SE-Asia and South Pacific Research


Panorama Na Bai, VietnamNa Bai Village, Vietnam. Photo credit Tran Lam Dong

Overview of Projects – making a difference

Significant challenges face South-East Asia and Pacific island countries in improving livelihood choices, overcoming poverty and reducing environmental impacts. In northwest Vietnam, where our South East Asian research is currently focused, rural poverty, deforestation and land degradation present interconnected development challenges.

In the South Pacific our work focuses on Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands where most rural people are semi-subsistence smallholder farmers who earn their livelihoods from agriculture, fishing and forestry. The region faces challenges on several levels, from climate change to the market forces (e.g. distance to and/or undersupply of markets, fluctuating economy), as well as persisting after-effects from historical events, such as the global financial crisis and several natural disasters such as tropical cyclones.

Our research looks at innovative opportunities to develop forestry, agroforestry, beekeeping and beef cattle farming while also considering environmental benefits, including enhanced forest and landscape management. In northwest Vietnam our research is looking at ways to improve farmer livelihoods through encouraging agroforestry and by rehabilitating natural forests. In the South-Pacific our research aims to increase the productivity, value adding and marketing options of smallholder farmers that will increase rural household incomes and livelihoods choices, as well as meeting undersupplied existing and emerging markets.

Beneficiaries of our Projects

While smallholder farmers are seen as the prime beneficiary of our projects there are other key stakeholders who benefit in varying degrees from the range and scope of our projects in South-East Asia and the South Pacific. These include:

  • Local communities through the strengthening of their local economies, diversification of incomes, provision of effective and appropriate best practice information
  • Women in agriculture, through their engagement in agricultural research and training
  • Agricultural and community development practitioners and consultants
  • Aid organisations engaged in forestry, agroforestry and beef cattle farming programs
  • Federal government relations between Australia and South Pacific partner countries
  • Small to medium business enterprises where value adding of products improves business and employment opportunities
  • Southern Cross University students and staff and collaborators from other Universities, South Pacific government departments, NGOs and the private sector forging strong partnerships and information sharing

Empowering Ni Vanuatu rural women through Farmer to Farmer knowledge transfer

In a major advancement in the engagement of Ni Vanuatu women in agricultural research and training, a special women-only farmer to farmer knowledge transfer alongside the Master TreeGrower course has been conducted on the West Coast Malo Island with 18 Ni Vanuatu women. Dr Cherise Addinsall and Votausi Mackenzie co-ordinated the resources of three Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) projects to bring together Ni Vanuatu women from East Coast Santo, Efate and West Malo, for a week of training and knowledge sharing on West Malo.

Using the Master TreeGrower (MTG) training model developed by the Australian Agroforestry Foundation the course explored how trees on farms supports livelihoods and lifestyles, whilst also improving environmental outcomes. “I was so impressed by the variety of trees on the Malo farms and the wide range of values they provide, particularly for women”, said Rowan Reid of the Australian Agroforestry Foundation. It was the first time that the MTG training model had be applied to women only as part of a piloting component of the ACIAR project “Enhancing returns from high-value agroforestry species in Vanuatu” which reflects ACIAR’s focus on improving the livelihoods of rural farming households and engagement of women in Vanuatu.

A key component of the training was the farmer-to-farmer information exchange between the East Coast Santo women from The Bisnis Blong Buluk (BBB) women’s group and the Malo womens group. The BBB womens group was established by Norah Rihai, Antoinette Nassee, and Dr Cherise Addinsall in 2017 to increase the capacity of female farmers from the ACIAR Project “Increasing the productivity and market options of smallholder beef cattle farmers in Vanuatu”. The BBB womens group presented training on fertility techniques such as composting and mulching and household and farm financial management. 

Salome Mark from the Bisnis Blong Buluk Project with the Malo women’s groupSalome Mark from the Bisnis Blong Buluk Project teaching Household budgeting training to the Malo Women’s Group on the women’s farmer to farmer exchange day.

