With the global population expected to reach eight billion by 2040, the pressure is on to feed everyone, particularly in the tropics and subtropics where more than half the world’s population lives.
Researchers at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) are dedicated to improving the competitiveness and sustainability of Queensland’s tropical and subtropical agriculture and food sectors through high-impact science.
Conceived as a strategic joint initiative between the Queensland Government and The University of Queensland, QAAFI forges direct links with the agriculture industry that neither partner could achieve on their own.
According to Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj, QAAFI is a stand-out generator of innovation and impact in tropical and subtropical agriculture and food sciences, and will help meet the growing global demand for sustainable, nutritious and safe food.
The Honourable Mark Furner MP, Queensland Minister for Agriculture Industry Development and Fisheries, agrees.
“QAAFI represents one of the Queensland Government’s largest and most important university partnerships. Over the past nine years, we have invested in around 90 agricultural and food innovation projects that are delivering a direct positive impact to Queensland’s agricultural industries.”
QAAFI Director Professor Robert Henry is pleased with the support, noting the opening of two new research centres in 2017 – the Centre for Horticultural Science and the Centre for Crop Science – that will help build UQ and Queensland’s research and development capacity in these industries.
“Since 2009, QAAFI has received $280 million in contracts to invest in agriculture and food research, and in 2017 attracted $40 million in research income. This is reflected in the University’s high global rankings, which include first in Australia and fifth in the world in the field of agriculture.”
Global leadership in sustainable agriculture
Located in one of the few research-intensive universities worldwide in a subtropical environment, QAAFI supports UQ’s global leadership in agriculture and food science research for subtropical and tropical production systems.
Working in more than 40 countries, QAAFI has several major projects funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as many other major government and private sector grants.
QAAFI also works in partnership with key northern Australian research providers at Queensland University of Technology, James Cook University, Central Queensland University and the University of Southern Queensland to deliver solutions to the worldwide problem of food provision.
According to QAAFI Director Professor Robert Henry, an increasingly obese but undernourished population in the developed world is battling chronic illnesses caused from eating too much, whereas people in the developing world often struggle to attain enough calories a day to survive.
“Nutrition security was the theme of last year’s TropAg conference, organised by QAAFI, which attracted 720 delegates from 44 countries,” he said.
“We want to ensure that all people have access to the critical nutrients in food that support and boost core bodily functions, and provide the fuel to live a healthy and active life. The role of science is vital to meet these challenges.”
QAAFI’s extensive industry linkages, globally recognised expertise, and research infrastructure across a broad range of interconnected disciplines ensure the delivery of high-impact outcomes for the tropical and subtropical agriculture and food supply chains. The following are some examples.
Investment in sorghum
Grain sorghum is a major summer crop, produced at the moment largely as stockfeed for the Australian domestic market – although new markets for Australian sorghum are opening up in China for use in fermentation of alcoholic spirit, and in the gluten-free human food market.
Plant breeding is one of the principal factors contributing to the current upward trend evident in Australian grain sorghum yields.
The Queensland Government, along with the Grain Research and Development Corporation, and UQ, have for the past 20 years supported improvement and innovation through the sorghum pre-breeding program, which has achieved a rate of productivity gain greater than any other developed country. Cost-benefits of the research mainly stem from yield gains, and are estimated at 2.1 per cent per year. The pre-breeding program has licensed nearly 3000 sorghum lines to the international sorghum industry since 1989. All commercial hybrids grown in Australia incorporate genetic material originating from the sorghum improvement program.
Economic analysis of the $78.4 million investment between 1996 and 2015 shows a gross gain of $696.5 million to Australian sorghum growers.
Investment in beef
The Queensland Government, QAAFI, and Meat & Livestock Australia (via the MLA Donor Company) will invest $6.2 million between June 2017 and June 2021 to improve the genetic rate of gain of beef cattle in the northern beef industry.
The overall aim of the UQ project is to accelerate genetic gain for increasing productivity in northern Australia beef cattle herds to improve profitability of Australian northern beef enterprises. Other benefits may include reduced methane emissions, increased regional employment and incomes, and continuous improvements in animal welfare – for example, to accelerate breeding for hornless or polled cattle.
With an annual farm gate value of around $600 million, the banana industry – located primarily in north Queensland, South East Queensland and northern New South Wales – is Australia’s largest single horticultural industry. Unfortunately, the industry is subject to serious disease events.
Since 2007, in conjunction with researchers at UQ, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited, QAAFI scientists have delivered improved diagnostics for several key banana diseases, as well as ongoing surveillance, testing and technical capacity, and advice that has maintained (and potentially improved) industry capacity to detect and respond to disease outbreaks in the Australian banana industry.
Credits: Getty Images - start08 (bananas); Adobe Stock - 78848782 (avocado); iStock - 178607920 (Brahman beef cattle)