Australian International Food Security Research Centre

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Funding $m
2011–12 actual 3.50
2012–13 Budget allocation 8.52
2013–14 Budget 8.11


Former Prime Minister the Hon. Julia Gillard MP announced at the October 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that the Australian Government had committed program funding of $33 million over 4 years to establish the Australian International Food Security Research Centre (AIFSRC) within ACIAR.

The AIFSRC is committed to giving African farmers, government agencies and the private sector access to Australian agricultural expertise, and also to providing support by networking Australian, African and international research bodies.

To obtain a full picture of ACIAR’s engagement in the African region, this AIFSRC chapter should be read in conjunction with the chapters on Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa. The strategies and activities described in each chapter are complementary.

Strategy 2012–22

The strategy was developed during 2012 after intense consultation with African, international and Australian stakeholders. The AIFSRC’s mission is to accelerate research delivery and adoption of innovations for food security.

Having an international focus, the AIFSRC recognises the significance of food security to developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Pacific region. The initial priority has been on advancing food security across 10 countries in the southern and eastern region of Sub-Saharan Africa, where food insecurity levels are greatest.

The AIFSRC is making a unique contribution to addressing its goal of helping smallholder farmers and other poor households access sufficient, accessible and nutritious food, through providing a bridge between agricultural research innovations (technologies, policies and practices) and development to accelerate their adoption.

Food security encompasses more than food productivity. It is underpinned by having sustainable, healthy food systems in place in country, as well as accessing regional and global food systems, including through trade. The AIFSRC will work within a broad framework of enhancing the three interrelated elements of food security (availability, access and utilisation). It will also incorporate activities across the additional themes of gender mainstreaming, education and capacity building, and communication and knowledge management.

The AIFSRC strategy encompasses five programs:

  1. Sustainable and Productive Farming Systems
  2. Strong and Equitable Economic and Social Systems
  3. Food, Nutrition and Safety
  4. Communications and Knowledge Management
  5. Education, Training and Capacity Building

The strategy was formally launched by the Australian Foreign Minister, Senator Carr, in November 2012 at the ‘Food Security in Africa – Bridging Research and Practice’ conference. It was strongly endorsed by the high-level African, Australian and international stakeholders attending. The AIFSRC’s program development, implementation and allocation of effort will be guided by a set of principles to ensure that activities align with regional and country priorities, leverage off existing work, provide opportunities for co-investment (in particular with private-sector partners), and establish long-term partnerships with regional organisations, national institutions, private sector and NGOs.

At the AIFSRC launch Senator Carr announced a new partnership between Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the AIFSRC. This partnership will commission a competitive food security fund worth C$15 million. The principle objective of the fund is to improve food security in eastern and southern Africa, supporting food security research in the areas of postharvest loss, nutrition and water use. Proposals that address under-researched and under-utilised agricultural activities will be given preference, as will those that exhibit high potential for being scaled up.

2013–14 research programs

Program 1 – Sustainable and Productive Farming Systems — ensuring that sustainable and productive agricultural technologies are underpinned by systems thinking, foresight and enabling policies that enhance their rapid adoption and embody sound natural resources management.

The expected overall outcome is increased food production by women and men in target countries, through:

  • greater access to agricultural innovations by smallholder farmers
  • higher rates of adoption of agricultural innovations, including more-widespread adoption of more-productive crop-, tree- and livestock-management practices and food crop varieties; and more-efficient and equitable uptake of agricultural services and inputs, including fertilisers, vaccines, seeds and knowledge.

Current research in this program includes a project aiming to improve sustainable productivity in farming systems and enhance livelihoods through adoption of evergreen agriculture (FSC/2012/014). This project is conducting research in Ethiopia and Rwanda to underpin national programs to scale up the use of trees within farming systems. It will then scale out successes in Uganda and Burundi. The project is targeting farmers in two agroecological zones and involves addressing barriers to farmers, enhancing tree cover, matching species and management options to farmer circumstances, and quantifying impacts of changing tree cover on long-term water, soil and livelihood parameters.

Other research is identifying priorities for science and policy under rapid global change by analysing farming systems and food security in Africa. This activity is building on previous work that updated continental spatial datasets of key drivers for farming systems and food security maps, to strengthen its dissemination. It will produce a web-based platform, a published book and policy briefs to improve awareness of farming systems’ analytical results and datasets. It will also build awareness and capacity at regional and national levels with policymakers and decision-makers.

