Farmers in east Africa have valuable experience of cultivating land in arid environments, particularly sub-Saharan areas.
Farmers in east Africa have valuable experience of cultivating land in arid environments, particularly sub-Saharan areas.

Farmers can feed the world

AGRICULTURAL research and development partner- ships between Australia and Africa are not just "one-way traffic", according to a University of Queensland professor.

Dr Gabrielle Persley has spent the majority of the past decade in Africa running research programs and looking into various livestock and cropping systems and diseases.

She had also previously initiated a research partnership between Australia and some east African countries.

More recently Dr Persley was working on creating a long-term strategy for what role Australian farmers and scientists could play in tackling global food security.

Part of that initiative was launched last week by Prime Minister Julia Gillard as the new $36 million Australian International Centre for Food Security.

Dr Persley said that one of the key things that Australian farmers could offer poorer nations in Africa was the "inherent resilience" of producing crops and livestock in regions often plagued by natural disasters.

She said that the practical experience of Australia's farmers in recovering from floods, cyclones and droughts was something that African farmers could learn from.

The second key ingredient that Australia could offer was the expertise of research and development, particularly the role of agricultural scientists and their experience in arid and tropical environments.

But Dr Persley said the farmers in east Africa - by and large small-scale, mixed-farm producers - could also offer Australians much value in such a partnership, with their experience of cultivating land in arid environments.

As part of the existing research partnership Dr Persley helped establish, African PhD students were visiting Australian farms and research laboratories and vice-versa.

She said: "When thinking about Australia's role in food security we must remember that Australian farmers produce enough food each year to feed some 60 million people.

"So not only are we feeding our nation, we are already contributing to feeding the rest of world.

"And while the direct contribution of the food is clearly visible, we are also contributing to an order of magnitude through education and research and development.

"So we play two important roles already, but it's not all one-way traffic - there are many benefits to Australian agriculture by working with other countries and different environments and learning from them as well."