APEC 2017 Food Security Week

A High-Level Policy Dialogue on Enhancing Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture in Response to Climate Change was held last week in Can Tho (in the Mekong River Delta region of Vietnam) as part of the APEC 2017 Food Security Week.

The APEC economies form one of the leading food export regions in the world, and have fields with some of the highest agricultural production in the world. The region also hosts a rapidly growing population on an incredibly expansive geographic area.

This year’s focus – the links between agriculture and climate change – was pointed out by the Vietnamese Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Tran Hong Ha, who said:

climate change is one of the greatest challenges to mankind in the 21st century, which has had serious impacts on agricultural production and the livelihood of the global population, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region”.

The Minister continued:

“The situation will be exacerbated unless we have more effective and robust response measures backed up by a comprehensive cooperation with the international community in general and the APEC region in particular”.

The event focused on four key areas:

  1. Food security for sustainable agricultural development;
  2. Smart agriculture in climate change adaptation;
  3. Post-harvest management; and,
  4. Hi-tech application.

As an outcome of the week, the Cần Thơ Statement on Enhancing Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture in Response to Climate Change  was adopted, which identifies:

“Food security is and will remain a critical issue for the international community in general and the APEC region in particular”.

The week showed the importance of enhancing cooperation in research and development, particularly through food and nutrition security, and reducing food losses. Across the APEC economies there are significant differences in production capabilities, human resources and levels of technological innovation. Improving cooperation would result in fostering the unique strengths and comparative advantages of each economy. Deputy PM Dung from Vietnam proposed facilitation of an equal consumption market through multilateral trade, given the importance of trade activities to promote sustainable agriculture for food and nutrition security.

Deputy PM Dung said:

“How to ensure food security and sustainable agriculture in response to climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing not only Vietnam but Asia-Pacific and the world at large”.

The week also promoted ideas of sharing key information on natural resource management, particularly cross-border water resource management, and strategies to boost rural-urban development. This involves engaging both the public and private sector to invest in regional infrastructure, telecommunications, service delivery and transport. Public-private partnership models (PPP) are set to enhance investment in sustainable agricultural investment across the region.

The outcomes of the week involved the adoption of three key documents which are set to continue efforts to enhance food security in the region. These are:

  • Food Security and Climate Change Multi-Year Action Plan 2018-20 (MYAP) – which aims at developing approaches which recognize the interrelations and sensitivities between food security and climate change.
  • Action Plan on Rural-Urban Development to strengthen Food Security and Quality Growth (AP) – which addresses food security through a rural-urban development approach centered on inclusive economic development, sustainable natural resource management, social aspects and administrative efficiency.
  • Cần Thơ Statement on Enhancing Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture in Response to Climate Change – which recognizes the broader linkages between food security and further development challenges, particularly through trade. The statement emphasizes the importance of trade for global food security, and highlights the role of APEC economies in the global agricultural value chain. The statement addresses food security through sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, climate change adaptation, agricultural trade and investment, development of regional markets, food loss and waste management, sustainable resource management and rural development.

The meeting also had particular importance for Australia and Vietnam. The Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), signed an agreement for continued long term cooperation in agricultural research. The ten-year framework fosters continued collaboration to address core barriers to agricultural development: food safety, climate change, improving soil fertility and crop efficiency, improving market engagement, improving the value from forests, and aquaculture. ACIAR programs across APEC countries, particularly in the Mekong River Delta demonstrate the value of research and information exchanges in promoting application of modern science and technology to increase agricultural productivity, which boosts food/nutrition security, farmers’ incomes and economic growth.

It’s great to see food security in the spotlight, particularly at the economic and ministerial levels. The first meeting of APEC economies specifically targeting food security was in 2010 in Niigata, Japan, where the first comprehensive regional food security plan was developed (Niigata Declaration on APEC Food Security). Meetings to update regional food security plans have since been held biannually – the 2012 meeting in Kazan Russia (Kazan Declaration), the 2014 meeting in Beijing China (Beijing Declaration), and the 2016 meeting in Piura Peru (Piura Declaration). In 2016, it was decided that the growing demands for food in the region amidst supply constraints (from climate change to market access) certainly require annual meetings. That brought us to the 2017 meeting in Can Tho.

Agriculture has a role to play in realising nearly every one of the sustainable development goals. This spans from improving nutrition and health, reducing poverty, creating employment and generating income, rural development, eradicating poverty, and effective resource management for climate change. Realising the interlinkages between agriculture and global development in APEC economies and beyond is vital for targeting better programs and resources towards agricultural development.

The next APEC Food Security Week will focus on ICT responses to climate change, women in agriculture and fisheries, and sustainable fisheries management and development. The meeting will be held in August 2018 in Papua New Guinea.








The Ageing Farmer: a Growing Opportunity for Sharing Experience and Knowledge.

