Regional Program Summary

The South and West Asia region comprises a set of Indian Ocean Rim countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, that are strategically important for Australia. The steady economic growth in the region, especially in India, will increase opportunities for trade and investment. These countries and Australia share similar challenges to agricultural productivity growth, including drought and water management—and many similar food grain and livestock production constraints. Therefore, Australian expertise is highly regarded in the region. Given the large capacity of the Indian agricultural research system, there would be significant benefits from long-term Australia–India science partnerships to deliver technologies for the future farmers of Australia.

Compared with other regions in the world, the South and West Asia region has the greatest absolute number of poor, the highest regional Global Hunger Index and a very low Human Development Index. Half the population of some 1.5 billion is agricultural. Average gross national income per capita is only just over US$1,000 and more than 70% of the population live on less than $2/day.

The land and water resources are under increasing pressure from growing population and expanding disposable income. If local food supply fails to keep up with the increasing demand of the one-fifth of global population that live in this region, the consequences for global food grain markets could be disastrous. However, there are opportunities to reduce the gaps between current and potential productivities through technical, market-chain and policy research. In this connection ACIAR has a long and strong track record on R&D in the region, including improved wheat and pulse varieties, increased cropping systems productivity, conservation agriculture, improved water and salinity management, sheep husbandry, horticulture, markets, value chains and policy, and thus seven ACIAR research programs are engaged in the region.

There are common farming systems and research problems across many of the countries of the region. Three notable farming systems that are found in several countries include the hill crop–livestock–forestry farming systems from Afghanistan to Bangladesh, the rice–wheat farming system from Pakistan to Bangladesh (one of the major food bowls of the world), and the coastal farming and fishing systems in eastern India and Bangladesh. Therefore, ACIAR research partnerships have recently taken on a stronger regional character.

The Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (SDIP) is coordinated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and jointly funded by ACIAR. The SDIP targets a sub-region of South Asia defined by three major Himalayan river basins—the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra—covering north-east Pakistan, northern India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. The SDIP targets sectors where Australia has a comparative advantage including:
1. Water resource management—improving trans-boundary water resource management and governance, particularly through the transfer of Australia’s best practice technology and science, and strengthening policy and civil society dialogue.
2. Agricultural productivity—increasing the region’s agricultural productivity and farm incomes through the adoption of more efficient and sustainable agricultural practices, drawing on Australian expertise in this sector.
3. Energy access and trade—targeting access to modern energy services, especially for poor rural households and the development of increased cross border energy trade in South Asia.

The SDIP operates through a portfolio approach where partners are given ‘earmarked’ core funding to progress an overarching goal and objectives. Partnerships are established following a comprehensive institutional assessment that identifies whether each partners’ institutional capacity, mandate, purpose and history of strong performance positions them to support and progress the goal and objectives of the SDIP. There are six current partners to the SDIP:
1. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR): Improving the livelihoods and resilience of smallholder farmers to climate variability by facilitating the adoption of more productive, profitable, and lower-risk farming systems in the Eastern Gangetic Plains.
2. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO): Supporting the uptake and implementation of Australia’s national hydrological water modelling tool SOURCE to improve water resource management in the Ganges, Indus and Brahmaputra river basins.
3. Consumer Unity and Trust Society International (CUTS): Providing access to civil society organisations and communication/media channels that can support advocacy from the ‘grassroots’ level regarding water, food and energy security in South Asia.
4. International Centre of Excellence for Water Resource Management (ICE WaRM): Developing capacity and build networks of water resource management professionals across South Asia, including through scholarships and fellowships, study tours and short courses.
5. International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD): Providing knowledge and evidence to influence policy and practices to meet the challenges of water resource management in South Asia, with a particular focus on the Koshi Basin through the SDIP.
6. World Bank—South Asia Water Initiative Phase II (SAWI): Building knowledge and institutions and promote information-based dialogue within countries and across river basins, with a particular focus on the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra. SAWI was developed by the World Bank, and the UK, Norwegian and Australian governments.


View the individual country pages for more details.

More information is available in the latest ACIAR Annual Operational Plan