Chapter 5 Research Links
This Chapter examines the research links between Australia and Africa.
Its focus is largely on research links that have resulted from Australia’s aid
program and other government to government links, and as such does not examine
research links related to education in great detail. These links have been
discussed in Chapter 4.
This chapter begins with a discussion of the official research links
between Australia and the countries of Africa that result from Australia’s aid
program. It then moves on to look at other research links resulting from
academic and research collaboration that is officially funded, and finishes
with a discussion of a tertiary education sector connection.
Official Research for Development
Research for development is an area of significant engagement between
Australia and the countries of Africa. A number of research connections have
been made through the many partnerships between Australian agencies and African
research institutions, government agencies, and individuals.
AusAID told the Committee that one of the main pillars of Australia’s
official development assistance (ODA) in Africa now and into the future is
centred in increasing agricultural production with the goal of reducing food
insecurity. A significant part of the
agriculture and food security portion of Australian ODA is managed by the
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
AusAID and ACIAR also work with CSIRO in boosting Africa’s agricultural output
via research and its application.
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research
ACIAR is a statutory authority within the Foreign Affairs and Trade
portfolio, and is a ‘specialist component of the Australian aid program’.
As such, its activities are part of Australian ODA, and its objectives are to
advance ‘Australia’s national interest through poverty reduction and
sustainable development’. 
ACIAR conducts this work in partnership with counterparts in the developing
world through several different activities:
research into improving sustainable agricultural production in developing
project-related training (postgraduate and short training courses);
- communicating the
results of research;
- conducting and
funding development activities related to research programs, including capacity
- administering the
Australian Government’s contribution to the International Agricultural Research
As at April 2010, ACIAR had 201 projects operating in 25—30 countries. Its
total research budget is $80 million per annum. Of this, between $2 and
$5 million is spent on projects in Africa.
As mentioned earlier in this report, Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the
worst indicators in relation to the MDGs. In particular this region has
registered the least progress in reducing food insecurity. Hence, ACIAR has
been involved in projects and has funded research in Africa – particularly
South Africa – since its inception in the early 1980s. In that time, it has
completed over 40 projects, ranging from reducing the impact of diseases and
ticks on livestock to introducing Australian trees and low impact fertiliser
strategies for African crop farmers.
ACIAR functions as the ‘interface’ between Australia’s ODA program and
Australian research and innovation in agricultural research. As such, it is
important to note that it always operates in ‘collaboration with research
agencies in developing countries’.
ACIAR works with both bilateral partners, as in the case of South
Africa, and multilateral partners. In common with other components of
Australian ODA, these partners emphasise Australia’s comparative advantages in
agriculture. Some of the international agricultural research centres (IARCs)
ACIAR has worked with in Africa include:
- The International
Livestock Research Institute;
- The World
- The International
Institute of Tropical Agriculture;
- The International
Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics; and
- The International
Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre.
ACIAR’s current activity in Africa is limited, in line with ACIAR’s
modest funding. It is running a small program in South Africa focused on
‘income generation in crop and livestock systems for emerging and previously
disadvantaged farmers’. This program is intended to ‘assist farmers to develop
as commercial operators to capture the benefits of improved technology’.
In 2010, ACIAR launched a new program called ‘Pathways to sustainable
intensification of maize-legume based farming systems for food security in
eastern and southern Africa (SIMLESA)’. ACIAR noted that this project is in
alignment with regional research priorities set out by the Comprehensive
African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and SADC.
The research emphasis of SIMLESA will focus on improving the use of technology
and the latest, improved strains in maize-legume farming to maximise income
without endangering sustainability. It also aims to ‘contribute to building
agricultural research capacity in partner countries and regional
As mentioned, ACIAR’s budget is limited. For example, the SIMLESA
project has a total budget of $20 million, to be spent over four years. A
further $0.5 million is currently being spent on the projects in South Africa
in the 2010—11 financial year.
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
CSIRO is the Australian national government science agency under the Department
of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR).
