Prime Minister launches new $20 million University of Sydney Centre for Carbon, Water and Food

6 March 2013

Prime Minister Julia Gillard launched the University's new Centre for Carbon, Water and Food.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard launched the University's new Centre for Carbon, Water and Food.

Australia's first multidisciplinary research centre dedicated to tackling the nation's and region's biggest food security and environmental challenges, through the integrated study of carbon, food and water, has been launched today by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The Prime Minister's Science Engineering and Innovation Council recommended in 2010 that national priority be given to understanding and mapping connections between energy, water, carbon, climate, agriculture, ecosystems, the economy and society, to ensure Australia's future food security and ability to remain resilient in the face of future climate volatility.

The University of Sydney's Centre for Carbon, Water and Food, funded by the federal government and the University, will answer this call, helping to ensure Australia's future sustainability, as well as its potential to act as a regional leader in food production and land management.

The University of Sydney and the federal government have together invested more than $20 million in the purpose-built facility which draws upon the University's already established world-class expertise in areas such as soil science, ecology and ecophysiology and plant breeding.

Situated in the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment at the University of Sydney's Camden campus, in south-west Sydney, the Centre for Carbon, Water and Food will deliver research, education and training that will underpin best practices and policies for sustainable management of public and private rural land in Australia, and in our major trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region.

It will help answer how to produce more higher-quality food, with less carbon emissions and more efficient water use. Its work will help tackle some of Australia's biggest environmental challenges such as those posed by the Murray Darling Basin, the interaction of agriculture and mining, as well as the resilience of areas that accommodate both urban and rural activity.

Staff will include Professor Alex McBratney, currently the Deputy Director General of the International Union of Soil Sciences, Professor Robert Park, who was in 2009 given the Friendship Award of China, five newly appointed ARC Future Fellows and a newly appointed ARC DECRA Awardee. The Centre will be headed by Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment Professor Mark Adams, who has held prestigious awards and fellowships in Australia, New Zealand, Germany and France.

The Centre has already attracted international interest with two agreements signed with leading Chinese institutions today. This collaboration between Australia and China follows a December 2012 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade report "Feeding the Future", which identified China and Australia as potential productive partners to ease growing pressure on food supplies. It also follows several decades of collaboration already undertaken between University of Sydney researchers and Chinese colleagues from a multitude of institutions.

The first Memorandum of Understanding between the University of Sydney and the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Science will see a Sino-Australia Joint Laboratory for Sustainable Agro-Ecosystems established and housed at the Centre with a mirror facility in Beijing.

The second Memorandum of Understanding between the University of Sydney and Nanjing Agricultural University will see a Sino-Australian Laboratory for Food Security established and housed at the Centre with a mirror facility in Nanjing.

These new arrangements will enable joint research in areas such as crop protection, soil quality, food security and the mitigation of climate change effects on agricultural eco-systems, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The bilateral effort will include research projects for external agencies such as the World Bank and Gates Foundation, creating further international benefit from the collaboration.

Professor Mark Adams, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, said the Centre was a natural fit for the University of Sydney, whose teaching and research programs address areas of national and global importance, adopting a multidisciplinary approach to find solutions to real-world problems.

He said the Centre hopes to correct the major knowledge gap in cross-disciplinary cross-sectoral understanding that is needed to enable innovation across energy, water and carbon domains, and to become an international leader in this research.

"At the beginning of the 'Asian Century' it is globally recognised that food security can only be delivered by a concerted, international effort," Professor Adams said.

"The Centre will house some of the best people in the world working on questions around water use efficiency, nutrient use efficiency, nitrogen fixation and soil structure, and as we have seen today other institutions and experts will be attracted to the Centre to be part of this effort."

"The world is facing a huge challenge: we've got to produce more food, of better quality, and we've got to do it while putting less carbon into the atmosphere and using less water. The Centre for Carbon, Water and Food at the University of Sydney will play a leading role in helping tackle this global challenge."

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