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Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture

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Published: 3 Aug 2018

Terraces Yunnan China

Research by the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) that helps irrigators save water in the Midlands could soon also improve management of grasslands in Mongolia.

Conversely, barley or pasture species bred by Chinese scientists for their environments may prove invaluable for our farmers in Tasmania.

From our small island at the edge of the world, the University of Tasmania is building partnerships with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), the pre-eminent research institution of the world’s largest agricultural nation.

“TIA and the University have the track record and know-how to undertake cutting-edge research in participatory ways that create positive outcomes on the ground,” TIA Director, Professor Holger Meinke said.

“With more than 10,000 staff in a nation of 300 million farmers, CAAS has prodigious research output and is seeking our assistance to apply it more effectively, here as well as in China.”

The Australia-China Sustainable Agriculture Partnership has now held three meetings in Hobart, involving government, scientists, industry leaders, and visits to local agri-businesses.

With the support of the State and Federal Governments, the partnership has been cultivated over several years by NRM South, a Tasmanian branch of a national natural resource management network with strong achievements in extension work with local communities.

“The three visits – to sign an agreement, to hold a forum, and to advance research proposals – indicate that the relationship is valued and deepening,” Professor Meinke said.

While CAAS works with agricultural research agencies from more than 35 countries, the Academy appears to attach special importance to its Tasmanian ties.

Mr Xu Ming, CAAS Director of Bilateral Partnerships, said that his Academy set a record with their visit to UTAS in April this year.

"Never before in CAAS history had we ever organised and assigned a delegation of this size, led by a CAAS Vice President, composed of delegates from three departments and seven institutes, to attend a professional meeting abroad," he said.

"The unprecedented move is an evident gesture of our willingness and desire to expand cooperation with our Australian counterparts.”

Professor Meinke said the meetings had resulted in ongoing discussions about joint research proposals under the general themes of soils, water, pollination, horticulture, and food science - all areas of specific TIA expertise.

“These discussions with CAAS coincide with discussions that TIA is leading within the University about a new research cluster around the bioeconomy and its essential role in providing broad benefits to our society,” Professor Meinke said.

“Bioeconomy is about the sustainable use of biological resources, processes and principles to provide products and services in all economic sectors for the benefit of people. The concept is being embraced globally, placing agriculture and food at the centre of our societies.”

“The health of our people, soils, waterways and pollinators is key to a successful bioeconomy.”

Professor Meinke noted that TIA’s scientific relationships with China are developing amid some community concern about foreign ownership of agricultural land.

“Global problems require global solutions that can only be developed through real and functional partnerships,” he said.

“We should advance knowledge partnerships in ways that retain our competitive advantages while sharing our expertise.”

“Building agricultural sustainability and stronger bioeconomies is in everybody’s interest, in Tasmania, Australia, China, and globally."

"Knowledge is a resource that grows the more we share it."

Professor Meinke said Tasmania has a lot to offer China and the world when it comes to protecting our resource base, improving agricultural practices, and demonstrating leadership as a good, global citizen.

“Equally, embracing partnerships with the diverse capabilities of China offers access to research infrastructure and networks that will help solve Tasmanian problems,” he said.

Senior representatives of the University and TIA will join an Australian trade mission to China and meet with CAAS representatives again later this year.

Published as a CuppaTIA article in Tasmanian Country, 3 August 2018

Photo: rice terraces in Yunnan, China, by Jialiang Gao