The international strategy of CSIRO emphasises ‘research for development’. As
such its efforts in Africa over the last 25 years have focused on ‘building
partnerships in the African region focused on research that can help support
African development’. So far, most of its research activity in Africa has been
in land based agriculture, and increasingly aquaculture as well.
CSIRO told the Committee that:
CSIRO deploys its research principally through partnerships
with Australian and international development agencies and in-country
government, non-government and agribusiness organisations. Our key partner in
much of the past and current activities is [ACIAR]. Other partners have
included AusAID and donor organisations ...
One example of such collaboration can be found in a program which ran
from 1999 to 2009. This program focused on ‘improving livestock integration
into cropping systems via improved forage and marketing strategies’, and built
on Australian expertise and experience in this area. It was funded by ACIAR,
led by CSIRO, and conducted in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Other agricultural research projects that CSIRO has been involved with
in Africa include:
augmented soil enrichment strategies’, designed to increase the use of
fertilizer by smallholders;
- ‘Farming systems
research to enhance the effectiveness of agricultural change agents in Africa’.
For example, one project in this area was partly designed to help NGOs and
agribusiness better tailor their services to meet the needs of smallholder
- ‘Improved integration
of livestock within cropping systems’, designed to maximise the performance of
both livestock and crops;
- ‘Improved crop
varieties and their distribution’. Sub-Saharan Africa has a very low rate of
adoption of improved crop varieties, and this research was intended to
capitalise on Australia’s experience and success in ‘the process of breeding,
releasing and distributing new varieties’.
- ‘Lifting water-use
efficiency in rain-fed and irrigated agriculture in the semi-arid tropics’.
Australia is a world leader in water-use efficiency (WUE) given its climate and
geography, and this research was intended to help improve semi-arid Africa’s
‘disappointingly low’ WUE.
- ‘Coping with
increasing vulnerability due to climatic change’. Given the effect of crop
failure on the rural poor in Sub-Saharan Africa, CSIRO has developed
partnerships with African researchers to help support smallholders adapt ‘their
agricultural practices to current’ and projected climate variations.
- ‘Food security in
coastal Africa from aquaculture’. Aquaculture is increasing in coastal African
communities, and if developed effectively could become a sustainable source of
both food and export income for coastal African countries. CSIRO has developed
aquaculture systems with ‘ultra low-cost inputs’ and ‘high value outputs’, and
these systems are being applied in some East African countries in association
with other research agencies.
- ‘Delivering improved
tree germplasm for African agroforestry systems’. CSIRO has collaborated with a
number of research agencies in Africa to assist with the integration of
Australian tree species — particularly the Australian Silky Oak — into African
farming systems. This helps to increase the timber yield of African farmers for
use both in farming and building and for commercial timber sales.
CSIRO emphasised that its activities in Africa were providing a real
contribution to Africa, in terms of increasing regional stability through
prosperity and economic security, solving regional problems that could then be
applied to similar geographic settings, and building technical agricultural
These activities also provide benefits for Australia, including its
international reputation, opportunities for future collaboration and
‘demonstrable returns’ for Australian agriculture.
Australia is a leader in agricultural production and its expertise
provides opportunities for expansion of research and the creation of
agribusiness joint ventures.
The Committee notes that the work of ACIAR and CSIRO in Africa is
mutually beneficial for both African countries and Australia, in that it both
assists in progress towards MDG 1 and increases the agricultural expertise of
The Committee supports these activities and encourages continuing
Australian agricultural research in Africa.
Other Official Research Connections
Research for development between Australia and the countries of Africa
aside, other Australian agencies are involved in fostering research connections
between Australia and Africa. At the intergovernmental level these links are the
responsibility of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
(DIISR), which manages these relationships and their funding programs so as
Provide the platform for supporting the activities that give
substance to the commitments made under various science and technology treaties
The criteria under which these links are created are:
- the anticipated
benefits (social, economic and scientific) of cooperation with other countries;
- the expected benefits
that accrue to Australia as a result of collaboration; and
- ‘broader strategic,
Some of the ways in which the DIISR fosters collaboration are:
- Through the ARC and
its Discovery Projects, Australian Laureate Fellowships, and ARC Centres of
Excellence schemes. In all of these, ‘international collaborations is specified
as an objective in the funding rules’.