It is rare these days to have people stay in the same jobs for longer than four years. People desire fresh working conditions, changes to the status quo or complete shifts in career as they move through life. Changes such as these keep us on our toes and eager to face new challenges at the workplace. However in the field of farming, the average age of the farmer is pushing 60 years, with a strong correlation with time spent in the ‘same’ job of farming. Many reports from the Productivity Commission and the ABS highlight the ageing workforce and the impact it could potentially have on productivity. In fact it is continually touted as an increasing threat to the industry.

ABS farm age.jpg
Farmer age and gender distribution (source)

Yet Australian farmers have faced an incredible diversity of climatic conditions and challenges. From droughts and flooding rains to salinity, acidity, disease outbreaks and new pests. Even more recent challenges such as herbicide resistance are being faced and overcome by farmers around Australia. The evidence of the resilience in face of adversity becomes evident in the total farm productivity (TFP) once teased out from climatic variability (below).

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 10.45.19 PM
Separating farm productivity from climate variability

While changing jobs frequently has benefits, there are drawbacks regarding the depth and breadth of experience earned. It is certainly important to maintain that eagerness that comes with new challenges found at each new workplace, but concurrently, it is critical to gain experience in certain key areas.

So how does this link in to ageing farmers? Well it goes back to the lengthy period of time the average farmer has spent in the industry. From the outside, a 60 year old grain farmer with 40 years or 40 seasons under their belt could be taken for having done the same thing 40 times over. Yet in the last 40 years of agriculture we have seen the rise of incredible new data management, mapping, variable input and gene technology. Let along the advancements in fertiliser formulations, application techniques, pesticide specificity and micro nutrient discovery and real world application. In fact the south east corner of the WA Wheatbelt in Esperance, was largely inaccessible for grain farming prior to the 1970s because of the poor understanding of micronutrients (think molybdenum, manganese, calcium etc.), and their importance in plant health. Moreover, every year is unpredictable and vastly different from the previous season. For example the bumper WA crop last year stymied by heavy frost. And now in 2017 one of the worst rainfalls in recent history. While farmers are frequently considered conservative, a truly static business would fail in such changing conditions, ignorant of advances in technology.

This resilience and adaptability demonstrated by farmers, provides an incredible wealth of experience in managing the response to various stressors and external business disruptors. The jack-of-all trades requirement of the current farmer (from grain marketing to soil science and mechanics) generates an unparalleled comparative knowledge between fields of study that is only possible following 40 seasons of adaptation, failure and success. This presents an opportunity for knowledge sharing on an unparalleled scale across generations for the next set of keen and interested farmers.

And this is where the exciting challenge really lies. It is not in the ageing farming population, but rather in making the knowledge and knowledge transfer accessible to the budding farming enthusiasts. Programs such as Cultivate Farms is part of the solution enabling smooth transition and sharing of experience, and removing the current barriers to farm adoption (e.g. upfront capital).

The ageing farming population should not be seen as looming dark cloud on the future of Australian farming, but one bringing the rains of experience, knowledge and adaptation grown in season upon season of innovation and resilience.

Going Bananas! The Golden Banana Improving Vitamin A Intake

Following in the footsteps of the award-winning and highly acclaimed Golden Rice, researchers from the Queensland University of Technology have developed a ‘golden banana’.

Whilst most us think of a banana as a sweet treat or healthy snack, bananas in East Africa are a staple food and an ingrained part of their culture. They are so much a staple food that the word in Uganda for food itself – ‘matoke’ – means banana!

In Uganda, where bananas are the principal staple food, consumption levels average between 0.5kg to 1kg per person per day. The variety of banana is unlike the Cavendish banana we commonly eat in Australia. The most common East African variety is the East African highland banana, which are high in starch, and prepared in a similar way to how we prepare potatoes (chopped and steamed).

However, this variety of banana is also low in micronutrients. Nutrient deficiency is a large problem in many East African nations. Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness and impairs the immune system. Around 600,000 children die in East Africa annually due to Vitamin A deficiency, and 300,000 go blind.

Scientists from the Queensland University of Technology identified that there are varieties of banana which naturally contain high levels of pro-vitamin A and iron, which are grown in many parts of the world including Northern Queensland. The team were able to identify the banana gene from these varieties, and develop cells from these genes.  These genes have been taken to Uganda, and put into local banana varieties.

The lead researcher, Professor Dale, describes the project:

“What we’ve done is take a gene from a banana that originated in Papua New Guinea and is naturally very high in pro-vitamin A but has small bunches, and inserted it into a Cavendish banana”.

This means that, like Golden Rice, the nutrient enhanced variety has a golden-orange flesh, unlike the pale yellow of the Cavendish variety.

Transferring traits across varieties is extremely difficult through conventional breeding methods as most cultivated banana varieties are nearly sterile. The pro-vitamin A variety has been developed with modern biotechnology, and genetic modification of tissue cultures.

