Acotanc Conference a “great success”

Report:Acotanc Conference a “great success” #

The Acotanc-2001 Conference staged in Perth on April 13-19 this year has been judged a “great success”.

Officially the 9th Australasian Conference on Tree and Nut Crops, the event was the latest in the series and was hosted by WANATCA, the West Australian Nut & Tree Crop Association. The Acotanc Conferences are currently held every three years in sites around Australasia – the 8th was in Nelson, New Zealand and was hosted by the New Zealand Tree Crops Association. WANATCA hosted the first Acotanc, in Perth in 1982, and has waited 19 years for the second staging in WA.

Each Acotanc is staged by a local group or groups, and the emphasis of each is dependent on the groups involved. Acotanc-2001 was ambitious in its scope, looking not only at individual tree crops, but also far beyond to rational land use factors such as sustainability and plant evolution, and to problems such as salinity.

Papers and talks were presented over 5 days. The first three days were devoted to around 32 specific mini-conferences (‘MiniAcs’) run concurrently, covering particular crops such as figs, pecans, and chestnuts, groups such as Australian native plant foods and medicinals, tropical fruits and unusual temperate fruits, timbers and non-timber forest products, and topics such as water use and salinity control with trees.

The last two days were Plenary sessions on broader aspects of tree crops – feeding the future world population, world tree crops under saline and arid conditions, how Earth Expansion gave us our tree resources, climate changes and tree crops, the rhizosphere (root zone) and tree crops, the international nut trade, and other vital topics.

“We did wonder at times if we had bitten off more than we could chew”, said Conference Coordinator David Noel, who in everyday life is Director of the Tree Crops Centre in Subiaco. “But at the end of the Day 5, there was a great feeling of euphoria and satisfaction all round. We received many compliments on the content and running of the conference, and we were thanked by numerous people for going to the effort of staging it”.

“I have to admit, though, it was a bit like the swan-on-water situation”, he said. “If it looked calm and serene on top, there was frantic paddling and action underneath. It was a tremendous team effort, and the Conference’s success was a real pleasure boost for all those who worked so hard on it”.

Mr Noel said compliments and thanks were due all round, but special mention had to be made of the Conference Manager, Monica Durcan of Landcare Promotions, who worked well beyond the call of duty; Conference Treasurer Wayne Geddes, who managed all the money, and will be reporting on the finances when he returns from South America (only kidding); Charles Peaty, offering sage advice all the way along; Pat Scott for helping with the website work when deadline pressures were becoming extreme; Yvonne Pantino and all her colleagues from the Permaculture Association, called upon in the last few weeks before and during the conference, and who made sure the necessary things actually happened on time; and last but not least, Conference Chairman Stanley Parkinson, a wonderful people person, who held the whole thing together.

According to Mr Noel, Acotanc-2001 had been a major event in his life. The Conference had included many innovations in its content, organization, and structure. Some of these moves were frankly untested and risky, but luckily enough most of them had worked out well. The worst organizational problem, which was totally unforeseen, had been the stranding of two speakers in Sydney due to the Ansett Airlines groundings just before the conference.

Mr Noel said the conference held many personal highlights for him:

*• The number of first-class overseas speakers, including those from Chile, South Africa, India, Philippines, and Spain, and from Georgia, Oregon, and California in the USA;

• The gratifying extent of local expertise, both in WA and elsewhere in Australasia, which could be found when lines of enquiry were pursued;

• The world-wide area from which delegates came, including a team of six people from Bhutan, and others from Britain, tropical Africa, and all the world’s continents except Antarctica;

• The wonderful opportunities for personal interchange and networking thrown up by the coming-together of all these groups;

• The success of the approach of working substantially through the Acotanc website and e-mail facilities in conference publicity, registration, organization, and building up the speaker base;

• The impact of the on-line video interview with Prof. Alex McCalla at the University of California Davis, on ‘Feeding the Future World Population’, recorded only a few days before the actual conference;

• James Maxlow’s presentation on “How Earth Expansion Gave Us our Tree Resources”, a new and fascinating insight into how events in the geological past have impacted upon present situations;

• Success of the ‘MiniAc’ approach, described by one participant as “brilliant”;

• The substantial financial help from the Federal Government’s Horticulture Research and Development Corporation (now Horticulture Australia), and the good feeling of being able to claim that their investment paid off;

• The praise for the informal approach adopted for the conference and the associated bush dance and barbecue;

• The masterly summing-up and review of the conference by Dr Rob Fletcher of University of Queensland’s Gatton College, and the announcement that Gatton expected to host the next Acotanc in mid-2004, in conjunction with a New Crops conference.* Mr Noel quoted from the Conference brochure, “We want those attending to go away with the feeling that they have been genuinely privileged to witness material which is new, vital, interesting, insightful and scientifically sound, and set to have a great positive influence on the future well-being of the planet”. He thought that when participants looked back on the conference and its outcomes in future years, they might accept that Acotanc had gone a good way towards achieving this aim. And, according to many participants, it had been fun too!

He said that the personal benefits gained by the participants was not the end of it, work was now beginning to convert the conference material for publication on the Acotanc website, at This conversion, under the oversight of Pat Scott, would extend the benefits of the conference to the community at large.

[News Release / 2001 May 1]