Communications & Media

Sustainable agriculture the focus for China-Australia forum

A forum in Hobart last week will underpin a new era of research collaboration between Australia and China as the world grapples with questions of agricultural sustainability.

Hosted by the University of Tasmania, Natural Resource Management South and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the Australia-China Sustainable Agricultural Technologies Forum 2018 was the result of partnerships initiated by NRM South during President Xi Jinping's official visit to Tasmania in 2014.

President Xi’s vision for China involves the concept of Ecological Civilization, in recognition of China’s pressing need to move actively towards sustainable agricultural and environment practice.

In a sign of the importance of the relationship with Tasmania, CAAS sent its largest ever delegation – more than 20 scientists led by CAAS Vice-President Professor Mei Xurong – to lay the groundwork for significant future collaboration.

University of Tasmania Vice-Chancellor Professor Rufus Black said Tasmania had significant expertise to bring to bear on questions of agricultural sustainability, and much to learn from one of its most important trading partners.

“Living on an island, we are very conscious of the challenges that face anyone striving to preserve a unique environment, to feed a population and to improve the functioning of ecosystems damaged by past practices,” Professor Black said.

“That consciousness has made Tasmania an important global laboratory, a place where industry, government, the community and the academy come together to understand and find ways to improve the complex systems involved in agriculture.

“An island is a place where issues can be acutely framed and where innovative solutions can be tested, but the complexity of these challenges means we cannot solve them alone.”

The Forum builds on developing partnerships between CAAS, China’s largest agricultural research body, the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) and NRM regions across Australia. NRM South is one of 56 Natural Resource Management (NRM) bodies in Australia and TIA is a global leader in agricultural and food science with strong capabilities in irrigation, soils, waterways and pollinator research.

The Forum saw discussions and the development of joint research projects across four key themes:

  • Soil nutrients and moisture
  • Waterways and catchments
  • Bee health and pollination
  • People and communities.

NRM South Chief Executive Officer Donald Coventry said the Chinese government was increasingly seeking knowledge and partnerships to deal with environment restoration.

“As we continue to work together, through the Forum and beyond, Tasmania’s substance and recognition as a leader in sustainable environmental and agricultural practice will grow, alongside new links to premium markets in China,” Mr Coventry said.

Professor Black said CAAS, with its significant scientific capability, state-of-the-art facilities and network of relationships around the world, was a strong partner to join with in what is a global effort.

“We need to balance the demand for water, for productive soil, against what is available. It is a question of sustainability but also security – in a world where people have a right to a secure and safe source of food, we are only ever about nine meals from civil disruption,” Professor Black said.

“For all the challenges and the risks, we also live in an age where we have the scientific capability, the technological ingenuity and the resources to see the world fed and the environment begin a journey to greater health.

“That hope depends on collaborations like the one we embarked on last week.”

The Forum was funded with the assistance of a grant under the Australia-China Agricultural Cooperation Agreement Program administered by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

The Tasmanian Government continues to actively support this forum and ongoing engagement between Tasmania and China, through the Department of State Growth and the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, recognising the growing importance of these bilateral ties.

The Forum ran from Monday 30 April to Friday 4 May 2018.

Published on: 07 May 2018 10:18am