Getting to know our Student Awardees – Nicholas Metherall, Australian National University

March 29, 2022

Last year 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 firsthand, 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, Mexico, 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.


Nicholas Metherall
PhD Student (Environmental Science + Hydrology)
Australian National University

Research: Measurement, reporting and verification of agricultural landscapes using GIS and remote sensing

“Nick Metherall’s success in getting this award is significant for his research trajectory in the environmental sciences within the Pacific region. His in-country experience provides the opportunity to deepen his understanding of unique and often complex biophysical, social, economic and cultural landscapes that contrast with his home country environment. It has also provided opportunities for Nick to build extensive mutually beneficial networks with academics, professionals and practitioners, and communities with whom he has been able to collaborate and share valuable information and skills.  Nothing can replace the richness of cross-cultural, in-field shared experience.”

Dr Sara Beavis, Senior Lecturer, Associate Director Postgraduate Coursework, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

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

My father’s side of my family come from a dairy farm in Gippsland but their farm was devastated by the Millennium Drought.  

I completed my Honours fieldwork in Timor where I also studied about dryland agricultural and animal husbandry in the class and in the field. From my time in the drylands, I also became grounded in the issues surrounding water security for agriculture, livestock and livelihoods. I also conducted research on climate change adaptation in Flores, Indonesia and Papua. Through this fieldwork, I lived and worked in rural and remote areas for 16 months. 

After returning to Australia, I studied hydrology for my Masters and worked in the Agriculture Section of the Climate Change Division of the Federal Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. In this Team I worked on a range of methods within the Emissions Reduction Fund. These included livestock, soil carbon and vegetation. 

I completed my MSc thesis fieldwork in the sugarcane belts of Fiji. Here, I explored the complex relationship between agricultural runoff point source pollution and surface water quality in rivers and coastal areas. For this fieldwork. I lived in a small rural town in Fiji for eight months.More recently, I have worked for the Global Evergreening Alliance which works on restoring degraded agricultural landscapes throughout the world including developing countries.

Have you had any former experience in ag for development?

AS mentioned above, most recently, I have worked for the Global Evergreening Alliance which works on restoring degraded agricultural landscapes throughout the world including developing countries. For these areas, I have worked on the scientific assessment of carbon farming to provide additional sources of income and livelihoods for smallholder farmers. An example of the activities we are supporting include farmer managed natural regeneration of degraded landscapes and alley cropping and intercropping of leguminous shrubs.

I have also been using a range of geospatial assessment tools, remote sensing methods and GIS environmental modelling software tools within these agricultural contexts. This work supports Measurement Reporting and Verification (MRV) to support these farmers collectives to add carbon credits to their income streams and livelihoods.

Are there benefits to Australia from the proposed award work?

I can apply the skills and tools that have been used to measure report and verify agricultural landscape restoration and carbon credit accumulation in a range of contexts including Australia.

For example, in 2020, I joined a competition called The Maxar Spatial Challenge. Within this competition we combined high resolution remote sensing satellite imagery with Full Carbon Accounting model (FullCAM) software to monitor the potential carbon stocks and sequestration rates from bushfire recovery projects in the aftermath of the devastating 2019-2020 Australian bushfires. 

Our entry won second place in the competition and sheds light on this for methods to support Australian farmers in post-bushfire economic recovery.

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

The research project seeks to develop a framework for monitoring rivers in ridge to reef ecosystems including upper catchments agricultural plots and large-scale floodplain agriculture. This framework includes monitoring of sediment transport, surface water quality, agricultural runoff, point source pollution, agriculture forestry and land use change and carbon farming.

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?

Due to the limitations and restrictions on travel and field work during the current covid pandemic, we need to be creative. Instead of using this opportunity and funding to support my own fieldwork as originally planned, I intend to use this support to provide jobs and funded opportunities for entry level researchers including local and indigenous Fijians to become research assistants in this project. 

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

I would like to continue working in the intersection of spaces including environmental monitoring, water and food security as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation. 

I hope to do this through a combination of technical computer skills including GIS and remote sensing as well as a healthy amount of fieldwork including environmental monitoring sampling and assessments,  hydrological measurements, forestry inventory and soil sampling.

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

Outside of the pandemic lockdowns try to get as much field work experience as possible, and within the pandemic lockdowns try to build on your technical computer skills.

Get involved with RAID Network, ACIAR, landcare groups and the Crawford Fund.

Any other comments?

Lots of gratitude for this wonderful opportunity. Thanks for supporting us in our research for agriculture for development.