News - Otway Agroforestry Network

Our Shiitake man wins Australia Day honour

IMG_0268_HR.JPGMany of our members will know Parsuram Sharma-Luital as the Bhutanese refugee who introduced us all to Log-Grown Shiitake Mushrooms. Well, in January Parsu was named the inaugural New Australian of the Year at a dinner hosted by the Victorian Australia Day Council. The panel considered nominations from around Australia of people who have lived in the country 18 years or less and have made a significant contribution to the nation. His award highlighted the work he had done with the OAN researching and promoting Shiitake mushroom production as an outstanding example of Australians learning new skills from refugees.

I met Parsuram more than ten years ago when he chose to join my agroforestry class. He was on a scholarship and went back to Bhutan to take up a position as a agricultural extension officer working with poor hill country farmers. Through observing and learning about the local community, their farming systems and market options he developed an interest in the prospects for Shiitake mushrooms to produce a high value produce that could be grown on the locally available native forest oak, harvested, dried and then carried down the mountains to the markets in the lowland cities.

Although Parsu's own family were successful farmers in the south of the country he was as much an outsider amongst the hill-farmers as I might have been. He wore different clothes, worshiped a different God and spoke a different language. Parsu was a descendant of Nepalese immigrants that had been invited by the King of Bhutan to settle in his country back in the 19th century. By the time the English arrived a 100 years later the Nepalese communities had become the major food producers and their growing numbers and economic strength was beginning to fuel resentment amongst the traditional Bhutanese. For his whole life Parsu and his family had lived as second-class citizens in the only place they knew to call home.

Parsuram did well in his studies at Melbourne University and was invited to return to Australia to complete a Masters and it was while he was here (2004) that things turned sour back home. He returned as soon as he could to find his family had being dispossessed of their land and forced out of the country by government supported intimidation and political isolation. I was stunned by Parsu's telling of the shocking stories of present-day persecution against members of his own family, and of his courage in confronting the authorities. Whilst our media celebrates Bhutan's stated goal of gross national happiness as an alternative to gross domestic product, thousands of people who had been born and raised within its borders were been forced into refugee camps in neighbouring Nepal where they were disowned by both countries.

Having a legitimate student-visa allowed Parsu to return to Australia and seek refugee status. Within a few months he was running a publically funded mushroom production project at CERES in Brunswick teaching Burmese refugees how to grow Swiss Brown and Oyster Mushrooms. He'd already imported Shiitake spawn from the USA and just needed some fresh logs, preferably oak, which is why he called me. That's when we started working together: we got funding from the Victorian Government to run workshops and write the Shiitake Growers Manual. He also helped me supervise an Indonesian student who trialled six different tree species and demonstrated that eucalypts were a viable alternative to oak.

Since then, Pasu has worked in a number of jobs supporting other refugees and is now working for Victoria Police as a liaison officer. He is also a prominent leader within his own community. Despite his success, he always reminds me that he really enjoyed working with OAN and sees it as one of his greatest achievements in his new homeland. OAN congratulates Parsu on his award. We hope we can bring him back to the hills soon for a field day and a toast.

- Rowan Reid

African farmers learn from Otways growers

SEVEN Colac district farmers have travelled to Africa to teach other farmers how to get more value from their timber.

Otway Agroforestry Network members visited Kabale, Uganda, where they took about 90 landholders through a Master TreeGrower course - the first time the course has reached the African continent. More . . . Jennifer Chiu, Monday, June 10th, 2013.Colac Herald



Agroforestry crucial to ensure food security of millions, says UN agency

5 February 2013 - The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today called on countries to boost efforts to promote agroforestry, a practice involving the combination of trees with crop or livestock production, stressing it can help millions of people escape poverty and prevent environmental degradation, making it crucial to ensure food security in the future.

“In many countries the potential of agroforestry to enrich farmers, communities and industry has not been fully exploited,” said FAO's Director of Forest Assessment, Management and Conservation Division, Eduardo Mansur.

“Despite the numerous benefits of agroforestry, the sector is largely hampered by adverse policies, legal constraints and lack of coordination between the sectors to which it contributes, namely, agriculture, forestry, rural development, environment and trade.”

Agroforestry combines agricultural and forestry technologies to create more productive and sustainable systems for land use. According to FAO, the agroforestry sector is a significant source both of local commodities such as fuelwood, timber, fruit and fodder for livestock as well as global ones such as coconut, coffee, tea, rubber and gum.

In a new guide aimed at decision-makers, non-governmental organizations and governmental institutions, FAO shows how agroforestry can be integrated into national strategies and how policies can be adjusted to specific conditions.

