Home' Partners : Partners: Australian research leaders Contents AUSTRALIA AND INTERNATIONAL
ISSUE THREE 2015 PARTNERS
BY DR MERYL WILLIAMS
Former director-general of the CGIAR WorldFish
Center and member of the Governing Board of
the International Crop Research Center for
the Semi-Arid Tropics
W hether husbanding native food
or farming exotic crops and
livestock, Australians have had to
use ingenuity to feed themselves
in the peculiar environment and climate of this
continent. Have these conditions acted as a
crucible for Australia's farm-to-plate research ethos
and our significant contribution to international
Ingenuity has always been key to surviving on
the Australian continent. Over millennia, people
learned to husband and harvest native plants and
animals to feed, clothe, house and heal themselves.
Unfortunately, much of this traditional knowledge
has been lost and/or subjugated to newer
methods, although some is being resurrected.
The settlers of the first fleets initially relied on
meagre rations brought with them, supplemented
by sporadic catches of fish, kangaroos and
occasional sea turtles from expeditions to Norfolk
Island; but ever-larger concentrations of people
needed food and shelter.
In the often harsh environment, the new
settlers learned by experience and science to
produce their exotic crops and livestock that
originated directly or indirectly from other
continents, via Europe, southern Africa and India.
Australia gradually became part of the global
food production and trade system and today
Australia's primary products come almost entirely
from non-native crops and animals, using varieties
adapted to local soils, climate and biology. It is a
knowledge base that has found many applications in
international research-for-development initiatives.
Australia's contribution internationally is now well
entrenched. Both individuals and institutions have
been important. Leaders such as Sir John Crawford,
Professor John Dillon, Professor Derek Tribe and
Dr Gabrielle Persley (see page 35) created enduring
institutions, such as the Consultative Group on
International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), ACIAR,
the Crawford Fund, and the Biosciences Eastern and
Central Africa hub. Some of their stories are told in
this issue of Partners.
Many other Australians have worked within
the international agricultural system in multilateral
organisations, such as the CGIAR Centres and their
committees, boards and councils, as well as in
bilateral projects and activities.
I have observed firsthand the respect that
Australia's formal representative to CGIAR---the
serving CEO of ACIAR---has earned, without
exception, from his peers.
At one period during my term as a CGIAR
director-general, four of the (then) 16 CGIAR
directors-general were Australians and another,
from New Zealand, had received his PhD in
Australia. Several board chairs were also Australian.
Still today, most CGIAR Centres have an Australian
PHOTO: ROB PARSONS
Dr Meryl Williams
NOW WELL ENTRENCHED.
BOTH INDIVIDUALS AND
INSTITUTIONS HAVE BEEN
on their boards, including three that have
Australian chairs, and many have key senior staff
The Australian Government's international
development assistance, including through ACIAR,
has formed the bridge over which many Australian
researchers have contributed their expertise to
help solve agricultural development problems and
create new opportunities.
These Australians have varied from young
researchers getting early-career experience overseas,
through to mature professionals at the pinnacle of
their careers. I met many of these researchers during
my time on the ACIAR Board of Management and
later the Commission for International Agricultural
Research, and a common view from so many of
them was that "this has been the most rewarding
work I've done in my whole research career".
Our overseas collaborators have appreciated
our partnership in a personal and practical sense,
as shown in ACIAR's rigorous impact assessment
program and expressed during overseas and
Australian field visits.
One interaction stays with me from the 2005
ACIAR Board of Management visit to the Seeds of
Life project in Timor-Leste (http://seedsoflifetimor.
org). A young Timor-Leste researcher, just returned
with his PhD from Australia, explained with pride
the joint work that was just then starting to
improve crop production in the challenging local
environment. A decade later, local researchers
have taken over running it. n
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