- The Cooperative
Research Centre Program Guidelines, which strongly encourage international
- ‘The International
Science Linkages program managed by the Department ... due to expire in 2011’.
This program provided funding not only in support of research collaboration
internationally, but also ‘to support relationship-building events that lay the
essential groundwork for future collaboration’.
One of the primary criteria on which the anticipated benefits both ways
are quantified is by examining the research output of potential partner
countries through the number of scientific publications produced.
As a continent, Africa’s research output as measured by the number of
publications is very modest. According to the DIISR, Africa accounts for 0.9%
of research and development investment, and just 1.5% of scientific
publications each year. This is especially marked considering Australia
accounts for ‘1.4% of investment and 3% of publications’ annually.
Given this modest research and scientific capacity, Australia’s research
collaboration with the countries of Africa has been extremely limited. To the
extent it does exist, most of this collaboration takes place with South Africa,
which accounts for more than one third of both the investment in and output of
scientific research in Africa.
The actual current collaboration between Australia and Africa in science
and research is broken down into several organisations and programs and one
project. These are:
- Australian Research
- Australian Nuclear
Science and Technology Organisation;
- Cooperative Research
Postgraduate Research Scholarship Program; and
- The Square Kilometre
Australian Research Council
DIISR informed the Committee that there were ’85 new and ongoing
ARC-supported research projects with funding allocations in 2009 that involve
collaboration with the countries of Africa’. This included intended
collaboration with 25 countries, and South Africa accounted for 58% of intended
ARC told the Committee that these research links and collaborations took
two basic forms:
- ‘Formal’ linkages,
wherein the projects involve formal collaboration between research partners in
Australia and an African country.
- ‘Informal’ linkages,
wherein intent to collaborate internationally is specified, but no specific
participant is identified. The types of collaboration can range from conducting
fieldwork in another country to ‘the training of PhD or Masters students’ from
The research fields most prominent in these 85 projects were Historical
Studies (with ten projects), Ecology and Evolution (eight) and Geology (seven)
2009. The ARC funding commitment for the 85 projects was $67.7 million.
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
ANSTO entered into a formal collaborative agreement with the Nuclear
Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA) in 2007. This agreement ‘seeks to
take advantage of the similarities between the research reactors in each
country to increase their safety and reliability’. This is done largely through
cooperation and exchanges of personnel and experience.
ANSTO has also:
Coordinated the placement of fellows and scientific visitors
from a number of countries in Africa, including Sudan, Zambia, South Africa and
Madagascar ... at various laboratories, hospitals, universities and institutes
around Australia, including ANSTO.
Cooperative Research Centre Program
The Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) Program links researchers with
industry ‘to focus efforts in deployment and commercialisation’. As of 2010,
there were 47 CRCs operating in six sectors.
DIISR informed the Committee that:
Since 1998 there have been 43 education and training,
commercialisation or research collaborations between CRCs and African
organisations in Kenya, Namibia and South Africa.
Currently, 11 CRCs are involved in 38 collaborative links with African
countries. As is the case with ARC projects, most of the collaborations take
place in South Africa. Furthermore, these links take advantage of both
Australia and Africa’s comparative advantage in research, focusing on areas
such as agriculture, rural based manufacturing, mining and energy sectors,
environment, and medical science.
International Postgraduate Research Scholarship Program
In addition to the scholarships offered by AusAID (discussed in Chapters
3 and 4), DIISR also funds and administers the IPRS program. This program
allows international students to undertake higher degrees by research at Australian
institutions. In 2008, 37 recipients
of IPRSs were African, which represents four per cent of the overall
The Square Kilometre Array
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project is essentially
a huge new-generation radio telescope, which has a ‘discovery potential 10000
times greater than the best present-day instruments’.
