October 5, 2022
The Crawford Fund’s Annual Conference was held recently in Parliament House, Canberra. The event had a special flavour this year celebrating 35 years of the Crawford Fund and the 40th anniversary of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). These milestones provided an opportunity for all those who are a part of Australia’s rich history in agriculture for development to get together and celebrate and, also to reflect and to consider the work yet to be done.
As well as bringing together the world’s leading experts in agricultural science, research, policy, development and industry to address the conference topic, the Crawford Fund is committed to encouraging the next generation in international agriculture for development to the event via scholarships awarded through our State and Territory committees and scholar supporters.
Our conference scholarship program started in 2010 in the hope that by experiencing the Crawford Fund conference and network, our special program of activities around the conference and being mentored by inspirational experienced researchers, young researchers would be inspired and energised to be more involved. The results have been fantastic, with a great mix of youth and experience at our flagship event each August and a growing and enthusiastic conference scholar alumni approaching 400.
Our competitive Conference Scholarships are offered to young people with a genuine interest in international agricultural research and development to attend the conference and a special set of activities that we have developed since the program commenced in 2010.
Our other activities to encourage university students and early career researcher include highlighting opportunities in volunteering for projects overseas through the Australian Volunteers Program; our work with Researchers in Agriculture for International Development (RAID), and our special international student awards to enable students to be involved in overseas projects as part of their university study.
One of the requirements of the scholarship is that each scholar provides us with a reflection on their experience. We will be providing these reflections over the coming weeks, grouped by State.
Once again, we would like to thank our wonderful mentors, mentioned alongside the scholar they supported, who volunteer their time and offer valuable guidance, support and insights to the scholars throughout the conference.
Four scholars from Western Australia attended the 2022 Crawford Fund conference supported by our WA Committee. Highlights of their experiences have been captured below:
Alice Butler, WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development
“Overall, the conference was amazing, but what really made an impact on me were the people involved in the Crawford Fund/RAID network, and their passion on improving nutritional security and building resilience in agriculture within developing countries.”
Daniel Kierath, University of Western Australia
“A theme that was touched on by a number of speakers was the importance of long-term relationships in the management of impactful projects. To me, this highlights something that has importance that extends far beyond the realm of international agricultural development. It speaks to the importance of people and relationships, not just the technical factors in influencing positive change. It can be so easy to focus on the science or a specific technology, which can be quantified and, when compared to complex social interactions, more easily understood.”
Niamh Walsh, Curtin University
“Throughout the day, we listened to many impressive presenters, including many female industry leaders which was both inspiring and intriguing. My idea of careers in agriculture was broadened and my excitement for beginning my career in the sector grew with every presenter. I had not considered many paths that were discussed, and with every presenter came more inspiration. My interest largely surrounds innovation and sustainability, and there were many presentations throughout the day which focused on these topics.”
Shell Xiao, University of Western Australia/Syngenta
“I have always had an inner drive to do volunteering at some stage of my career. Listening to people that have developed a career in the space through different paths certainly inspired me. I came back home and started research on the volunteering opportunities that I was exposed to in the conference days and found out that many of them match my qualifications and areas of interest. I have already started a plan to make myself available for in-country volunteering in the next one or two years.”
Read on for the full reflections of each WA scholar:
Alice Butler, DPIRD
Mentor: Lyn Abbott
Attending the 2022 Crawford Conference “Celebrating Agriculture for Development – Outcomes, Impacts and the Way Ahead” has given me a better understanding of the importance of the agricultural research done in Australia and by Australians overseas. Increasing food production capacity within Australia and translating our research to increased food and nutritional security abroad is critically important and this will only increase as we navigate through conflict, climate change and high input prices, which add further stress to our global food production system.
