By: Bill Tweddell
Ambassador of Australia to the Philippines
I have often remarked in this column about the breadth and depth of the enduring friendship between Australia and the Philippines. As Ambassador, I am proud of our existing links and the path we have set to further develop our relationship.
Many aspects of the relationship between our countries are well known: regional and defence cooperation, people-to-people links and a strong development assistance program. A lesser-known aspect of Australia’s development assistance program is the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), which is active in the Philippines. Through ACIAR we mobilise Australian and international research expertise to address some of the most pressing concerns of developing countries today. In a speech just yesterday in Australia, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop referred to ACIAR as a ‘diamond’ in our crown, and from its work in the Philippines it is easy to see why.
In the Philippines, Australia is working to assist in increasing the productivity, marketability and international competitiveness for Filipino agricultural products, including through greater responsiveness to market opportunities.
ACIAR’s engagement in the Philippines is enduring, dating back to 1984, when it funded the very first project on fisheries with the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI). The Institute is still continuing the work begun by this project, on clam mariculture, ensuring this iconic species’ viability on a continuing and long-term basis.
ACIAR’s most significant research in the Philippines is focused on improving the access for high-value horticulture products to domestic and international markets. Six new horticulture projects began in the Philippines this year with a total funding of about P271 million ($6.6 million). These projects are assisting to improve the production and development of well-known Filipino agricultural products including mangos, bananas, papaya and other tropical fruits and vegetables.
The ACIAR program mobilises expertise from a range of sectors from within the Philippines, including: academia, involving the University of the Philippines at Los Banos, UP Mindanao, Visayas State University and the University of Southeastern Philippines; national government agencies such as the Bureau of Plant Industry and Department of Agriculture; local government units; and a range of non-government and private organizations.
ACIAR is also responsible for funding the work of the CGIAR centres, formerly known as the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research. One of these centres is the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which is carrying-out world-class research based in Los Baños in Laguna Province here in the Philippines. CGIAR Centres globally work to reduce hunger and poverty, improve human health and nutrition, and enhance ecosystem resilience.
Central to ACIAR’s work are the research partnerships that enable international researchers to work alongside Filipino researchers, not only on developing agriculture but also to build national capacity in the field of agriculture research. The outcomes of these research projects are disseminated to those engaged in implementing projects and intended beneficiaries through these collaborative partnerships and also through partnerships with private sector and non-government organisations.
Building research capacity in partner countries is a critical goal for Australia. To achieve this ACIAR offers support through a number of different scholarships, as well as training courses and master classes. Fifty two scholarships have been awarded to researchers from the Philippines to undertake a range of courses. These scholarships cover both study, at the Master’s or Doctorate level, at an Australian University and research management and leadership training for promising mid-career researchers with experience working on an ACIAR project.
Australia and the Philippines share a broad and deep relationship. I am proud that in the important field of agriculture research and development we are making a meaningful and lasting contribution.