Home' Partners : Partners November 2013 Contents Only as good as your people
ACIAR has been committed to capacity building for many years to deliver
sustainable and lasting outcomes in agriculture and food security. The benefits—
gains in scientific knowledge, capacity and networks—flow as much to Australia
and its scientists as to the partners ACIAR works with.
By Dr WenDy HenDerson
hen ACIAR contributed to
funding Jes Sammut’s PhD
back in the 1990s there was
nothing to indicate how vast
the outcomes were going to
be for Australia. Dr Jes Sammut worked with
Dr Dick Callinan to investigate disease
outbreaks in fish that were affecting 80% of
the Australian commercial catch. The project
was run in partnership with Indonesia.
They found that the disease—known as ‘red
spot’ (epizootic ulcerative syndrome)—was
the result of a chain reaction inadvertently
triggered by drainage of coastal wetlands to
create land for farming and other uses.
In a case of unintended consequences, the
land-use changes inadvertently exposed the
acid sulfate soils that usually occur under other
The run-off from these soils then entered the
local estuaries during wet weather, making the
water more acidic than usual, often more acidic
Dr Callinan had previously found that
a fungus was involved in the disease, but
infection only occurred if fish had skin damage.
Together, Dr Sammut and Dr Callinan found
that acidic water could cause sufficient skin
damage to enable the fungus to infect fish
and cause disease. They also found that acidic
water caused skin and gill damage that led to
catastrophic fish kills in estuaries.
The discovery was significant enough to
lead to a summit on the problem of acid sulfate
soils in New South Wales. The research findings
had cleared an information bottleneck that had
previously fuelled tensions between stakeholders.
An advisory and technical committee
on acid sulfate soil was formed in NSW, and
Dr Jes sammut at the Markham Valley cooperative fish
farms in Papua new Guinea with fish farmers involved with
mutually beneficial ACIAr aquaculture research on feed
formulations, pond site selection and pond management.
AustrAliAn Aid inspires young scientists
ACIAR projects are inspiring young Australian
scientists to pursue careers in agriculture at a
time when universities are struggling to attract
and retain agricultural science students.
By MelIssA BrAnAGH-MCConACHy
Dr Darryl Savage says applying his
agricultural expertise to benefit
developing countries is the most
rewarding experience of his career.
The agricultural science lecturer and
researcher, based at NSW’s University of New
England, is investigating how beef cattle can
contribute to food security in Asia as part of a
project funded by ACIAR.
“ We aim to alleviate poverty in Cambodia
by increasing beef productivity, improving
biosecurity and identifying new markets for
red meat in Vietnam and southern China,” Dr
The project, which commenced in 2007, is
driving significant change in the former war-
Along with growing demand for cattle
production, the introduction of new cattle
raising approaches has reduced the need for
child labour on smallholder farms, increasing
“One of the Cambodian farmers’ highest
priorities is education for their children, so
technology adoption was a no-brainer,” Dr
The project team has also partnered
with Cambodian universities and trains
undergraduate students in research skills, a
process that is inspiring many to undertake
further studies in Australia.
“ The legacy of this project is much greater
than the project itself; it is creating life-
changing opportunities with long-term gains
and sustainable outcomes,” Dr Savage says.
“And there are net benefits for Australia. Foot
and mouth disease is endemic in Cambodia, so
understanding how to reduce its spread is very
important for us.”
According to the United Nations, one billion
people worldwide are malnourished, largely
due to protein deficiency.
“Red meat is the world’s number one source
of protein and I am convinced we can improve
the efficiency of how it becomes available by
reducing the environmental impact of methane
emissions through animal selection, nutrition
and better production systems, which also
improves productivity,” Dr Savage says. “UNE is a
major player in this field of research.
“Australia is one of the most efficient red
meat producers in the world so we have an
important role to play in food security, which
creates wonderful opportunities in science at
both the applied and high-tech ends.
“And part of our responsibility is passing
knowledge on overseas.”
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