When Jessica Raneri, Senior Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture Advisory to the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) and Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), used the term nutrition security rather than food security to better reflect the effects of lack of diversity within the diet it really highlighted how feeding the world is just the tip of the iceberg. Two sentences in her presentation really stuck with me were “more than three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet” and “twenty-five (25%) of the world’s population lives on less than US $3.20 per day”. These numbers really reinforce how privileged we are to live in Australia. One of my fellow West Australian scholars made the point that in Australia we are trying to increase food production, but also increase the sustainability of that food production system. Whereas in the developing countries they are primarily just trying to feed themselves. As much as I want our food production system to have less reliance on inputs, such as herbicides and pesticides, I think we need to continue to be mindful that this cannot be at the detriment of alleviating hunger, but as an additional bonus.
Dr Alison Bentley’s presentation was also a standout for me. Alison is the Director of CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, based in Mexico. Her team develops improved wheat germplasm by screening for traits to increase productivity, resilience, and broad adaptation, with trait selection for climate change a major focus. A key point from her presentation was “greater than 50 per cent of wheat is grown in the Global South, where instability disproportionally impacts production and/or supply”. Currently, 2.5 billion people rely on wheat globally to alleviate hunger and as we move towards 2030 the cereal net trade to the continents of Africa and Asia is projected at around 125 million tonnes and 175 million tonnes, respectively. With the conflict in Ukraine and Russia, there is disruption in supply to Africa, a continent reliant on affordable (cheap) wheat. How we support that market when price is a considerable restriction will be challenging.
The half day conference scholar program either side of the Crawford Conference added another layer of networking that was a huge point of difference from any previous conference I had attended. My mentor, Dr Lyn Abbott, was incredible and really gave me the basis to develop stronger networks through introductions to key people nationally. However, it also felt like we were both looking to develop a local network that would provide collaboration and thought sharing into the future. And this was reinforced by the connections I made with the other WA scholars.
Overall, the conference was amazing, but what really made an impact on me were the people involved in the Crawford Fund/RAID network, and their passion on improving nutritional security and building resilience in agriculture within developing countries.
Daniel Kierath, University of Western Australia
Mentor: Roger Wickes
I had the privilege to be selected as a West Australian scholar to attend the 2022 Crawford Fund Conference. Having recently made a career change with the ultimate aim to make a contribution to global food security and I found the experience to be valuable, exposing me to a wide range of sector participants and different ideas. Beyond the subject matter of the presentations the conference was an invaluable opportunity to meet like-minded people along all career stages. Being able to meet in person was a welcome relief after years of virus induced restrictions and, without question, improved the quality and value of the discussions I had.
I found the conference to be very well structured and was able to weave the presentations from specialists in varying fields into an impactful and coherent narrative, set within a well-defined context. The conference began and ended with a discussion of the geopolitical realities that solidified in the second half of the 20th century and the role this played on the green revolution and a global agricultural system, which although is far from perfect, has supported an increased global population. For me this was effective in articulating the high-level justification of the moral and strategic imperative for Australian investment in food security in developing nations.
Of the presentations made there were a number that I found particularly interesting. Dr Pardey’s presentation regarding global investment into agricultural research was thought provoking, highlighting a number of trends of which I was previously unaware. These included the increased proportion of research that was being funded by private enterprise and the decreased footprint in of Australia’s investment when compared to other countries over the past 40 years. As someone considering a research career this was particularly important, as due to the financial realities of funding, they are trends that must be considered.
A theme that was touched on by a number of speakers was the importance of long-term relationships in the management of impactful projects. To me, this highlights something that has importance that extends far beyond the realm of international agricultural development. It speaks to the importance of people and relationships, not just the technical factors in influencing positive change. It can be so easy to focus on the science or a specific technology, which can be quantified and, when compared to complex social interactions, more easily understood.
I was fortunate to be able to attend anther two days of activities ran specifically for conference scholars by the RAID Network. Much like the conference proper, these days were structured in way that would maximise their value for participants. They ran the day prior, and immediately post the conference, which meant that we were primed to both make the most of the conference and we were provided with an opportunity to reflect on the experience.
I would not hesitate to recommend anyone interested in international agricultural development application to apply for future conference scholarships.
