A fishing boat surrounded by water with a Pacific island in the background. Photo: Paul Jones

$2.4m project to improve food systems in the Pacific and Timor-Leste

$2.4m project to improve food systems in the Pacific and Timor-Leste

ANCORS team leads research into link between food and nutrition security and the health of communities

A multi-million dollar, three-year project led by the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Australian National Centre for Oceans Resources and Security (ANCORS) will provide a holistic look at food systems in the Pacific and Timor-Leste with the aim of improving diets and wellbeing for communities vulnerable to malnutrition and food insecurity.

The $2.4 million initiative, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), will build on national and regional policy goals, using new food data resources and on-the-ground community engagement to address food system challenges, such as healthy food availability and access, and the shift in diets toward consuming more imported and unhealthy foods.   

This is the first time an ACIAR project at ANCORS will be headed by a female researcher. Dr Anna Farmery, a Senior Research Fellow at ANCORS who has extensive experience in researching how food systems connect with human and environmental health, will oversee the project. 

Alongside six multidisciplinary researchers from UOW, Dr Farmery will work with national and international partners, including the CSIRO, WorldFish, The Pacific Community (SPC), the University of Sydney, University of the South Pacific, and ministries of agriculture and food security in the Pacific and Timor-Leste. As part of the project, two Pacific nationals will also be supported through post-doctoral positions, one at UOW and the other through the University of the South Pacific.

Dr Anna Farmery wears a blue jumper and smiles. She has curly blonde hair. Photo: Michael Gray Dr Anna Farmery. Photo: Michael Gray

Dr Farmery said the team will support their partners to make informed decisions on the respective challenges facing Pacific and island food systems, using a combination of food-related databases developed through national and regional networks as well as new analytical tools developed with on-the-ground community engagement.

“Pacific countries present a range of different food system challenges. On atolls for example, there is not a lot of land for agriculture and limited fresh water, and there is a heavy reliance on fisheries and on imports, including wheat, rice, and unhealthy processed foods.

“Timor-Leste has a considerable problem with stunting in children, with almost half of all children in Timor stunted in their growth. There is a lot of opportunity to improve health outcomes in the country through improving access to healthy foods such as fish, fruit and vegetables,” Dr Farmery said.

“A lot of nations in the Pacific also experience very high rates of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes. Our work will look at how changing diets and increased food imports contribute to health and the opportunities to support local actions to improve food system outcomes.

“We will also look more closely at food environments and how people acquire their food. In Pacific countries and Timor-Leste, the home garden is critical for good nutrition. But we will also look at wild environments, such as forests and oceans, as well as informal markets, local vendors and supermarkets. We want to understand how food environments influence diets.” 

Dr Farmery said the multidisciplinary, holistic nature of the project means that every thread plays an important role in understanding the food security issues facing these island nations.

“We can’t look at one part of this in isolation. It doesn’t make sense. Diets are changing in the Pacific and we are trying to understand the nutritional, environmental and health impacts of these shifts. But we can’t do that without understanding where food comes from, what food people have access to, and how nutritious it is, or isn’t,” Dr Farmery said.

From left, ANCORS project members Elle McNeill, Tom Brewer, Anna Farmery, Lisa Wraith, Senoveva Mauli, Aurelie Delisle, Helani Kottage stand in a line in a grassy area. Photo: Michael Gray From left, ANCORS project members Elle McNeill, Senoveva Mauli, Lisa Wraith, Anna Farmery, Lisa Wraith, Tom Brewer, Helani Kottage, and Aurelie Delisle. Photo: Michael Gray

This project builds on a previous ANCORS project in the Pacific also funded by ACIAR. The first phase, overseen by Professor Neil Andrew from UOW, analysed Pacific agri-food systems to promote healthier, more diverse diets for people. Together, these projects are supporting countries to achieve the goals outlined in their national pathways developed as part of the United Nations food systems summit.

UOW Deputy-Vice Chancellor and Vice-President (Research and Sustainable Futures) Professor David Currow congratulated Dr Farmery and the ANCORS team on the project.

“Food insecurity is a complicated issue throughout the Pacific, and understanding how food systems impact health and the environment is fundamental to solving this pressing problem”, Professor Currow said. “I am thrilled to see the ANCORS team on the frontline, working with communities in the Pacific and Timor-Leste and global partners on research that will have a tangible and lasting impact.”  

UOW is committed to addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which provide a shared blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for everyone. This project addresses Goal 2, Zero Hunger; Goal 3, Good Health and Wellbeing; Goal 12, Responsible Consumption and Production; Goal 14, Life Below Water; and Goal 17, Partnership for the Goals. 

About the research

‘Extending integrated analysis for improved food system outcomes in Timor-Leste and the Pacific region’ includes the following researchers and staff: Anna Farmery (UOW); Tom Brewer (UOW); Helani Kottage (UOW/SPC); Neil Andrew (UOW); Senoveva Mauli (UOW); Aurelie Delisle (UOW); Lisa Wraith (UOW); Elle McNeill (UOW); Jessica Bogard (CSIRO); Anne Marie Thow (USyd); Ellen Johnson (USyd); Evelyn Wareham (SPC); Maria Musodroka (SPC); Mario Pereira (WorldFish); Acacio Sarmento (WorldFish); Gianna Bonis-Profumo (WorldFish); Komar Mendonça (Timor-Leste); Zina Bird (USP); and Mosese Qaloewai (SPC).