The guide provides 10 tracks for policy action, including raising awareness of agroforestry systems among farmers and the global community; reforming unfavourable regulations in forestry, agricultural and rural codes; and clarifying land-use policy regulations.

The guide also provides examples of best practices and success stories, such as Costa Rica where more than 10,000 contracts have been signed for agroforestry over the past eight years, resulting in the planting of more than 3.5 million trees on farms.

In addition, the guide argues policymakers should create incentives to implement agroforestry. For example, farmers introducing trees on farms should be rewarded in the form of grants, tax exemptions, cost-sharing programmes, microcredits or through assistance to develop their infrastructure.

Long-term credit is also key as benefits to farmers planting trees reach them only after some years. The value of carbon sequestered and other environmental services provided by the trees could also be applied to paying the interest.

The guide was developed by FAO in cooperation with the World Agroforestry Centre, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre and the Agricultural Research Centre for International Development.



Greens Leader Christine Milne spends the day


"Otway Agroforestry Network is a national trendsetter and role model for our rural communities. I had a great time"

Christine toured 2 showcase properties. She quickly realised she was viewing something special and was full of praise for the OAN philosophy and approach to sustainable farming and 'productive' landcare. We turned on a fantastic bush flavoured lunch to illustrate what a wonderful range of products we can (and do) include in our plantations. She took lots of photos of lunch and we suspect they ended up on her food blog!

Here she is pictured discussing timber products with Rowan Reid. The hall table in the forground is made from 16- year -old Shining Gum (E.nitens) that was grown, managed and harvested in the riparian zone they are standing in.








delicious. Produce Awards 2012

4021-LARGE.JPGThe delicious. Produce Awards recognises the people at the heart of Australia's food industry, and this year's record number of nominations - nearly 2000 - shows the burgeoning number of boutique producers and a growing interest in sustainability. Over two days at Simon Johnson in Sydney's Alexandria, our national judges - awards patron Maggie Beer, Alla Wolf-Tasker, Matt Moran, Cheong Liew and Philip Johnson - together with food director Valli Little tasted their way through the best of the Paddock, Dairy, Earth and Sea to bring you the 2012 winners and medallists. “There was a huge variety to choose from,” says E'cco Bistro chef Philip. “The line-up this year was the strongest we've seen yet.”

Robert Wertheimer, Otway Forest Shiitake pictured here with the award.

Otway Forest Shiitake (Log-grown shiitake mushrooms) won two categories: -FROM THE EARTH (primary winner) and BEST NEW PRODUCT





Australian Log-grown Shiitake Mushroom Manual

by Parsuram Sharm-Luital & Rowan Reid

With the support of the Victorian Government we have published the first Australian Shiitake Growers Manual. The 60-page, full-colour manual covers the biology, practical and marketing of log-grown shiitake and includes the results of our research and Australian experience gained over 4 years with almost 1000 logs in production.

Shiitake mushrooms are the second-most consumed edible fungi in the world. Whilst most commercial producers use artificial substrates and expensive controlled-environment facilities there is a growing interest in the traditional log-based methods that have been used for centuries in East Asia. In fact, the word Shiitake literally means Oak-Mushroom.
Based on research undertaken at The University of Melbourne and local commercial-scale trials including one at the CERES Community Environment Park in Melbourne, this well illustrated and practical manual provides the first detailed analysis of the methods, yields and prospects for log-grown Shiitake mushroom production in Australia. Whilst clearly enthusiastic about the prospects the authors' academic, practical and commercial experience ensures that they do not overstate the prospects or ignore the risks. The colour photos and research-quality data provide the reader with added confidence that this is a manual that is firmly based on fact.
Before settling in Australia, Parsuram Sharma-Luital worked as a District Agriculture Extension officer in Bhutan and was involved in teaching farmers how to grow Shiitake mushrooms on logs. At CERES he developed the first commercial-scale log-grown Shiitake enterprise in Australia and sold mushrooms directly into the wholesale markets and to restaurants. Rowan Reid is a Senior Fellow in Forest Science at The University of Melbourne and the National Coordinator of the Australian Master TreeGrower Program. He is also a tree grower on his own farm where he grows a wide range of species for shelter, conservation and profit. Together, Parsu and Rowan have been leading research into the prospects for growing Shiitake on Australian tree species and have been able to demonstrate that some of our farm grown eucalypts may well be as productive as oak.
This book has been published for Australian farmers by the Otway Agroforestry Network, a community group of more than 300 tree growers in southern Victoria, with the support of the Victorian Government through the Victorian Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development's Next Generation Food Strategy, 'Networks to Success' Program.
Cost: $30 Includes GST and Postage
For your copy, send a cheque made out to: "Otway Agroforestry Network" and mail to PO Box 62 Birregurra 3242