It is being built by an international consortium of 15 countries, including
Australia and South Africa, with both Australia and Southern Africa being
shortlisted as potential sites for the SKA’s construction. A final decision on
its location is expected in 2012, with construction expected to commence in
The SKA, rather than being just an area of scientific and research
collaboration, instead sees Australia and New Zealand competing with a group of
eight African countries. The African bid for the location is being led by South
DIISR informed the Committee that there are ‘two broad future
opportunities for Australia-Africa collaboration’ in relation to the SKA.
The first opportunity lies with working more closely together
at the governmental and senior official levels to build momentum and support
for the SKA project around the world. The second, and perhaps more important
future opportunity, relates to the scope for developing mutually beneficial
programs of science and research collaboration based upon the framework
developed for SKA cooperation.
Non-Official Research Connections
Most of the non-governmental research connections between Australia and
Africa have resulted from African students studying in Australia, (this is
discussed in Chapter 4), and Australian researchers with an interest in Africa.
This section discusses evidence provided on legume research and a university
research connection that is focused more on research excellence than education.
Legume research in Africa
Professor John Howieson, Director of the Crops and Plants Research
Institute, Murdoch University, described to the Committee his work on the
application of legumes to improve soil fertility.
In 1997 the Institute had assisted the University of Cape Town to
develop an African network in the discipline of research into legumes and their
associated nitrogen fixing rhizobium bacteria. As well as providing ongoing
assistance, the Institute was also engaged in delivering workshops in Ethiopia
and South Africa. It also had links to the Eastern Cape Department of Rural
Development and Agrarian Reform.
In working with African communities, Professor Howieson emphasised that
it was important to gain a good understanding of the sociology:
Before we got involved with either of those communities we
got the Eastern Cape Department of Agriculture to employ their first
sociologist and we got her to engage the communities, to make them understand
that what we were doing would be of benefit, as long as a set of rules was
abided by. That related to when you grazed and who had ownership of the land for
grazing. … Because their language was Xhosa and it did not have a word for
legume in it, we had to introduce the legume concept. … If we had gone there
and put some legumes into a patch of land, walked away and they had grown, then
every animal within three kilometres would have grazed it. But by engaging with
the community beforehand and obtaining their agreement to participate in the
work—in that agreement there was an undertaking not to overgraze or graze at
the wrong time—we had a chance of improving their standard of living.
Professor Howieson commented that the legume and rhizobium genetic
resources of Africa could also assist Australian agriculture to become more
resilient to climate change because they grew in similar soils and conditions.
In using African genetic resources, Professor Howieson was cognisant of
international biodiversity governance:
We have a memorandum of understanding. We own that material
in Australia. If we develop it for Australia, we will give it back to the South
Africans for them to develop in Africa, for them to own if they want to use it.
If we commercialise the legume I talked about in Australia, we will give a
royalty to the … Agricultural Research Council in South Africa, in exchange for
us having taken that material out.
Consortium for Advanced Research Training in
The Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA) is an ‘initiative
of nine African universities, four African research institutes, and selected’
partners in the developed world. It aims to ‘improve the
well-being of Africans through policy-relevant research’, by training African
research academics in Africa itself, and by strengthening the training and
research infrastructure of African universities.
Monash University in Melbourne is one of the partners in the developed
world. As such, Monash
undertakes many activities to support and strengthen African research
capabilities and output. Such activities include:
- sending staff to
African CARTA-member institutions;
- training African
staff and faculty members; and
- engaging with ‘a wide
range of specialists to support research and academic capacity strengthening
efforts at participating African institutions’.
The Committee recognises the value of the research connections which
currently exist between Australia and Africa, and particularly with South
Indeed, there is significant value in such initiatives as CARTA. Given
the relative paucity of research coming out of Africa at present the Committee recognises
CARTA’s potential to increase the output of research in Africa.
Initiatives such as CARTA will be of immense value to Africa in building
its research capacity into the future.