Sustainable water management by smallholder farmers is the focus of research (FSC/2013/002) on a prototype sensor that measures soil moisture to advise the best time to irrigate. Other research (FSC/2013/006) proposes to increase agricultural water productivity by applying innovative on-farm monitoring of soil and water in a learning approach, supported by the use of innovation platforms to manage broader issues. The project will also research policy issues affecting the sustainable use of water and land for irrigation.

Program 2 – Strong and Equitable Economic and Social Systems — ensuring development of effective policies, inclusive institutions and strong markets to build food security and accelerate adoption of innovations.

The expected overall outcome is increased income opportunities for female and male small-scale producers in target countries, through:

  • enabling policies and mechanisms to support smallholder farmers’ access to markets
  • better return on goods sold by smallholder farmers
  • identifying how to strengthen food value chains
  • better informed and supportive policy development
  • identifying mechanisms for accelerating adoption of innovations for food security.

Current research (FSC/2012/024) in this program aims to improve our understanding of how farmers make decisions and the barriers to effective adoption of innovations. It is analysing household-level decision-making, production risks (including climate variability), and gender and policy influence on technology uptake by smallholder farmers, with the goal of expanding adoption of conservation agriculture technologies such as the SIMLESA project (CSE/2009/024). This project is underway in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.

A second project (FSC/2012/047) is looking at the potential for small-scale machines (e.g. two-wheel tractors) to improve farming practices, including planting, harvesting, milling and transport. It is identifying appropriate tractors and business models to deliver these improvements to smallholder farmers. It is also identifying opportunities to create new markets for equipment and services, as well as supporting policies and networks. This project is active in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

A smaller activity in this cluster is assessing whether a Landcare approach can be broadened to address issues associated with enabling smallholder farmer access to the agri-food chain to improve food security, through efficient use of purchased inputs and access to credit and market information. This project is active in Kenya.

Program 3 – Food, Nutrition and Safety—improving research on better nutritional quality and diversity of crops and diets, improving food safety, reducing postharvest waste and applying value-adding technologies to food after harvest. This is a response to unacceptably high levels of stunting in children under 5 years of age, as well as to changing dietary patterns due to urbanisation and a growing middle-income sector. It will contribute to the under-researched area of the linkages between agriculture, nutrition and health.

The expected overall outcome is improved nutrition and diversity in diets and increased income in target countries, through:

  • increased access to quality food
  • improved efficiency of production and marketing of nutritious foods (e.g. vegetables)
  • reduced postharvest loss
  • improved food-safety systems
  • more availability of value-added foods.

To date, two projects have been proposed for this program. The first (FSC/2012/111) will look at options for improving nutrition and income by enhancing vegetable-based farming and food systems in peri-urban areas. It will focus on both existing and new vegetable farmers, particularly women and youth. It will develop appropriate capacity-building interventions as well as effective technological interventions (addressing integrated crop production, postharvest factors, food safety and value chains). Research will be done in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

The second proposed project (FSC/2012/023) will aim to strengthen food security through family poultry and crop integration. It will investigate linkages between family poultry and crop value chains, and their potential to improve household nutritional status and the socioeconomic, biological efficiency and social equity of both operations. It will explore whether poultry production and trade can be increased by better linking the system to input and output providers that support existing cropping systems. This research will also consider whether increased production and trade contribute to ecologically sustainable agriculture, sanitary food and improved human health. The project will be active in Tanzania and Zambia.

A smaller activity in this program will support the development of national nutrition policy in Africa through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Eight delegates from Rwanda working in government, the private sector and the United Nations will be assisted to attend a NEPAD workshop on national investment plans for food security. The workshop will focus on incorporating the Framework for African Food Security of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) into the National Agriculture and Food Security Investment Plan and development plans. Participants will develop actions and programs for integrating and implementing their respective national plans.

Program 4 – Communications and Knowledge Management—ensuring that the awareness and adoption of useful innovations is facilitated through developing creative ways to access information and knowledge, deliver high-quality technical advice and services to smallholder farmers, and support evidence-based decision-making.

