Andrew, thank you very much for that introduction, you have superbly articulated the importance of ACIAR within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but also across our region and indeed, globally. I recognise Don Heatley and Tim Fischer, Claire Moore is here representing the Opposition. Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
Fact – the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research is a quiet achiever within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Andrew and his team of researchers have achieved a great deal in assisting Australia with our development program in the Indo-Pacific region. I pay tribute to the staff, the researchers, the agricultural scientists, who over many years have been a dynamic and driving force in improving agricultural outcomes in our region.
ACIAR is results driven and today we showcase and celebrate a long history of achievement. For 36 years, since ACIAR was established under the Fraser government, Australia has been taking its ingenuity and its scientific experience to regions from Africa to the Pacific, and there have been some extraordinary outcomes in improving crop yields, and agricultural results for nations, for people, for families.
Without doubt, our national interest is best served by ensuring that our region is strong and prosperous. Our Development Assistance Budget, almost $4 billion every year, is designed to build sustainable economies, alleviate poverty, and ensure greater prosperity, stability and security. That is in our national interest. The work of ACIAR supports our objectives in the aid area, and there are hundreds of examples.
When I meet with Andrew or read the ACIAR monthly reports I'm always heartened by the impact the ACIAR is having on individuals, on families, on communities, on nations. There are so many examples but let me just take two that are rather dear to my heart.
Papua New Guinea is the biggest investment for ACIAR and we know that much of PNG's GDP is dependent upon small holder farmers, I'll to talk about cocoa production. Cocoa is a global industry but it depends very much on smaller producers. About 10 years ago PNG found that its yields were decreasing because of pests, and disease, and ageing trees. This was having an enormous impact on incomes, and of course, on families, and on PNG's economy more generally. ACIAR came to the rescue and developed a whole range of techniques to improve productivity yields, and address the issues of pests and disease. It came up with a lot of techniques that could be implemented by these small holder farmers.
As Andrew said, we work in partnership, and with the World Bank and with the confectionary giant Mars, we were able to change practices, improve outcomes, improve yields. Here we are 10 years later, and we've helped tens of thousands of people in Papua New Guinea. For every dollar that's been invested there has been a $3 benefit for the small holder farmer.
I don't know if any of you have had the pleasure of attending the Bougainville Chocolate Festival. Put it on your bucket-list, it is an amazing event. What we do at the Bougainville Chocolate Festival, apart from sample chocolate, is link producers with manufacturers, Australian chocolate manufacturers - like Haighs from Adelaide, or Jasper and Myrtle from Canberra. We are connecting the producers with the manufacturers. This direct contact that ACIAR facilitates has had an incredible impact on the cocoa production and the industry in PNG.
We also assist in educating the farmers about better practices, better techniques, and as a result their incomes have improved. One of the most delightful stories I was told by one of the small holder farmers was that they were using increased income to educate their children, put their children through university. ACIAR's impact is broad and wide.
Another example is our other very dear and close neighbour, Timor-Leste. In the 1990's the state of crops in Timor-Leste were low in productivity and low in nutrition. This was a real concern. Once more ACIAR came to the rescue and from 2000-2016, over a 16 year period, ACIAR funded scientists from the University of Western Australia - I'm proud to say is in my electorate - introduced new varieties of these stable crops and set up a certified national seed system. Now, this will mean a lot to Tim Fischer because of the Crop Trust so I know he'd appreciate this. As a result of this nationally certified seed system they have now introduced these new varieties. Over this period, just take maize for example, there's been an increase in production yields of 50 per cent, sweet potato an astonishing 130 per cent. This Seeds for Life program, backed by ACIAR, has had a transformative effect on the agricultural sector in Timor-Leste.
I am very proud that ACIAR having achieved so much over 36 years is now looking to the next decade of achievement. The core goals of food security and poverty reduction and building scientific capacity in our region remain, but we've broadened the outlook. Given what ACIAR has been able to achieve, I have no doubt that they will be able to embrace and enhance these further goals.
The new strategy commits to improving environmental sustainability. It commits to enhancing nutrition and health in our region - so utterly vital. If we are to have sustainable economies, we have to have healthy people to drive productivity in these regions. Empowering women and girls – this is where ACIAR absolutely lines up with the foreign policy priorities in our aid program of the Australian Government. We have many programs in our aid budget to drive the empowerment of women and girls, because if one doesn't take into account the capacity, and skills, and talents of at least 50 per cent of your population, your nation is all the poorer for it. So, ACIAR has that as one of its strategic goals. Linking producers into markets, linking the producers, the private sector, the public sector, but importantly, into regional and global supply chains – that's what our Pacific region needs. That's what we can facilitate.
As Andrew indicated, the 10-year Strategy aligns with the Foreign Policy White Paper which I released last November – which is a 10-year time frame, a blueprint for Australia's international engagement, international activity for the next decade and beyond, setting out very clearly our values, our interests and our priorities.
The 10-year Strategy also supports our innovationXchange. We set up a hub within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to come up with new ideas on how to drive sustainable economic outcomes through our aid program and alleviate poverty. They have about 80 projects on the go at present and these are all ideas that are being implemented through pilot programs through hackathons, through challenges, where we turn traditionally thinking on its head. If we've been investing billions of dollars into a country and yet it has gone backwards on its development goals, we're doing something wrong, so I wanted to challenge the status-quo, challenge our thinking, and we've had some extraordinary results, by bringing people from the private sector, from other aid agencies around the world, from the public sector, and coming up with better, more efficient, more effective ways to use our aid budget.
Likewise, the 10-year security strategy document is supporting our Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, which we launched last year. This concept came about, in the main, after the Ebola crisis. We know the concerns in West Africa. If Ebola had spread, devastating as it was, if it had spread beyond West Africa – and I recall having a meeting with DFAT saying what would happen in our region, if a pandemic, an epidemic took hold? And the fact is, domestic health systems of some of our neighbours could not have withstood it, so we have set up a Centre of Excellence, an Indo-Pacific Centre for Health and Security to build capacity in the public health systems in countries in our region. Again, it's in our national interest for us to do that.
I am delighted to launch a 10-year Strategy for ACIAR. They have a great story to tell and there are examples that would make you proud when you see the impact that our agricultural researchers have had on countries in our region. So, with a great story to tell, with so much progress having been achieved, I look forward to the great potential that I have no doubt ACIAR will not only aspire to, but achieve, over the next decade and beyond.
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