Norah Rihai from the Vanuatu Agriculture College explained, “this is the first time the BBB women’s group have been trainers. I’m so proud of how confident and empowered they were teaching these skills to the women from Malo. The farmer to farmer strategy with rural Ni Vanuatu women is an innovative strategy for Vanuatu that has showed profound results in the abilities of these women in such a short time”. The reaction from the Malo women was very positive: “Seeing the BBB women’s group teach us these skills makes us think that if they can learn these skills then we can too, because they are just like us”. Dr Cherise Addinsall explained “It is vital for agricultural research and development projects to accommodate for the needs of rural Ni Vanuatu women and understand the limitations they experience due to cultural and gender related issues.”

Kre Iavro from the BBB women’s group teaches household budgeting Kre Lavro from the BBB women’s group teaches household budgeting.

Marian Nogor from the BBB women’s group teaching household budgetingMarian Nogor from the BBB women’s group teaching household budgeting to members from the Malo women’s group. The ladies approached Marian in their morning tea break to go over what they had learnt.

The course also involved more conventional training in the collection, processing and marketing of Nangai led by Elektra Grant and Votausi Mackenzie (Lapita Café) from the ACIAR project “Enhancing value added products and environmental benefits from agroforestry systems in the Pacific”. The women learnt grafting and layering techniques from Marie Andre, Joseph and Mesek Sephy. Anne-Marie Sarisets of the Vanuatu Forests Department led discussions on seed collection, nursery practices and agroforestry planting designs and Brenda Andre translated the technical information to the women.

In a very emotional speech at the closing of the week, Votausi Mackenzie explained to the women how grateful she was to the ACIAR projects for supporting the week of training to have taken place on her home island and gave a special thanks to West Malo for hosting the event: “as a local female entrepreneur I can see the value in this strategy of supporting female farmer to farmer exchange put forward by ACIAR and I hope that this work will continue as part of ACIAR’s commitment to engaging Ni Vanuatu women, Votausi then expressed “as women we now have an obligation to share the valuable information we have learnt this week to improve opportunities for all rural women”.

Linking farmers to high quality markets for their tree products, strengthening connections between agriculture and tourism, and diversifying farming practices, all help improve the livelihoods of rural households whilst also protecting the environment. The fact that most women farmers will learn these practices from other women highlights the importance of agricultural projects conducting women-only training programs.

group of people in Vanuatu Attendees at the special women-only farmer to farmer knowledge transfer alongside the Master TreeGrower course conducted on the West Coast Malo Island with 18 Ni Vanuatu women.


Southern Cross University is part of the ACIAR-funded project, Agroforestry for Farmer Livelihoods (AFLI) in northwest Vietnam. The project aims to improve farmer livelihoods through encouraging agroforestry, and by rehabilitating natural forests. Our main partners in this work are the Vietnamese Academy of Forest Science (Silviculture Research Institute) and Tay Bac University.

SCU research staff

J. Doland Nichols
Heidi Zimmer
John Grant


Unsustainable land management practices, particularly intensive monoculture cropping of corn, have resulted in many environmental problems in north western Vietnam. One of the most widespread and severe problems is erosion. This causes further environmental degradation and reinforces high rates of poverty in the region. A solution to these problems is to increase the cover of trees (and shrubs), especially on steep lands. The AFLi2 project is attempting to do this, with dual approaches of agroforestry and forest rehabilitation.

On-ground work with Na Bai and Na Noi villages

Panorama Na Noi, VietnamNa Noi village. Photo credit: Tran Lam Dong

We are working with local people in two main areas: (1) Son La province with Na Bai and Leo villages and (2) Dien Bien province with Na Noi village. Our focus is assisting the local people to get more trees and valuable forest products into their local landscapes through establishing scattered tree plantings, enrichment plantings within the forest (including of non-timber forest products) and by assisting forest natural regeneration. Other partners within the AFLI project are working with these villages, and other villages in the region, on related aims such as development other agroforestry options, markets for forest products, and local capacity building.

Panorama Na Bai, VietnamNa Bai Village. Photo credit Tran Lam Dong

Tay Bac Uni agroforestry experiment

We are working towards establishing a model agroforestry system with our partners at Tay Bac University. Corn fields will be overplanted with different combinations of trees and shrubs, and the impact on soil erosion and farmer income will be recorded.

Corn in Na Bai, VietnamCorn growing on steep slopes in Na Bai. Photo credit: Heidi Zimmer.
Forest in Na Noi, VietnamForest in Na Noi. Photo credit: Heidi Zimmer.

Silviculture Research Institute Hanoi
Tay Bac University Son La