The expected overall outcome is improved access to knowledge by smallholder female and male farmers and livestock keepers, through:

  • creative information- and knowledge-delivery systems operating in target countries for education on food and agriculture, including potentially useful innovations
  • adoption of evidence-based policies as best practice, through wide distribution of policy briefs from research results to policymakers and politicians within target countries.

Program 5 – Education, Training and Capacity Building—accelerating research adoption through enhanced individual and institutional capacity, from research development and management to delivery of training and empowerment of farmers’ organisations, and widespread dissemination by the public- and private-sector agencies responsible for the adoption of innovations.

The expected overall outcome is increased capacity and self-reliance in target countries to become food secure, through:

  • a critical mass of male and female individuals trained to address the range of food security issues—from research to delivery
  • stronger institutional capacity to address food security in the long term
  • enduring (formal) partnerships established between African and Australian educational and research bodies and other African networks of educational institutions.

A formal partnership with the Australia–Africa Universities Network has been initiated that includes supporting the establishment of a Research Development Fund to develop new collaborative research and partnerships between universities from the two continents. This network has been set up to sustain research and educational collaboration and to marshal Australian and African expertise to address challenges across continents.

The AIFSRC is also exploring the value of establishing a new initiative of Biosecurity Awards, which will serve to expose African professionals to a range of best-practice policy management and institutional processes that underpin strong national- and regional-level food safety, food quality, market access and trade. They will actively deliver knowledge and training on how processes and policies can be developed and implemented in the awardees’ countries.

Current projects

  • FSC/2012/014 (FST-managed) (multilateral, ICRAF) Improving sustainable productivity in farming systems and enhancing livelihoods through adoption of evergreen agriculture in eastern Africa
  • FSC/2012/024 (CSE-managed) (multilateral, CIMMYT) Identifying socioeconomic constraints to, and incentives for, faster technology adoption: pathways to sustainable intensification in eastern and southern Africa
  • FSC/2012/047 (CSE-managed) (multilateral, CIMMYT) Farm power and conservation agriculture for sustainable intensification (FACASI)
  • FSC/2013/002 A traffic light soil water sensor for resource-poor farmers: proof of concept

Proposed projects

  • FSC/2012/023 (AH-managed) Strengthening food security through family poultry and crop integration in eastern and southern Africa
  • FSC/2012/111 (HORT-managed) (multilateral, AVRDC) Improving income and nutrition in eastern and southern Africa by enhancing vegetable-based farming and food systems
  • FSC/2013/006 (LWR-managed) Increasing irrigation water productivity in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe through on-farm monitoring, adaptive management and agricultural innovation programs

2013–14 project output indicators

  • A strong, active financial and research relationship with IDRC in place, with the ACIAR–IDRC African Fund on Food Security in eastern and southern Africa established and supporting research by African national research institutes
  • New partnerships established with Australian, African and international stakeholders, building on outcomes of the ‘Food Security in Africa – Bridging Research and Practice’ conference
  • Strengthened research partnerships established between African and Australian educational and research bodies and other African networks of educational institutions, through the Australia–Africa Universities Network
  • Better-informed and supported nutrition policy development and implementation in Rwanda
  • Strong tree germplasm supply systems for farmers facilitated through the establishment of two rural resource centres in Ethiopia and Rwanda
  • Strengthened awareness of farming systems’ analytical results and input into evidence-based policy development by a wide range of professional communities in Africa and beyond, through the publication of findings via a range of media, conferences and briefs
  • Best-practice vegetable production hubs established and being used for capacity building by researchers, extension staff, commercial partners and growers
  • Coordinated communication strategies, key messages and more-efficient research linkages developed by AIFSRC/ACIAR project leaders and their teams through joint capacity-building activities
  • Better understanding of adoption processes through the development of systems to monitor research effectiveness and identify opportunities to improve the uptake of innovations


  • Ms Mellissa Wood

Key program managers

  • Mr Tony Bartlett, Forestry
  • Mr Les Baxter, Horticulture
  • Dr Evan Christen, Land & Water Resources
  • Dr John Dixon, Cropping Systems and Economics
  • Dr Mike Nunn, Animal Health

Regional Liaison Officer (Nairobi-based)

  • Ms Liz Ogutu

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