Getting to know our Student Awardees – Chitpasong Kousonsavath, University of Adelaide

October 11, 2021

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, Fiji, Samoa, Uruguay, Malaysia, Vietnam, 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 really pleased 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.


Presenting:

Chitpasong Kousonsavath
PhD Student
University of Adelaide

Research: A comparative study of consumers’ organic food purchasing behaviour in Laos and Australia

Supervisor

The Crawford Fund award will add another dimension to Chitpasong’s John Allwright Fellowship from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). Chitpasong has lived experience not just in farming, agriculture value chains and food systems but also in university teaching in Laos and the opportunity to get a deeper dive will no doubt help both her PhD program and her teaching skills in Laos and Australia.

Dr Wendy Umberger, Executive Director of the Centre for Global Food & Resources at the University of Adelaide

How did you become interested in international ag for development and focusing your research in developing countries?

I became interested in agriculture because I was born into an agricultural family where most of my household’s food came from our livestock and crop production. I feel like agriculture is so close to us in different aspects (food supply, household income resources, contribution to the national economy). Therefore, I decided to learn more about the scientific aspects of agriculture in my Bachelor degree (Plant breeding), and the business and economics in later studies, including my Masters degree (Agribusiness), and now in my PhD degree. 

Another reason is my job as an Agricultural Lecturer and Researcher at the National University of Laos (Faculty of Agriculture), where our role is to train high quality researchers and professionals to work in agricultural sectors across the country. To be able to deliver such an objective, it is important for me to have skills, experiences, and networks with national and international organisations in order to help improve our teaching quality.  My research experiences in agricultural development have become part of my teaching that I share with my students.

My PhD research project is taking a look at the consumers’ organic food purchasing behaviour, in both an emerging market (Laos), and developed market (Australia). Learning from both developed and developing countries could help—I hope— connect some lessons learned, or provide useful recommendations for both countries.

Have you had any former experience in ag for development?

In the past years, I have had opportunities to be involved in several agricultural development projects and have worked with different experts from different international agricultural organisations. Examples include:

  1. The ACIAR funded project on ‘Improving food security in the Northern upland of Lao PDR: Identifying drivers and overcoming barriers’. This was a partnership research project between the National University of Laos and universities in Australia. The project ran from 2016 to 2020, and I was involving in several aspects such as organizing consultation workshops with local government, managing the field experiments, coordinating with local partners, and managing data collection processes.
  2. The maize value chain analysis survey project for the United States Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). I worked on this project as a consultant in 2019. The project aimed to identify some non-tariff barriers faced by maize traders in the northern part of Laos when trading maize to overseas markets (Thailand, Vietnam, China). I was in charge of conducting field surveys, data analysis and supporting production of the field survey report.
  3. The organic food consumer study in collaboration with CIRAD, France, in 2015. I was involved in conducting interviews with consumers, restaurants and hotels across the main cities in seven provinces in Laos.

Are there benefits to Australia from the proposed award work?

The proposed award work could benefit Australia in two key ways. Firstly, this research can help extend an existing research collaboration relationship between Australian institutions and the National University of Laos. This collaboration could provide opportunities for Australian students who would like to learn more about agricultural development in developing countries through study tours or student placement programs. 

Moreover, part my research project is focusing on consumer organic food purchasing behaviour in Australia. The outcomes from this study could help the organic industry to learn more about the knowledge of consumers regarding organic food production and certification systems. 

Please tell us about what you hope to do as part of your award and the impact it may achieve.

As part of my award, I hope I will be able to collect consumer data from my home country (Laos) and use the data to generate meaningful insights on organic food purchasing and consumption behaviour, of use to the government, private sector and agricultural development projects—all of whom are investing in the development of an organic industry and certification system in Laos.

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?

If the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prevent travel overseas, I plan to work with my colleagues back home to help me collect the data needed. The electronic data collection platform could be considered for the data collection, as I can quickly check data from a distance.

What do you want to be working on in the future?

In the future, I see myself continuing working as lecturer at the university because I enjoy teaching and   research related to agricultural development. I would like to use the knowledge gained during my PhD journey to teach and guide my students and contribute to improving the research capacity of my research community back home.

Do you have advice for others interested in getting involved in international ag development?

If I could provide advice to those who might be interested in getting involved in international agricultural development, I would say it is important to consider three things:

  1. Working with local institutions is important. Local institutions have long-term experience working with local communities and are familiar with local regulations which can help you to navigate and facilitate activities (e.g. data collection) needed to fulfil your research project objectives and/or improve your experiences.
  2. Be prepare for changes. Agricultural development research and work in developing countries involves so many different actors and aspects such as local communities, authorities, local culture, rules, regulations and/or local geographical conditions. A change in schedules, weather, staff availability, etc. can easily influence how things are planned or implemented.
  3. Learning about working culture of your partners. Working in international development involves working with people from different cultures, disciplines and organisations. Therefore, learning about your partner institutions work culture and ethics could help the project run more effectively and smoothly.