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The role of universities in promoting prosperity in our region

11 March 2016
Universities must and should play a role in developing the Indo-Pacific region

Five University staff recently addresed the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade's 'Inquiry into the role of development partnerships in agriculture and agribusiness in promoting prosperity, reducing poverty and enhancing stability in the Indo-Pacific region'.

At the University of Sydney we strive to find the best solutions to help solve the most difficult problems of our time and in our region.
Associate Professor Robyn Alders

They will argue that universities must and should play a role in developing the Indo-Pacific region. The University of Sydney is the only Australian university to have made a submission to the inquiry and present to the committee, demonstrating its strong commitment to enhancing research and international development partnerships in the region.

One of academics to present at the committee today, Associate Professor Robyn Alders, was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2011 for her work on food security in developing countries.

“At the University of Sydney we strive to find the best solutions to help solve the most difficult problems of our time and in our region,” Associate Professor Alders said.

“One of the greatest challenges we grapple with and which unifies our efforts is: how do we provide sufficient nutritious and affordable food for an ever growing population in the region in ways that are ethical and sustainable?

“Achieving food security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific will not only require the application of new knowledge and technology, but innovation in partnership models and more effective collaboration between agribusiness, governments, civil society and universities.”

Representatives from the University presenting at the committee today include:

  • Associate Professor Robyn Alders AO from the Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Veterinary Science;
  • Professor David Guest from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment; 
  • Professor Robert Park, the Judith and David Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment;
  • Professor Mu Li from the Sydney Medical School; and 
  • Mr Thomas Soem, Head, International Agencies and Governments Program, Office of Global Engagement.

In a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade delivered at the end of last year, the University outlined five University of Sydney case studies of successful research projects that can make a difference in the Indo-Pacific region.

The case studies highlighted the real impact the University can have in improving the livelihoods of some of the poorest countries in our region. The projects included:

  • Improving nutrition security and livelihoods in Myanmar

This project, a world first, will identify the underlying causes of undernourishment in Myanmar, thereby assisting national policy and international efforts to address this problem.

  • Enhancing food security and economic growth in South Asia through genetic improvements to key food crops

Grain research is central to the global effort to develop disease-resistant and drought-tolerant strains of wheat, barley, oats and other cereal crops. Our researchers have targeted two genetic traits to improve crop performance: those that increase resistance to pests and diseases; and those that control how the crop responds to drought and heat.

The University is currently working on wheat breeding programs with two institutions in India - the Directorate of Wheat Research in Karnal and the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana.

  • Strengthening food and nutrition security through village poultry in Timor-Leste

In Timor-Leste approximately 50 percent of children suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition. More than 30 percent of women suffer from chronic energy deficiency, reflected in the high maternal mortality rate.

Since November 2014 we have developed an approach to improving the health of village poultry in Timor-Leste that has focused on the role women can play in combating malnutrition. The program has increased the number of households raising poultry by 13 percent.

  • Public-private partnerships in cocoa farming in Southeast Asia

Our researchers are working with private sector and industry partners in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers.

Cocoa is the main source of income for an estimated 400,000 farmers in Indonesia and a further 400,000 in Papua New Guinea. Global demand is strong, but neither region has the infrastructure or support for farmers facing threats, particularly from pests, diseases and climate uncertainty.

In Indonesia, our researchers have developed strong collaborations with local government, NGO and industry stakeholders, including Mars Chocolates and other cocoa buyers. These partnerships enable us to select more robust and high yielding cocoa genotypes, improve the sustainability and profitability of cocoa farming, and develop new business opportunities, especially for women and young people.

  • Creating new research and education hubs to nurture innovation and cross-sector collaborations

A team of 34 researchers from various faculties within and outside the University of Sydney is looking at the challenges to nutrition, diversity and food safety from a multitude of perspectives, with the ultimate goal of creating healthier and more sustainable communities.

The Healthy Food Systems: Nutrition, Safety, Diversity Project Node is a new and innovative research collaboration based within the University of Sydney.

Read the full submission here (PDF 579).