Niamh Walsh, Curtin University
Mentor: Lyn Abbott
The “Celebrating Agriculture for Development” 2022 Crawford Fund Conference was an incredible learning opportunity for me and allowed me to view the challenges faced in agriculture from an advanced perspective. As a second-year bachelor student this conference was a first for me and going into it with little knowledge of how conferences worked opened me up to an opportunity to learn about the industry and its functions.
I was lucky enough to be paired with a mentor who I shared interests with and was able to draw lots of information and advice from her which I am sure will assist me in my career going forward. I met my mentor at the first day of scholar activities, where we chatted with many industry personnel and fellow scholars. The day surrounded early career advice for people looking to get involved in international agriculture research from many industry leaders. There was lots of information to take in and many presenters you could not help but be impressed and inspired by. Their work sounded both riveting and impactful, and put many thoughts into my mind about how I want to advance my career upon graduation. The day ended with some networking which was new to me, but luckily the scholars were guided through this and encouraged to talk with many people with the same interests.
The official conference consisted of a dinner and full conference day at the Great Hall in Parliament House, which in itself was very exciting. The dinner allowed networking opportunities and the chance to listen to the Memorial Address. Dr Audrey Aumua presented this address and listed key issues going forward in international agriculture.
The next morning was the main conference day, which began with an address from the Crawford Fund chair. Throughout the day, we listened to many impressive presenters, including many female industry leaders which was both inspiring and intriguing. My idea of careers in agriculture was broadened and my excitement for beginning my career in the sector grew with every presenter. I had not considered many paths that were discussed, and with every presenter came more inspiration. My interest largely surrounds innovation and sustainability, and there were many presentations throughout the day which focused on these topics. I was specifically interested by Professor Neena Mitter’s presentation on BioClay, an environmentally sustainable alternative to many chemicals including fungicides. The work she has been doing is similar to what I have gained interest in throughout my studies and research. I also enjoyed the opportunity to listen to the Minister for Agriculture, Murray Watt, who presented current threats and difficulties facing Australian agriculture. I appreciated his willingness to present the honest and real situation of Australia agriculture to a room of industry personnel who are involved in solving the problems.
The final scholar day consisted of many presentations from people in their early careers. They discussed their career paths and opportunities that arose for them, including volunteering and working overseas on fascinating projects. Many of the presenters had amazing stories which were both inspirational and thought-provoking. I finished the conference with many thoughts and ideas about how I want to move forward in my career after my degree concludes. The conference inspired and educated me on many aspects of the industry and allowed me to broaden my idea of what it means to be a part of the agriculture sector.
Shell Xiao, University of Western Australia/Syngenta
Mentor: Bob Clements
I was fortunate enough to attend the Crawford Fund’s Annual Conference where I had the opportunity to meet a unique pool of influential individuals in agriculture development. I used every opportunity to network with scholars and mentors from diverse backgrounds, and I was amazed that people with such different skill sets are all working for one common goal in agriculture for development.
The Conference had a very different atmosphere to conferences I had attended in the past for work and study – this must be because Aggies are by far the most interesting group of people. There are some things I found particularly interesting/ good about this conference:
The presentation from Prof Neena Mitter on RNA based biopesticides for sustainable agriculture provided me with insight into how we could control pests and diseases with a product that is efficient and safe for the environment. Working in the pesticide industry, I have always had an interest to be part of the development of environmentally friendly pesticides and biological products.
I also enjoyed, A Conversation from Outside Agriculture – Looking to the Future and understanding what the future of research and development could look like helps me to position myself and choose the right path for my career. The application of remote sensing technology particularly interests me.
I have always had an inner drive to do volunteering at some stage of my career. Listening to people that have developed a career in the space through different paths certainly inspired me. I came back home and started research on the volunteering opportunities that I was exposed to in the conference days and found out that many of them match my qualifications and areas of interest. I have already started a plan to make myself available for in-country volunteering in the next one or two years.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience, I did enjoy myself, meeting nice people and developing some productive relationships. Most importantly, it was a challenging, thought-provoking opportunity to see how I could best improve myself and develop career in international ag research. I am already looking forward to next year’s conference!