The team from QUT, in collaboration with the Uganda National Agricultural Research Organisation, has been working on the biofortified banana project for 12 years.

Many of the Ugandan researchers working on the project completed their PhD in Australia, and are now working on the project home in Uganda.

Professor Dale points out that:

 “One important aspect is that the experimentation done in Uganda is done by Ugandans, not by us… we transfer the technology”.

Find out more in the video: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-07/designer-bananas-to-save-thousands-of-lives/8686626

The biofortified bananais expected to be common amongst farmers in Uganda by 2021. This project shows the enormous opportunities that modern biotechnology can have on hundreds of millions of people globally.

The $10 million project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

How to Make your Farming Dream a Reality

Cultivate Farms is a matchmaking service between retiring farmers and young people keen to get onto land but lacking the huge capital. AgriEducate and Cultivate Farms have teamed up to bring you a 50% discount on their ‘Aspiring Farmer’ package. Simply email us to claim the code and get one step closer to owning your own farm! In this article, Sam Marwood, co-founder of cultivate farms, explains some of the many ways to resurrect your farm ownership dream!

If you’re anything like thousands of people across Australia you probably have squashed farm ownership dreams.

Look at the photos we have here of Tim and Tegan Hicks and their family, it’s so beautiful it makes you sick. But right now if things stay the way they are this photo of a happy family on their own farm will never be a reality. They (and thousands like them) don’t have the cash. They have the passion, vision, drive and skills, they just don’t have $5 million.

What we’ve realised is that there are actually many ways you can resurrect your farm ownership dreams and we have listed these below.

1. Hope

The first step on the pathway is to actually realise that you could own your farm. Without this hope you won’t do the thinking or put in the effort needed to make it a reality.

We’re telling you now that you can own your farm; it just might not be that you own 100% of the farm yourself.

You could have a retiring farmer sponsor you onto their farm and setup a vendor finance deal with you – this is what happened all the time in the old days and we need to bring it back.

You could own the farm with an investor or two. There are plenty of people buying farms, but they need your expertise and passion to make it profitable. Why not partner with them?

There are organisations out there who can help you with all of this as well which we will reveal below.

2. Farm-Ready

Now that you are pumped to have your farm dreams back you need to ensure you are farm-ready. You’ll most likely be farming with other people so you need to impress them with a myriad of skills and passion.

Write down your farm dream, where is it, what are you farming, what methods and how will you drag yourself out of bed at 4am? This step clarifies what you’re fighting for.

Make a note also of why you are passionate about owning your farm. What is it inside you that is burning? Describe it and speak it out whenever you meet with anyone. Having a burning passion you can describe to others is powerful and you never know what opportunities might come out of it.

What skills do you have and what skills do you need? Undertake an audit and if you don’t have the skills to match your dream, start learning. Jump online and find the courses available for that topic. Hassle local farmers and ask them to be your mentor. Take a job as a farm manager and work hard to build your skills and reputation.

At the same time, become the real-estate royalty of your district. You should know when farmers are looking to leave the land before they do.

Be like an entrepreneur who is constantly hustling. Find as many different angles as you can to get yourself on your farm and pitch your vision and plan to anyone who will listen.

3. Farm ownership

Now that you are farm-ready and everyone knows it, we can get you on your farm.

This doesn’t have to happen 10-20 years down the track though. If you are hustling, then in a few years you could find a retiring farmer who would back you onto their farm, or an investor who wants you because of your passion and tenacity.

The ball is now clearly in your court. Get out there and make your farming dream a reality.


Putting the Farm back in Pharmacy

Food production is one thing, but nutrient production is an entirely different field, and in this case the more fields the more diverse the crop. With all the talk about food security, our discussions need to also pay close attention to nutrition. Herrero calls for a move away from the kilocalorie perspective of measuring food security, to a broader approach which recognise the interconnectedness of agriculture and health. Nutrition sensitive agricultural development is the next step in ensuring food security (as nutrition security), highlighting an increasing interconnectedness between agriculture, health and the environment. This week we take a look at the fine line between agricultural production and health, as outlined in the Crawford Fund Conference last week. Head over here to find more articles inspired by the conference.

A farm is a farm, right?

Well, no. An important distinction needs to be made between food as something which is consumed, and food as a commodity. Before we can even begin understanding food security, it’s important we recognise where food is produced, and where it is consumed. Perhaps this may also help explain why the majority of the world’s malnourished are smallholder farmers.

Farms in many developed nations produce ‘food’ – a commodity which can be exchanged at markets for income, which can then be exchanged for other food products, which then forms a person’s diet. But, subsistence farmers have an extra task at hand – they must also produce the full range of essential nutrients to support their communities’ and families’ health. Farms in many parts of the world, are also the local preventative health pharmacy.

