From Environmental Science to Ag for Development – People Matter!

March 4, 2021

As part of our career pathways series, we’ve heard about a pathway to agriculture for development through forestry  and through anthropology. In this blog we hear from Anneliese Austin, an early career researcher with Bees for Sustainable Livelihoods from Southern Cross University in Lismore. Her environmental science degree and finding her love being around the extraordinary women of PNG and their bees lead to ‘an incredible journey’ and her career in agriculture for development. Her advice? “Go For It!”

When I first started my Bachelor of Environmental Science at Southern Cross University, I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams that I would have found a career in Agricultural Research for Development. My initial motivation for studying environmental science was to spend the least amount of time around people as possible: how wrong I was!

I have always had a love of the environment and travel. As a young child, I was lucky enough to live throughout the Pacific with my family, calling Papua New Guinea (PNG), the Solomon Islands, and Fiji home. As an undergraduate student, I was intrigued by a small mapping project from PNG put forward by Dr Cooper Schouten and Dr David Lloyd from Bees for Sustainable Livelihoods (B4SL) supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). This small project has turned into an incredible journey both personally and professionally, with new challenges at every turn, but I would honestly not have had it any other way.

I have now transitioned to working with B4SL to improve gender equity in beekeeping for development. I am currently undertaking my Ph.D. which seeks to identify strategies to enhance women’s agency through a gender transformative approach, creating support networks for women in beekeeping and eliminating the discriminatory structures which prevent women from reaching their beekeeping aspirations.

It is hard to explain, but I felt like I was home from the first moment I stepped foot in PNG again. I am in genuine awe of the women of PNG. Their strength, resilience, and adaptability in the face of enormous challenges never cease to amaze and inspire me, as does their commitment to family, community, and country.

And bees? What is not to love about them? There are many social, economic, and environmental benefits of beekeeping for rural women in low-income countries. Beekeeping can be conducted close to the home or in the village, taking up minimal space, resources, and time. For smallholder farmers, beekeeping can co-exist alongside other agricultural activities and enterprises. Bees are remarkable insects that produce valuable products that can be sold as-is or value-added to diversify family income and promote women’s business enterprise engagement. Bees provide pollination services that improve the quality and quantity of agricultural fruit sets while offering rural communities viable alternative income sources that may help reduce the need to clear natural forest areas.

My advice to anyone interested in AgR4D. Go for it! Take every opportunity you can, follow your interests, and seek out like-minded people to share your passion with. Five years ago, I may have naively thought that working away from people would make me happy, which could not be further from the truth. I now thrive on the opportunity to do something for others, giving marginalised women a voice, learning with them, and watching their thoughts and ideas blossom into meaningful action, gender equity outcomes, and environmental sustainability in Pacific Island honey bee sectors.