April 13, 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.
Rafaela Barbosa de Andrade Aragao
Research: The role of information in deforestation
How did you become interested in international ag for development and focusing your research in developing countries?
I have always had a strong connection with the environment, and research plays an essential role in environmental conservation and food security. I was born and raised in Brazil, a developing country suffering a lot from deforestation. In Brazil, deforestation has changed the seasonality of rainfall, delaying the rainy season in deforested areas, directly affecting water availability. Deforestation in Brazil can be linked to several land-use activities, especially agricultural production. Hope for reducing the environmental impacts caused by how agriculture is developing in Brazil motivated me to research alternatives for more sustainable food production.
Have you had any former experience in ag for development?
This PhD research is my first experience with agriculture for development. I have been working with it for the past two years. During this time, I met with key stakeholders in the Brazilian agribusiness, such as educators, extension officers, and government representatives. Furthermore, I have been trying partnerships with agriculture organisations, such as producers’ associations and NGOs.
Prior to this PhD, I have worked with contaminated soil and water, providing reports and implementing decontamination solutions. I have also worked developing environmental assessments for a consultancy.
Are there benefits to Australia from the proposed award work?
The benefits of this project go beyond the local implementation in Brazil and offer reflections for Australia. Like Brazil, Australia also suffers from high rates of deforestation. Clearing land threatens vulnerable fauna and flora, causes habitat fragmentation, impacts the Great Barrier Reef, and increases carbon emissions. Not only is government concerned about the environmental impacts, but also the industry. Consumers are looking for sustainable food more than ever, and local traders are aware of that and looking forward to supplying this demand. Sharing the results of this research can help stakeholders along the supply chain, such as traders within Australia, thinking of communication strategies to provide sustainable production information to farmers. Thus, ultimately fostering commercial engagement towards sustainable food production.
There is also a space to apply a similar research methodology with farmers in Australia to guarantee that the results are locally representative. Athough local particularities will undoubtedly arise, it is reasonable to consider that similar findings might also appear, given that big traders usually operate internationally and supply chain stakeholders’ structures tend to be similar. Lastly, the gap between academics and farmers is also a reality in Australia. Sharing the content of the research conducted in Brazil with farmers in Australia might give them a sense of inclusion of the group in scientific productions around the globe.
It is also important to highlight that the experience acquired through the activities funded by this award will provide me with a valuable and essential communication skill that potentially will be applied in future projects within Australia.
Please tell us about what you hope to do as part of your award and the impact it may achieve.
The activities proposed are an extra part of the host project, the PhD research funded by Griffith University entitled “The role of information in deforestation: Brazilian soy farmers perspective”. The main aim of the proposed activities is to disseminate the research’s results about effective strategies to communicate information to farmers, filling a gap between academics and farmers. As previously detailed, the outcomes are beneficial for many stakeholders within commodity supply chains, from farmers to industry. The proposed activities will give visibility to the importance of international agricultural research that ultimately impacts food security.
Three main activities are proposed to get to the desired outcomes: (i) a workshop with farmers; (ii) the development and publication of an executive summary of the research findings, and; (iii) the development and publication of a website to the results of the host project. The first activity, the workshop, aims to share the research results with farmers participating in the study and get insights on the executive summary. It will give them an awareness of aspects that would probably be unconscious, such as people helping them interpret information, modes of information communication that they are accessing, and information influencing their land-use decisions. During this workshop, I will invite participants to reflect on all the people and communication channels affecting them and incentivise them to always look for trustable sources of information.
The second activity proposed involves creating an executive summary of the findings of the study and its dissemination. The executive summary aims to share the research results with a broad group of non-academic stakeholders, such as the government, traders, cooperatives, NGOs, industry, and farmers. An executive summary is a good communication strategy with the non-academic public. It contains visual elements and a non-technical language that helps the general public easily understand the message. During the workshop, suggestions to the executive summary will be taken to ensure that it is comprehensive to farmers. This executive summary will be advertised through several strategic communication channels such as magazines and company websites.
The final activity, the development and publication of a website to the host project results, is relevant as a permanent source of information. Publications in magazines and on company websites are essential to spread the news at a given moment, but having an exclusive website is a timeless solution, available all days, all times. A website developer will be hired for this activity, with the content provided by me. Photos and details of the conducted workshop will also be available on this website.
Non-academic stakeholders, such as the government, traders, cooperatives, companies, and NGOs, can benefit from communicating the host project findings. These groups will have the opportunity to improve their strategies of sharing information with farmers by knowing how farmers access information and their preferred communication modes. Furthermore, understanding the role of information on farmers’ land-use decisions can help stakeholders strategically use information effectively to lead to sustainable food production.
Another outcome of this project is the empowerment of farmers. Farmers will be empowered with organised, accessible, and understandable information on stakeholders and media influencing their land-use decisions. Although they might have a notion of people and communication modes affecting them as individuals, organising this knowledge into a group context can clarify the structure of influences that directly impact their work practices. Furthermore, providing them with this group context can subsidise discussions and collective improvements.
Farmers often complain that researchers invite them to participate in studies, but they rarely return to discuss and share their findings. It is common for scientists to publish research findings in academic journals using a scientific language that is hardly understandable to non-scientific stakeholders. This miscommunication can result in a gap between academics and farmers, possibly getting farmers to avoid contributing to future academic research if not addressed. Moreover, research results are sometimes not translated to practice. In that sense, the proposed activities will fill this gap.
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?
Considering COVID-19 travel restrictions and the unknown future of when borders will be open to international travels, I opted to have a study collaborator in person in Brazil during the workshop. This collaborator will facilitate the workshop with the farmers while I lead it remotely from Queensland. I will be responsible for organising and conducting dynamics via video interaction, while the facilitator will give me technical support, guaranteeing the farmers engagement. The farmers already know this facilitator, as she is the one interviewing them for the host project.
What do you want to be working on in the future?
Many conflicts in agriculture, such as fail in policies and technologies implementation are caused by stakeholders’ different perspectives that cause communication barriers. To address that, I want to pursue a career in agriculture development research in Australia, focusing on stakeholder communication.
Do you have advice for others interested in getting involved in international ag development?
There are many possibilities of work with international agriculture development. My advice to anyone wanting to get involved would be to focus on solution-driven research. Sometimes the solution is not clear, and we need further research to deeply understand the problem, to then start thinking about the solution – and it is part of the process.
Furthermore, I consider farmers engagement essential to agriculture development, so always try to consider their perspective and point of view.
Any other comments?
I am super excited to get started!