2013 Young Scholars: Reanna Willis

Reanna Willis
Reanna Willis


…I have been inspired to ‘seize the day’ and find my role in the modern global food system, which holds so many opportunities and is no longer left to our farmers alone."

My interest in the Crawford Fund started with an inspiring seminar in my building almost two years ago. I was extremely excited to receive a sponsorship to attend the 2013 Crawford Fund Conference, with a title of ‘Mining, Development and Agriculture: Bread from Stones?’, a topic critically important to local issues in Queensland, I knew I had to go along.

After arriving in Perth for the conference, the pace didn’t slow down for a moment. The first highlight for me was hearing the passionate Sir John Crawford Memorial Address from Dr Florence Chenoweth, Liberian Minister for Agriculture, as I sat in the front row of the Kings Park Function Centre looking out over the Perth CBD and the evening lights twinkling on through the trees. Watching this amazing woman speak, the concept of hunger became real to me. She spoke of the exclusion of human rights that hunger represents and the empowerment necessary to meet food security, reduce poverty and provide human dignity. Remembering the lecture where she first understood hunger and that people die from it, Dr Chenoweth spoke of throwing out her priority list about what she wanted to do when she grew up, and becoming the best agricultural scientist that she could be to contribute to these issues. I felt like doing the same.

During the conference proceedings, I really enjoyed the opportunity for discussion after each panel in our small table groups. Despite being Gen Y I hadn’t used Twitter much before, and it was great to see this technology used well during these discussions to capture the conversations, and to share the most interesting points with a much larger audience beyond the room. The Agriculture Research Day was another highlight; it was great to hear about what our fellow young scientists are working on, and I was very impressed by the enthusiasm of the morning speakers, which made me feel that as young agricultural scientists we have valuable contributions to make and strong support behind us. A final highlight was, of course, the conversations. In pubs, on buses, at the smoothly organised networking drinks each evening and in the morning tea frenzies, the exchange of advice and discussions really made the experience.

Reflecting on how this conference has benefited me, there’s a lot that I am thankful for. I greatly enjoyed meeting so many amazing, like-minded young people from across Africa and Australia, and after long discussions about their projects, interests and aspirations I know this is a group of people I look forward to working with more in the future. Being exposed to professionals who are doing important and interesting work and who are happy to share their experiences was invaluable, and gave me a renewed appreciation of how cool and critical international agricultural research is. I learned a lot from the conference program and the table discussions, including improving my previously lacklustre understanding of African issues, and broadening my perspective on the issues that meet at the nexus of mining, agriculture and development. I have been inspired to ‘seize the day’ and find my role in the modern global food system, which holds so many opportunities and is no longer left to our farmers alone.