In 2012–13 four impact assessment reports and one technical report were published. Five more studies were completed, with two of these due to be published in early 2013–14. The published reports range from a review of ACIAR’s investment in Africa to using an impact pathway as a framework for assessing the effectiveness of research programs.

Impact assessments

Oil palm pathways: an analysis of ACIAR’s oil palm projects in Papua New Guinea

The oil palm industry is an important part of the economy of Papua New Guinea (PNG). While growing oil palm can provide good returns, production in the smallholder sector has been constrained by a range of issues. ACIAR has funded a number of projects aimed at increasing smallholder oil palm production in PNG. This analysis examined the pathways through which the ACIAR-funded socio-economic and biological control projects benefit oil palm smallholders, and, where possible, the economic value of those benefits.

The authors quantified the value of the socio-economic projects that led to an increased participation of household members in oil palm production. In net present value terms, the benefits to PNG from various card payment schemes was estimated to be around $57.3 million (in 2011 Australian dollars, using a discount rate of 5%). The cost of the research, including all cash and in kind contributions, was around $2.7 million expressed in similar terms. Therefore the estimated net present value of ACIAR funded socioeconomic research is $54.6 million. The benefit:cost ratio is estimated at around 20:1 and the internal rate of return at about 76%. In real terms, ACIAR contributed around 60% of the total research costs. On a cost-share basis, benefits of around $34.5 million can be attributed to ACIAR.

Including natural resource management and environmental impacts within impact assessment studies: methodological issues

This report considers how to incorporate the effects of agricultural research and development (R&D) on environmental outcomes within the impact assessments regularly undertaken for research funded by ACIAR. Agricultural production (including downstream processing) affects the same environment that provides essential inputs to agricultural production. The report is concerned with evaluating environmental outcomes using an economic surplus framework, consistent with that currently used for ACIAR impact assessments. The report defines approaches to using an extended cost–benefit framework and grounding values within a ‘willingness to pay’ conception of economic welfare analysis

ACIAR’s activities in Africa: a review

Since 1982 ACIAR has provided more than $101.8 million (in 2012 Australian dollars) to fund over 80 projects that focused either entirely or partly on African agricultural productivity. Within Africa, the area of focus has primarily been southern and eastern Africa. This desktop study undertook a review of a subset of ACIAR’s investment in Africa to develop some key findings and some lessons for the future, including:

  • Adoption of project outputs was higher when final users were engaged in the research or when there was a clear dissemination strategy, including research into the most effective way of delivering outputs to final users.
  • Barriers to adoption include:
  • a lack of final outputs that could be adopted
  • insufficient consideration of socioeconomic factors in the development of solutions and disseminating them to final users
  • a lack of clear understanding of partner capacity.

Adoption Study for projects completed in 2007–08

The adoption study report, which summarises the adoption level of outputs from nine projects completed in 2007–08 examined projects in nine individual partner countries. Three of the projects were on livestock health and related projects, with one horticulture project, four crop-related projects and one soil project. Relatively high levels of adoption appear to have been driven by strong economic incentives, such as improved incomes, higher yields and greater crop choice. Where levels of adoption were low, factors such as difficulty in accessing the target audience, high staff turnover resulting in limited adoption upon project completion, and cultural barriers prolonging the time to adoption were identified.

Impact pathway analysis of ACIAR’s investment in rodent control in Vietnam, Lao PDR and Cambodia

Since 1995, ACIAR has funded a series of rodent control projects in south-east Asia. This study was carried out to assess ACIAR’s investment in rodent control through a qualitative and, where possible, quantitative, impact pathway analysis. It involved assessments of the projects undertaken in Vietnam, Lao PDR and Cambodia, and the uptake, where applicable, of the results of the project. The analysis revealed that the length of exposure to ecologically based rodent management (EBRM) practices has a positive effect on uptake and, hence, impact. Of the three countries, Vietnam had the largest number of projects (six) and the longest exposure (1995–2010) to rodent control and management activities. Laos had two projects (1999–2006), while experience with a rodent control project. These differences largely account for the varying levels of outputs, outcomes and impacts in each of the three countries.

Vietnam and Laos increased their knowledge of rodent ecology and taxonomy and gained understanding of methods for setting up and using the community trap–barrier system (CTBS). Both developed policy recommendations on the reduction of rodenticide use, and also produced materials such as training modules, information booklets and manuals about rodent control. In Vietnam, EBRM was developed through community action or integrated rodent management at the village level. This community action may or may not use the CTBS. In Laos and Cambodia, the CTBS was demonstrated as the main focus of EBRM intervention.

The outputs of these projects have increased the awareness of the importance of rodent control among farmers, extension officers and other workers—not only for agricultural production, but also for food security and poverty alleviation. This has led to organisations like the non-government organisation (NGO) World Vision and the German development agency Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) incorporating rodent control and management into their development programs in Vietnam and Laos.

Technical Report

The technical report collates three studies of the food security problem in Australia’s own region—specifically East Timor, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Pacific island countries and territories (PICTs). Three broad themes emerge from the material provided in these studies:

  • Food security issues can emerge in many different ways—sometimes related to the quantity of food, sometimes to dietary diversity, sometimes seasonal and, in the case of fishing, sometimes as a future prospect because of unsustainable activities today.
  • Food insecurity arises from an interacting mix of agronomic, environmental, cultural and institutional factors. Addressing causes in any one dimension requires taking careful account of the interactions in other dimensions.
  • Some of the dimensions of food insecurity are amenable to careful R&D and extension. New varieties, better production techniques and dissemination of best practice all have the potential to increase food security. But all of these developments must be planned and coordinated between different arms of government, and implemented within the context of existing cultural and institutional constraints.