Watch our video clip



Agroforestry and a changing climate

The House of Representatives Primary Industries and Resources Committee visits [Video]

“Twenty years of sustainable agroforestry operations in Colac district would lead the way in an emissions trading Australia.”
These were the words of Tasmanian Federal Labour Member for Lyons, Dick Adams, as reported in The Colac Herald on Sept. 4th after a tour of the Otway Agroforestry Network (OAN) by the House of Representatives Primary Industries and Resource Committee.
Mr. Adams, Committee Chairman, went on to say, “It is great to utilise the advice of farmers who have been developing agroforestry practices for 20 years. Farmers within this region are leaders in innovation and whole farm and landscape management.”
The committee is investigating the role of government in assisting Australian farmers to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
The House of Representatives Primary Industries and Resources Committee is investigating the role of government in assisting Australian farmers to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
The Committee is considering how farmers are or could be adapting to climate change, and the potential impacts on downstream processing. It is looking into the role of government in assisting farmers shift towards farming practices that promote resilience in the farm sector, and government's role in promoting research, extension and training that assists farmers better adapt to climate change. The role of rural research and development is also being examined.
Four members of the House of Representatives Primary Industries and Resource Committee met with the Otway Agroforestry Network team along with Richard Morrow, Darren Cheeseman, Federal Member for Corangamite, Steve Cameron, Corangamite Catchment Management Authority and Simon Ramsay who is the immediate past-president of the Victorian Farmers Federation.
The Colac Herald reported Mr Adams saying, “Insights gained from the trip would shape government policy. The work that is being done here can provide policy reform and innovation.” He said, “A bi-partisan committee with members from across Australia will make recommendations to the government on what role farming will play in an emissions trading scheme. We don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water but a lot more clever thinking is where we need to be heading.”
Initially, the OAN was invited to make a written submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Resources inquiry into Australian farmers and climate change. OAN responded by inviting the Committee to “Lunch in the Landscape.” This gave us the opportunity to show case five properties and to demonstrate grass and tree roots approaches to developing resilient and robust landscapes in the face of climate change. The committee accepted and arrived in the Otways on 2nd September. This gave the OAN management team five and a half hours to demonstrate and discuss the important issues with the Committee.
The key points demonstrated to the Committee were that the strategic integration of trees and shrubs into farming systems and agricultural landscapes can help farmers and the rural communities that depend on them face the challenges of a changing climate. The key is risk management. Trees are a land management tool that farmers can use to reduce risk, increase resilience and create complementary income opportunities. With knowledge, confidence, support and access to appropriate resources and markets farmers can establish and manage trees on their land to:
(1) Ameliorate the effects of extreme and unpredictable climatic events on agricultural production:
(2) Diversify their farming business by producing products and services that are independent of traditional agricultural markets and less susceptible to climatic variability
(3) Sequester carbon dioxide in living biomass and woody products thus offsetting agricultural emissions and providing marketing and partnership opportunities.
The Parliamentary Committee was accompanied by the Parliamentary media unit who will write an article about the visit in the Federal Parliamentary magazine “About the House”. We were also informed that a video clip will be aired on Sky News.

For more information, visit

Pictured here in a riparian area with multi-purpose agroforestry plantings are : Members of the House of Representatives Primary Industries and Resource committee, from left, Alby Shultz (Federal Liberal Member for Hume), Dick Adams (Federal Labour Member for Lyons), Graham Perrett (Federal Labour Member for Moreton), and John Forrest (Federal Nationals Member for Mallee). The table, made by Neil McInness from Rowan Reid's 16-year-old Shining Gum, is adorned with banksia flowers (a commercial forest product) and John Forrest is holding a Mountain Pepper plant, which is part of the commercial agroforestry understorey.





Tony Burke visits the Otway Agroforestry Network

Federal Agriculture Minister Tony Burke said, “Colac district's Agroforestry network is a model for farm communities across Australia”. This comment was reported in the Colac Herald early April 2009 after Mr. Burke visited the Colac district to discuss sustainable environmental plans with Landcare networks the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority and the Otway Agroforestry Network (OAN). The OAN hosted Mr. Burke for a tour, which included lunch in the shade of a multi purpose agroforestry planting along a riparian zone.
In the Colac Herald article Mr. Burke said the future of agroforestry across Australia is bright and said he would use Colac district examples as models for other farming regions in the country.
Mr. Burke has invited the OAN to further present the case for agroforestry's role in supporting landcare and sustainable farming practices. This presentation will occur later in May.

Tony Bourke youtube clip