Dr Lindiwe Sibanda (Vice President for Country Support, Policy, and Delivery, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and Member, Policy Advisory Council, ACIAR) describes the “rainbow colours of maize, sweet sorghum, large mango trees, lemon trees, guavas” of her grandmothers’ farm that she experienced growing up, which nourished her family with a great spectrum of nutrients (read our summary article here). But upon returning to her grandmother’s farm, after time studying overseas, the full spectrum of fruits, vegetables and grains had been replaced by a whole field of monoculture maize. In the traditional view of development agriculture, there was no time for low-value crops, even if they were an essential part of the communities’ diet. The agenda of food security had shifted to modernisation and intensification, instead of acknowledging the importance of diversification.

This understanding of food security is reminiscent of the original idea of food security as conceptualised in the 1970s as food supply on the production side. But, fast-forward to today’s world, we must redefine our understanding of food security to also include food demand, with a more wholesome approach from the consumption side. Agriculture has an important role beyond just filling the stomachs of the world’s population, but nourishing the population for health, as food or lack of a variety of food is clearly the cause of many health issues.

Whilst it may be true that we need to increase food production by 70% to meet global food demands by 2050, we need to be careful that increases come in the form of both quantity and quality. In responding to issues of food security, policy makers must ensure a diverse toolkit is used to address the interlinkages of agriculture to health and the environment. The first step to this is forming knowledge on where nutrients are produced globally.

Mario Herrero (Chief Research Scientist and Office of the Chief Executive Science Leader in Agriculture and Food in CSIRO) points out that:

 “A sustainable food system that meets the needs of a growing population means we must focus on quality as well as quantity, and it is vital that we protect and support small and medium farms and more diverse agriculture so as to ensure sustainable and nutritional food production.”

The study led by Herrero examined 41 major crops, seven livestock products, and 14 fish groups to map the production of key nutrients globally, which is then linked this to farm size. The key nutrients studied including calcium, folate, iron, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and zinc.

Herrero found that small and medium farms produce between 50-75% of the world’s food
Herrero identified that a pattern similar to global food production emerges for global nutrient production.

The study found that small and medium farms not only produced most of the world’s food, but also provide most of the human population’s dietary nutrition. Farms that are smaller than 50 hectares produce over half of the global food supply, whilst farms less than 20 hectares in size produce more than 80% of essential nutrients in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the East Asia Pacific, and China.  So, to enhance nutrition diversity for health, agricultural diversity must also be improved.

“In our efforts to increase yields, we cannot ignore diversity and sources of key essential nutrients as part of a sustainable food system, and this means we must protect and support smaller farming enterprises,”

said Dr Herrero.


Nutritional diversity

There are well established links between agricultural diversity and dietary diversity. Diversity in national food supplies has been decreasing globally since 1960, with major cereals and oil crops increasing their share (source). This is partly because specialising on one product can be more economically efficient and increase overall production. However, in increasing overall food production, intensification must be met with diversification to ensure both food security and nutrition security.

The study by Herrero found that two key factors for global nutrient production are farms size and nutritional functional diversity. Herrero found that regions with smaller farm size have greater nutritionally diverse output.


Global map of field size

The study also found that small and medium farms have greater agricultural diversity, producing 53-81% of global micronutrients, and 57% of protein, in more diverse agricultural landscapes.

“Small and medium farms produce more than half of the food globally, and are particularly important in low income countries, where they produce the vast majority of food and nutrients,” says Herrero.

Large farms, as the dominant form in regions such as Australia, have significantly less diversity but their sheer scale affords a tradable surplus of food and nutrients in well established markets. These farms produce food as a commodity, and not typically for subsistence. In these settings, food is sold, and nutrition is bought.


Linking landscape diversity to nutrient production and farm size

“We now have a broad view of which micronutrients are produced where, and what sized farms are producing them,” said West.

The mapping of both global food and nutrient production is a key innovation to address global food security challenges. Estimates predict that to feed the growing population by 2050, a 70% increase in food availability will be required. But this focus on quantity alone will not be sufficient to provide quality dietary intake to a healthy population.

“We can use this information to assess food and nutrition security… as well as to develop and target incentives for supporting farmers and linking farming to improving human health.” Says West. 

But now we know the importance of nutritionally sensitive agricultural development, what’s the way forward? Well, we asked Dr Lindiwe Sibanda at the Crawford Fund 2017 Conference.

The first thing Lindiwe recommended is that we all need to admit what we know, and what we don’t know, and work together using our strengths to address the problems. Lindiwe speaks of the agricultural development which occurred in her home country of Zimbabwe, stating:

“I confess, we did not know that not one food can meet the nutritional requirements of your body”

Lindiwe speaks of the quest to modernise agriculture in many developing countries which spent more energy on modernisation but effectively removed nutrients.

