January 25, 2022
In July, we announced our 2021 Student Awardees – those talented students from around Australia selected by our State and Territory Committees to experience international agricultural research and development first-hand, in a COVID safe manner of course!
The 2021 recipients will carry out research across a diverse range of topics, focused in Australia, Laos, Uruguay, Vietnam, Fiji, Samoa, Uruguay, Malaysia, Brazil, Nepal and Myanmar. We would like to thank our partner organisations for making these opportunities available, including the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Grains Research and Development Corporation, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and the Sunrice Rice Research Facility.
We are excited to now bring you more details of each of our Awardees, their projects, and what they hope to achieve with the opportunity provided by our support. We are pleased to also provide input from our awardees’ supervisors on what they see as the benefit of the opportunity to add an international component to their student’s studies and research.
Charles Sturt University
Research – Improving small ruminant production and supply
The Crawford Fund student awards provide an important learning experience. Taking part in Crawford Fund Next Gen initiatives gives our students a broader perspective of agriculture as a global industry, Australia’s place in our region and the importance of research to support agricultural development and food security in developing nations. This is a fantastic opportunity for Amy to develop her research skills and to put her knowledge to use in Fiji, something that’s at the heart of the Charles Sturt mission of developing and spreading wisdom to make the world a better place.
Dr Shawn McGrath, Gulbali Institute at Charles Sturt University
How did you become interested in international ag for development and focusing your research in developing countries?
Agriculture has always been a dominant theme in my life. It wasn’t until I travelled to Nepal and Sri Lanka in 2014 that I saw and experienced it from the perspective of a developing country. The range was incredible, from livestock to dairy, apiary, crops and horticulture to fish and seafood. I was in awe of the experiences in these countries, however the light bulb to get involved in international research was yet to flick. I had the opportunity to again experience international agricultural industries in Indonesia and Cambodia in 2016. Primarily the cattle live export industry between Australia and Indonesia and small holder farms producing livestock and poultry for themselves and small markets in Cambodia. This trip solidified the importance of these industries within the local communities. These experiences have been extremely powerful and humbling but still the switch did not flick. At home, I have experienced a broad range of agricultural production across many states and territories. I have worked within livestock farming, poultry, pharmaceutical and had the opportunity to experience aquaculture production within Australia. While the production of Australian agriculture is vastly different to that in developing countries, there is also a wide range production systems and methods for doing so. Livestock production has always been close to my heart and this led me to commence my PhD is sheep nutrition and reproduction in 2020. Here, it wasn’t until I had a conversation with another PhD candidate that the light bulb illuminated and has refused to dim ever since. Listening to their experience of getting involved with research in a developing country ignited the desire to get involved myself. Reminiscing the power of those past experiences made it clear to me that a step in the direction of international research, especially small ruminants, was the right one for me.
Have you had any former experience in ag for development?
I haven’t experienced ag for development as such, but my experience in Cambodia was with a charity called Cows for Cambodia. This goal of this charity was to provide small holder producers with more stable income. This was done through the lending of pregnant cattle to small holder farmers. The farmer and their family were responsible for caring for the pregnant cow and calf until weaning. Once weaned, the calf remained with the family as their own and the cow was returned to be re-joined and move to another family where the process was repeated. Farmers then had the option to join heifers to produce more progeny, or slaughter steer calves for food. The charity expanded into building houses, improving farming facilities and setting up small holders with poultry to rear and sell at markets.
Are there benefits to Australia from the proposed award work?
Yes, engagement in the tropical production of small ruminants will broaden my exposure to a diverse range of management practices, production systems and networks. Common between Australia and the Pacific Islands are shedding breeds of sheep. There is very little information regarding the nutritional maintenance requirements of shedding breeds, especially requirements throughout pregnancy in the Australian setting, let alone the Pacific Islands. I will extend my knowledge base to be an industry leader regarding the impacts of ewe nutrition and condition, especially at joining, and potential impacts on production at both domestic and international level. This will be an invaluable skill set and knowledge base on which to begin and base my research career focused on small ruminant nutrition.
Please tell us about what you hope to do as part of your award and the impact it may achieve.
I hope to travel to Fiji to take part in the data collection component of the ACIAR project (LS/2017/033, COVID pending). This will involve visiting small holder livestock producers and collecting of body condition score, weight and pregnancy scanning information from dams and progeny information. The assessment of stock will provide the opportunity to show producers an easy method of assessing their stock through body condition scoring, which can be done without any tools or equipment. This is an easy method to assist in the nutritional management of stock. The ultimate aim is to assess current production through of the collected data. It is also hoped that an improvement in production may be determined/predicted from the analysed data.
Do you have a strategy to carry out the award research, even if travel is not possible, that you’d like to share with other awardees?
A member of the Australian research team involved in the project will be in country, along with the team of researchers based in country. If we are unable to travel due to pandemic restrictions the strategy will be to determine if the in-country team can collect the data.
What do you want to be working on in the future?
I would love to be involved in international research in the realm of small ruminant nutrition in the future. That is the area that gets me most excited when I think about future career pathways.
Do you have advice for others interested in getting involved in international ag development?
Just start asking questions: who to talk to, what projects are happening, where they are happening, why they are happening, why do you want to get involved? Don’t be afraid to ask all of the silly questions and then the smart ones.