged a couple of years ago for exactly that reason. We have started a program of research that links with China in the northern China-inner Mongolia area, where Australia has been doing some really iconic research, funded by ACIAR, that for the first time has demonstrated that herders can halve the number of animals that they keep and, in the process, increase their incomes between 20 and 60 per cent. The benefits that is then providing to the grassland condition is something the Mongolians were very interested in, so we have started a new program there.

CHAIR: We have been training them to shear down in my part of the world. I think they are called 'herdsmen' because they were still shearing with clippers and using hand shears. On that very interesting note—as I say, we could go on and talk for weeks; both Ian and I are very interested in these areas of research, as you would be aware—can I ask the only member left to authorise publication of the evidence given at this public hearing today?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I so move, Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you. As I started to say, you will have the transcript in about 10 days. Please feel free to correct any misspellings or other issues with them. You are going to provide Sonya with some of those bits and pieces. We thank you again for coming and spending a lot of time with us. I think we have so much to contribute. I just get a bit sad sometimes when I look at my own agribusiness area that is in such need. I wish some of the brilliance and support that we offer others would be also in the domestic sphere in terms of the states pulling away from what they used to do in extension work and partnering and biosecurity issues in particular.

Subc ommittee adjourned at 18:50