One problem is that nutrition falls in a crevice between agriculture and health. There is no ministry for nutrition in national governments, in the same way that there are ministries for agriculture and for health. But as Lindiwe suggests, “it’s these two communities coming together” and “the two languages have to meet somewhere”.

We can no longer separate agriculture and health.  Food security is about far more than just producing more food, the role of smallholder farmers is far from small, and the challenges are about both quantity and quality.

 “Food is our medicine” says Lindiwe. “My grandmothers farm was her pharmacy”.

Using Technology for Agricultural Education

Using technology as both a tool and subject for agricultural education should enable the industry to capture the next generation of industry change makers. In this article we look at the use of virtual reality by Stuart Barber at the University of Melbourne to improve access to animal handling experience. Salah Sukkarieh, Director of the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, recently presented at the Crawford Fund Conference and gave examples of the use of agricultural robotics for high school lessons on programming.

Technology for Agricultural Education

One of the greatest conveniences that technology has afforded us has been the ability to reduce distance down to a series of electrical pulses beamed to a satellite or tower and back for a casual chat or video call. Contacting a family member, friend or colleague thousands of miles away no longer represents a ping (lag time) of many days to weeks as it was for a simple letter. We are now so accustomed to rapid communication, that satellite feeds on live crosses with even a few seconds delay seem awkward, or online games with just milliseconds of lag become unplayable and frustrating. Even more impressive than video calling your dog and watching it react confused to your calling its name, is the ability to remotely control trains and trucks in iron ore mines in remote Western Australia. These 400 tonne behemoth trucks and the many thousand tonne trains are controlled from facilities located in Perth. Such has been the incredible impact of modern communications technology.

As mentioned in the previous article on attracting youth into agriculture, one barrier to an understanding and interest in agriculture is its distance to the highly urbanised centres in Australia. You may recall that Australia sits 18th in the world as one of the most highly urbanised countries with nearly 90% of the population living in cities. Studies have shown (unsurprisingly) that students in inner city areas are far less likely to take up agricultural careers purely because they were never exposed to the opportunities presented in the industry.

Technology and Education

Connecting those two ideas presents a seemingly simple yet novel solution: capitalising on communications advancements to help break down those barriers of distance (as attempted by this here organisation AgriEducate). The possibilities stretch as far as our creativity will allow. Imagine extending the classic bean sprouts grown in primary school to remotely controlling robots in a field right in front of you to practice coding skills. Or how about using virtual reality to really put yourself into the shoes of a farmer, agronomist, animal handler, shearer or any of the professions within the industry. Even a simple 360-degree photo is now readily achievable with relatively cheap and high quality consumer grade products. Well both of these concepts are currently in use by Salah and Stuart.

Coding with Agricultural Robotics

At the recent Crawford Fund Conference in Canberra, Salah Sukkarieh spoke about the role and the current progress the ACFR was having with agricultural robotics in development agriculture. The Digital Farmhand, the new robot developed for small hold farmers, is a low cost row crop robot aimed towards helping small scale farmers in Australia & overseas to perform crop analytics and automation of simple farming tasks.

As part of the brief, the group asked themselves:

How do we go into rural schools and teach robotics and coding, put it into practice and in turn develop STEM knowledge?

The motivation for rural education focusing on robotics and coding stemmed from an awareness about the current misconception of agriculture and breaking the ‘myth’ about studying agriculture to be a farmer. In fact, many talented engineering and mechatronics students are unaware of the possibilities for robotics, automation and AI in agriculture.

With this in mind, the ACFR team took their two wheeled robot into schools and used programs such as Scratch and others to enable students to direct the robot around the field. The program benefits the students through improved understanding of key coding and robotics concepts while improving the awareness about opportunities in agriculture.

Virtual Reality in Tertiary Education

The possibilities don’t just end there. One practical example of the technology employed for educational purposes is at the University of Melbourne Veterinary School by Senior Lecturer Stuart Barber. For the past few years, Stuart and the team have been developing a wide ranging selection of 360-degree photos and video of various animal production systems. These photos enable students to put themselves into the shoes of a sheep drafter, on farm large animal veterinarian and dairy farmer, to name a few, across different production areas. The team now has 11 different sites across tropical, temperate, and Mediterranean climates in Australia and New Zealand. They act as tools for Stuart to illustrate correct handling and positioning techniques while providing those without a connection to rural areas, the insight into a range of on-farm situations throughout different seasons of the year.

The term ‘common sense’ is often mentioned as something hopefully inherent to everyone irrespective of upbringing and lifestyle. Yet what is common sense to someone from an agricultural background might be incredibly foreign to others who have grown up in the city their whole life and vice versa. The use of this immersive technology by Stuart enables him to strip back the frequently assumed knowledge of rural common sense and prevent the possible misunderstanding and confusion. Essentially making the whole process more attractive and welcoming to all, regardless of upbringing.

