Home' Partners : Partners Issue Two 2016 Contents PARTNERS ISSUE TWO 2016
BY GIO BRAIDOTTI
I n March 2016, members of ACIAR's
Commission for International Agricultural
Research boarded a plane for Islamabad,
Pakistan, opting to conduct their 34th annual
meeting in the partner country. The Commission's
role is to provide strategic advice to the Minister
regarding the formulation of agricultural R&D
programs and the funding of these programs.
Over the span of a week, the Commissioners---
including their Chair, Don Heatley---not
only attended high-level meetings with key
stakeholders and institutions, but also visited
ACIAR project sites on the ground.
A highlight for many Commissioners was the
chance to meet directly with project beneficiaries---
the smallholder farmers at the project sites---and
to assess opportunities for future engagements
between Australia and Pakistan.
Mr Heatley says he was personally impressed
by the way projects are run and managed. This
is high praise given his familiarity with farming
systems and international agribusiness value
chains acquired as a North Queensland cattle
farmer who produces beef for highly specialised
markets in Korea, Japan and the US.
"There is something special about being
involved with an organisation that helps
smallholder farmers to better themselves from
working the land," Mr Heatley says.
"What's more, I believe a wealthy country
like Australia has an obligation to be supportive
of developing neighbours and to do it in the
same spirit we use when fellow Australians find
themselves in need."
He was especially struck by the opportunities
presented to farmers in the Punjab by Pakistan's
natural resources---the quality of the soil, the
availability of water and the large areas of flat,
arable and irrigable land. But he also noted that
Pakistan is a country of diverse landscapes and
that agricultural activity takes places in areas that
present greater challenges.
Through the eyes of a true connoisseur of
agricultural capital, however, it was the people that
received the highest praise, particularly their affinity
for the land and farming. "Yes, they are facing
difficulties," Mr Heatley says. "But given the emerging
political stability, there are real opportunities for
agriculture to drive development gains."
From the smallholder farmers on the ground,
he encountered a real appreciation for new
possibilities, a willingness to take risks given new
opportunities, along with an entrepreneurial flair
to not just produce but also market their food in
more profitable ways.
"At the mango project sites, I saw switched-on
producers who not only grasped the marketing
principles of the value-chain projects, they
sincerely want to do more direct marketing,
they want to reach international markets," Mr
"They have grasped with both hands the
support provided by ACIAR. While they may
not end up wealthy, they see in these projects a
pathway to better lives, with enough disposable
income to, for instance, educate their children to
a new level."
He found that wherever he travelled, his own
background as a cattle producer made for instant
connections with Pakistan's smallholder farmers.
But as a cattleman, he was naturally fascinated by
the fact livestock accounts for 54% of agricultural
output in Pakistan.
Moreover, he was excited for smallholder
farmers who raise cattle as the economic outlook
for them is positive. Growth in demand for dairy
and beef is accelerating even as the farmers'
capacity to exploit market growth improves,
given better herd management practices
acquired from the ACIAR dairy-sector projects.
"Underpinning all the positives is Pakistan's
young population," Mr Heatley says. "They
are growing up in rural communities, they
are involved in agriculture, and ACIAR is
supporting the broadening of their horizons and
development of new opportunities."
It is the huge presence of agriculture in the
overall economy that sees Mr Heatley excited
for Pakistan's millennial generation. He knows
the quality of life well-managed rural economies
can offer and the importance of research-driven
innovation to the success of farming enterprises.
"I feel fortunate to have met with Pakistani
farmers," he says. "I found them astute, sensible and
good operators, with the older generation proud
to own land, to produce food and to support their
families. They see themselves doing something
worthwhile for the nation and they do it with
minimal support. They want to move forward and
do well. I am proud that Australia supports them
as they move forward."
Besides the farmers themselves, Mr Heatley
reserved particular praise for the skills of ACIAR's
in-country managers---in this case, Dr Munawar
Kazmi (see profile on page 15). "The skill of these
managers is intriguing," Mr Heatley says. "In
Pakistan, the portfolio is enormous, covering 190
million people, there are security issues, but the
way they go about their job, and their knowledge
of market economics, is truly impressive."
The clearest message to emerge from the
meeting was that ACIAR has no intention of
being a fly-by-night with regards to Pakistan. He
sees the partnerships continuing, prospering and
ultimately thriving in mutually beneficial ways.
"Pakistan is an important country in Asia and its
people are its greatest resource," he says. "They are
resilient and given an opportunity they will make
the most of it."
As to ACIAR, while the organisation is not
big enough to change the economic base of
partner countries, what he saw on the ground
reflects an organisation that is nimble, responsive,
engaged, able to target projects that make a real
difference, and with strong acceptance among
the in-country stakeholders.
"From ACIAR's perspective in Pakistan, there is
the potential to become involved in many more
opportunities for economic development,"
Mr Heatley says. n
MORE INFORMATION: Don Heatley,
"UNDERPINNING ALL THE
POSITIVES IS PAKISTAN'S
YOUNG POPULATION. THEY
ARE GROWING UP IN RURAL
COMMUNITIES, THEY ARE
INVOLVED IN AGRICULTURE,
AND ACIAR IS SUPPORTING
THE BROADENING OF
THEIR HORIZONS AND
DEVELOPMENT OF NEW
-- Don Heatley
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