Doorstop Interview, New Delhi 
Education opportunities in India

Question: … association would help in this regard?

Simon Birmingham: The agricultural focus of the research we’ve seen here is profound and as I alluded to in my remarks, we’ve seen one of the great successes of the world over recent decades has been our capacity to lift the volume of agricultural production right around the world at the same time as huge growth in global populations, and that’s been an enormous factor in the reduction in poverty and in the reduction of famine around the world. 

This type of research, though, will enable us to do even more, to continue to grow agricultural productivity, which means higher yields in circumstances with less reliance on pesticides, fertilizers, water requirements, so more effective production, but also doing it in a way that has a smaller environmental footprint. So, wins on multiple levels there in terms of the greater agricultural yields and the applicability of the research to not just major corporate farming activities but also the thought that’s going in to make sure that we translate it to be used by small farmers in isolated regional areas, farmers with limited literacy skills in mind through the colour-coding of seeds and the natural fertilizers being developed is a really incredible opportunity in that respect.

Question: … and so my question is how Australian politicians can help in stepping up the [indistinct]?

Simon Birmingham: Great question and it comes to the heart of collaboration; collaboration across disciplines, collaboration across university institutions, research institutions, collaborations between researchers and business and industry. This is really bringing all of that together, of course, and doing so at an international level. Because, particularly in areas of agriculture there are different strengths in terms of the knowledge about crop production and the processes that different countries have, because of our different climates, the different crops that we naturally focus on in those different climates. And so I think by working together across two countries, as well as all of those other collaborative and interdisciplinary aspects, it really does give a great potential to make even more great breakthroughs even faster in this type of field.

Question: Can you talk about the [indistinct] model where, you know, partner with industry, and government come together? And you also give you the different name [indistinct] … Now, my question is how do you address the [indistinct] not to become [indistinct] especially in terms of when you’re talking about individual property?

Unidentified speaker: Yes, I think that’s a good question and right at home, because it must be about research that has an impact for the community we see. So, Deakin have two pillars: education for the jobs of the future and research that makes a difference to the community we see. The holy trinity is that the academy, TERI, and Deakin consider what the problems of the community are. We then have government to give us the support for those ideas, to help us nurture what that [indistinct] and industry commercialise that idea. And as the Minister was just explaining with the farmers, many of our farmers are simple, humble people who are illiterate, who cannot read, but who have to use complicated fertilizers to fertilize their crops. If they use the wrong fertilizer, they might kill themselves, they could contaminate food crops, or contaminate the water supply. 

The idea we have at the moment around seed coating and [indistinct] is we would name with farmers to have very small amounts of fertilizer around seed coats and then we coloured the coating, so the farmer didn’t have to read that this was wheat, this was dill, this is lettuce, that is coriander. They knew that blue was wheat, and when you’re growing wheat you take this here and you put it into the soil or your spray. So, we took an idea, the Government supported the idea, and helped us with some of that and then industry have taken the idea and commercialised it. What’s happened? Cleaner water and less use of fertilizer so everyone is healthier, the plants for the next generation. 

Question: Is this the first collaboration for Deakin University in India and do you plan some more?

Unidentified Speaker: No, we have a very strong collaboration and presence in India. We’ve been here for 22 years. So we …

Question: But any more in the pipeline?

Unidentified Speaker: Yes, there will be. I’m sure there will be, in different areas of course.

Unidentified Speaker: But we only tell people about them when we have some outcomes to talk about.

Question: My question to you is what kind of support do you see from the Government to see India and Australia emerge as, you know, the world leaders in biotic space?

Unidentified Speaker: The Australia India Research Fund is a very, very generous fund, in fact, from the Australian Government and just last night the successful were announced and Deakin is one of those. And we will provide $1 million – in fact, the senior scientist is sitting just behind you, Peter Hodgson – and it’s to look at data and alloys and to see how you can be more efficient about those things. So, a very significant one, it comes from our Australian Government, from foreign affairs, from education, from innovation and industry to support things, research in India with Indian companies and Indian investors.

Simon Birmingham: The Australia India Research Fund is the largest such undertaking that we have as an Australian Government with any other country in terms of supporting that type of research across international borders. So, we’re very serious about it and I think we could see yesterday from the warmth of engagement between Prime Ministers Turnbull and Modi that there’s a strong commitment at the highest level to make sure that continues.