Going further than just pretty (but incredibly useful) 360-degree pictures, Stuart and the team have captured temporal variations in pasture levels from season to season. Pasture management is critical in ensuring good animal health from a nutritious balanced diet. Yet pasture growth and maintenance is incredibly different both within and between each region around Australia. For example, the strongly Mediterranean climate in parts of WA result in a summer-autumn feed gap yet an abundance of feed during the winter months. For someone from the temperate regions of Victoria or NSW, such a cycle would seem incredibly bizarre and difficult to manage. Yet the time-based series of 360 and VR tours enables students to capture, first hand, that variability.

Stuart has used the technology with primary school aged children to let them explore the world of agriculture and animal production of their own volition and interest up to tertiary.


However, with all technology and systems there are constraints that could limit functionality. For example, while 360-degree photos just require image stitching and fewer images captured, an immersive VR experience requires video footage captured, processed and stitched in every direction. One piece of new equipment recently used by Stuart uses 14 GoPros mounted on a 360 Rize frame capturing 8k resolution (8 times higher than 1080p HD). At a recent shoot, the setup produced almost 100Gb of data in a single hour.

Moreover, if we were to ever live stream a VR feed (entirely possible and relatively easy these days), it would necessitate a very high quality and reliable mobile or Wi-Fi internet connection. The current data drought facing many farmers and primary producers around Australia would limit this type of education option as an opportunity, and is already limiting improved production and data analysis techniques (read more on the #datadrought here).


While there may be some constraints to data collection, processing and dissemination to interested students and teachers, the principle and educational precedent remains. This type of technology in schools, shops (imagine VR banana production in your local supermarket), universities and even the workplace would help capture a whole raft of people who have never been exposed to agriculture. The technology can not only break down distance barriers, but also the social and life style barriers that develop from where we grow up, live and work and prohibit involvement in an exciting and ever changing industry.

Top 10 Crawford Fund Conference Quotes

At the end of the Crawford Fund 2017 Conference (check out #cfconf2017 on Twitter if you haven’t already), we have so much to write on we hardly know where to start! Whilst we sift through our pages and pages of notes, we’ve made a summary of what we think are the best quotes from the conference! Do you agree? Let us know if your favourites made the cut!

Stay tuned for much more to come!


Dr André Laperrière

“big data is no longer for the gods on top of the mountain, but for everyone”


The Hon Barnaby Joyce MP

People in agriculture can say: “I have dedicated myself to feeding and clothing people… so people aren’t going hungry”


Steve Mathews

“data is only as important as what you can do with it”


Dr Ken Street

“science doesn’t have to be really complicated to solve a real problem, it can be quite simple”


Dr David Bergvinson

“agriculture touches on all 17 of the SDGs in one shape or form”



Dr Lindiwe Sibanda’


“we think we are experts, but the ex means we know nothing”


The Hon John Anderson AO

 “many innovations in agricultural development happen when excellent science combines with good policy”


Dr Andy Jarvis

“we need to get more systematic about valuing data as a public good, as something which will drive innovation forwards”


Dr Lindiwe Sibanda’

“Food is our medicine… My grandmothers farm was her pharmacy”


Stuart Higgins

“if you want to solve a lot of the world’s issues, start working with a farmer”




Food is Medicine

Coming direct from the Crawford Fund Conference, we recap Dr Lindiwe Sibanda’s inspiring John Crawford Memorial address about the importance of food quality and the interaction between agriculture, environment and health.

Lindiwe describes the “rainbow colours of maize, sweet sorghum, large mango trees, lemon trees, guavas” that shape her memory of agriculture growing up. Her Grandmother’s farm was a paradise where agriculture was not just the means of income, but a livelihood that contributed far more to her family. It was the meals that were consumed, the diversity of diets, the livelihood and the daily experience of participating in the growing of food. As Lindiwe says “that was the agriculture I experienced in Zimbabwe at the time”.

But now, agriculture in many developing regions has taken a change of course. The prior emphasis on quality and diversity of production has been sacrificed for quantity and intensification. This has not only changed farming in many regions, but diets, livelihoods and also the meaning of food security.

“The reverse is true now … we have to buy food” says Lindiwe as she describes the changed agricultural landscape that saw diverse crops replaced with a monoculture of crops, like maize, that would bring an income. But this “pushing up the development ladder” also saw yields halved, and diets became simple staple crops only – “most of the time its maize, maize, maize”, nothing like the enormous variation of produce Lindiwe recalls from her Grandmother’s farm.

A cruel irony is that the undernourished (where children consume enough calories, but not enough nutrients) have a higher risk of developing obesity and diabetes later in life. Yet the growing obesity epidemic in Africa, where the number of overweight and obese children has more than doubled from 5 million to 10.6 million in just 25 years, is often seen as evidence that development is working. As Lindiwe suggests, this trend needs to be reversed.

This calls into question what we mean by food security. Is food security having the quantity of food to feed a population, or is it also the quality of food to nourish people for a fit, healthy and active lifestyle?

The idea of food security originated in the 1970s. Attention at this time was on food supply. Measures concerned ensuring food availability at all times, and being able to expand and offset fluctuations in markets and supply. Yet, Lindiwe suggests that:

“…we need to change the way we define food security”.

Fast-forward to today, and over 200 definitions of food security exist. The commonly accepted definition is where all people at all times have sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets dietary needs of an active and healthy lifestyle. This definition encapsulates broader concepts of hidden hunger – giving weight to quality of food as well as simply quantity. Quality food involves access to a diverse range of foods in a diet, and leads to the idea of nutrition sensitive agriculture.

“Food is our medicine” says Lindiwe. “My grandmothers farm was her pharmacy”.

We are now in the decade for nutrition – the era of 2016-2025 which sees the intersection of health and agriculture. There is no longer room for agriculture that doesn’t deliver on nutrition. The two sectors are inextricably bound, and must continue to be shaped in partnership to produce a prosperous and fulfilling agricultural sector into the future.

A broader food systems approach enables us to see the broader perspective of how food security is reflected in terms of farmers, policy-makers and consumers. Furthermore, Lindiwe encourages that food must be personally and culturally acceptable. This is another dimension to food security that expands earlier narrow definition as was initially accepted.

So with a renewed definition of food security, and challenges to the intensification models that shaped the development agenda, we are left asking – what is the way forward?

Lindiwe suggests that “the combination of new technology and good policy” is essential for feeding the world.

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We cannot separate agriculture, health and the environment. They operate as an intrinsic co-existent network, and we now need evidence-based policies which recognise this co-dependence and mutual beneficiaries. Yet we so often separate the three and leave the final social step of implementing research to the wayside. Lindiwe realised this deficiency during her PhD aiming to improve the productivity of indigenous goats, commenting that “agriculture must have the culture of giving dignity to the people it feeds” and focus on where the productivity benefits will fall.

This calls Lindiwe to conclude that the new narrative for ending hunger is in the new partnerships of learning together for a healthy diet and a healthy planet. Poverty is “the lifelong sentence caused by bad agriculture”. The solution to this is a combination of both the quantity of food about which Lindiwe learnt at university, and also the quality of food that she knew from her Grandmother’s farm.

The AgriEducate team will be reporting in live from the CrawFord Fund Conference and providing more detailed analysis on keynote speakers in the weeks to come. So fire in questions and stay tuned!


How all generations can make farming their career of choice

Cultivate Farms – a matchmaking service between retiring farmers and young people keen to get onto land but lacking the huge capital. AgriEducate and Cultivate Farms have teamed up to bring you a 50% discount on their ‘Aspiring Farmer’ package. Simply email us to claim the code and get one step closer to owning your own farm!

Farming sits towards the bottom of the careers list for a lot of young Victorians. This doesn’t mean that young people don’t want to be farmers; it’s just too expensive. Why would anyone attempt a dream career that is nearly impossible to realise?

One solution is to aide the transition of land, across generations, allowing farming to become a career choice for young Australians once again. And if the cards are played right, it’s also possible for retiring farmers to continue to earn from their years of hard work, while supporting young farmers and bolstering their local community.

We know aspiring farmers you are up against it. Unless you inherit a farm or are wealthy, you won’t have much of a chance of owning a farm.

One solution however is to treat your farm dream like it’s a start-up.

Be a farm entrepreneur.

Write your plan down, tell everyone your farm dreams, hustle, hassle retiring farmers you know who are looking to step back and seek investors.

There are farmers of retiring age out there waiting for you to ask them; will you sell me half your farm?

There are also plenty of people out there seeking opportunities to invest in farming. The current options for retiring farmers looking to step back are binary (sell it all or stay till you die) and often don’t provide positive outcomes for the community.

  • Sell it: you get all the cash, but lose your connection with the soil you’ve spent your life cultivating.
  • Die on it: sounds romantic, but you’ll have completely worn yourself out and the farm won’t be operating at it’s full potential when you do go.

But imagine if there was an option that allowed you to get cash to retire, have an ongoing income, support a new family and ensure your community thrives. This is a possibility if you looked at those binary options a little differently

What if you sold half the farm to a new farming family busting to get farming? It frees up cash for you to retire and your farm gets a new lease on life. Remain the equity owner of the farm and arrange to stay on the farm for as long as you want. While there, offer your wealth of knowledge to the new family; become the chairperson rather than the CEO and help see the farm succeed.


The only thing left to do now is to make it easy for aspiring farmers to find retiring farmers; a type of match-making service. Where both parties have the space and time to ensure everyone wins and are satisfied with the outcome.

With hundreds of dating websites and new disruptive businesses changing how we buy and sell, matching aspiring and retiring farmers will be the normal way of transitioning land in the future and farming will be the boom industry everyone is talking it up to be.

Sam Marwood is the co-founder of Cultivate Farms, a farm match–making, social enterprise, aiming to rejuvenate regional communities by bringing young families back to regional areas. For further information go to www.cultivatefarms.com or email Sam at sam@cultivatefarms.com.



Growing the Seeds of Knowledge: The role for Australia in International Agricultural Development

Whilst the offers of vegemite may be a contested and not very delicious one for people across the world, the offers that Australia has towards global food security are certainly not. Australia is sharing its unique knowledge in agriculture with many developing countries, through programs run by organisations such as ACIAR and Crawford Fund. This week we look at the role of Australia in International Agricultural Development.

The problem itself is simple: by 2050 the world needs to be able to feed nine billion people with the same resources that we have available today.  The solution, however, is far more complex.

So where does Australia sit?

Australia has maintained itself as a prominent innovator, implementing a wide array of new technologies and genetic advancements to keep ahead of a changing climate. Recent modeling by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) demonstrates how Australian farmers have stayed ahead of a disruptive climate.

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Teasing out the impact of climate on Total Farm Productivity (TFP) (source)


This expertise in managing a harsh climate provides Australia with ample opportunity to share the experience with developing countries.

Australia has two main roles in global food security. Firstly, Australia has a role as the farm to many parts of the world, producing quality foods which are exported globally. But, as the saying goes – give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime – Australia has huge offerings in exporting the aforementioned agricultural knowledge harnessed down under.

“Australia’s most valuable asset to support food security in our region and the world is our knowledge base in agriculture” (Prasad & Langridge 2013)

When the contributions of Australia’s agricultural research are taken into consideration, Australia contributes to the diets of up to 400 million people worldwide. However, with the population expected to boom to nine billion by 2050, Australia (nor any country) can be the food bowl for Asia or the world. But the knowledge that Australia can supply can improve agricultural systems globally to ensure global food security.

Andrew Campbell, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) points out that the success of Australia’s agricultural system in a land of drought, floods, and harsh climates means that Australia is well placed to provide knowledge to poor countries to grow more food sustainably.

“If the world was your farm, Australia is not your best paddock, in fact there aren’t many worse” – Andrew Campbell.

Australia largely has ancient and infertile soils, a harsh and variable climate, and degraded food producing regions from acidification and salinity. But it is this ability for Australian agriculture to thrive in harsh conditions that positions Australia so well to provide technical knowledge and expertise to less developed regions to improve agricultural systems. This is the result of effective research, innovations in technology, and low government subsidies.

The strategies Australia has developed towards a successful agricultural sector can generate much knowledge for agricultural systems globally.

 “they work from the desert to the tropics, when you haven’t got enough water and when the soils are poor, so they’re actually very relevant to a lot of developing countries” – Andrew Campbell.

The Crawford Fund Task Force into the World Food Crisis had some important findings into the role of Australia for global food security. These involve public policy options, a focus on rural development, investments in science and technology, and Australian exports.

 “We can contribute to the wellbeing of the poorest people in the developing world by placing agricultural policy, rural development, and the discovery and delivery of new technology and improved farming practice for food production at the heart of our aid program”.

The Report also identified that Australia should be seeking to increase exports of knowledge, particularly in areas of climate change mitigation, agricultural adaptations in semi-arid tropics, and sustainable farming practices. The Report highlights:

“To do this we need incentives to attract young Australians to agricultural science and related disciplines, and to enable interested Australian scientists to participate in international agricultural research”

 Agricultural productivity over the past 20 years in the developing world has declined by one third in Africa and two-thirds in Asia and Latin America. This is largely due to falling investments in rural infrastructure and agricultural research, and poor policy decisions in international trade (e.g. the food price crisis and global subsidies). Research must be linked to other sectors such as education and extension services, infrastructure, technology improvements and accessibility, and policy reforms.

There is overwhelming evidence that over the past five decades agricultural research and development has greatly enhanced agricultural productivity globally (IFPRI 2013). Returns on investment in international agricultural research are in the order of 20-80%. Further to this, GDP growth generated by agriculture is four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth generated in other sectors (IFAD 2012). Just 1% increase in agricultural yields leads to a 0.6%-1.2% reduction in the number of people living below $1/day.

In the words of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (2014 African Union Chairperson):

“for most countries, agriculture indeed constitutes the development battlefield where we can win the war on poverty, hunger and indignity”

For a country like Australia that is a world leader in agricultural expertise, this means we can also be a world leader in using our expertise to target poverty reduction.

Find out more about the programs being led by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research here.