October 5, 2023
The Crawford Fund’s Annual Conference was held last month in Canberra and online.
As well as bringing together the world’s leading experts in agricultural science, research, policy, development and industry, the Crawford Fund encourages the next generation in international agriculture for development to the event via scholarships awarded through our State and Territory committees and scholar supporters.
Our competitive 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 year and a growing and enthusiastic conference scholar alumni approaching 450.
Our other activities to encourage university students and early career researcher include highlighting opportunities in volunteering for projects overseas; 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.
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.
Eight scholars from New South Wales attended the 2023 Crawford Fund conference, with six supported by our NSW Committee, and two supported by the University of New England. Highlights of their experiences have been captured below:
Claudio Cortellazzi, Western Sydney University
“The conference exceeded my expectations, and it has broadened my way of thinking as there was such a diverse panel of speakers from different disciplines that I would not normally consider.”
Marieke Hoelscher, Charles Sturt University
“The scholar program was great fun but also invigorating. I thoroughly enjoyed the structured nature of the speed networking session and trivia night as well as having the scholar program split over two days! … I now know it is important to take risks and search for volunteering positions and reach out to networks to harness connections.”
Kayla Lochner, University of New South Wales
“The 2023 Conference highlighted how progressive, new thinking is emerging in Australian agricultural studies. In networking with other Conference scholars, the diversity of research and an interest in working together between disciplines, sharing knowledge and experiences, and supporting each other is beginning to emerge in a new cohort of young researchers. This is the start of what I hope will see greater diversity in the future of Australian agricultural research.”
Sally Poole, University of Sydney / Digital Ag Technologies Australia (Data Ag)
“One of my personal key highlights from the conference was connecting with my conference mentor. He was incredibly generous with sharing his knowledge and wisdom about agricultural research and development. He provided so much insight and encouragement relating to my goals and aspirations and was pivotal in ensuring I had the opportunities to connect with so many different people during the conference. This allowed me to connect with many people I would have never otherwise approached at the conference and afterwards.”
Jorge Ramos, Charles Sturt University
“I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended the 2023 conference. The conference was a great opportunity to reinforce ideas and create new intellectual pathways. It was a forum where seasoned experts presented fresh perspectives alongside young scholars offering innovative insights. This blending of thoughts was one of the most rewarding aspects of the conference for me.”
Matthew Roscher, Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS)
“To sustainably feed 8 billion people, we must do more with less. The conference strengthened my confidence that we are headed in the right direction, but it also made me more aware of the enormous amount of work ahead…I am eager to contribute to this work through the research I will conduct as part of my student award, with the vision of creating a more food secure world for the next generation.”
Viet Duong, University of New England
“One of my most profound takeaways from the conference was the undeniable power of collaboration. Recognising the value of interdisciplinary synergy, I am now more than ever eager to engage with scientists and researchers from various fields in my own research.”
Sang Le, University of New England
“This conference stands out as one of the highlights of my year. It’s not just because of the high-quality speakers and the valuable information they shared but also the network I’ve built during and after the conference.”
Read on for the full reflections of each NSW scholar:
NSW Crawford Fund Committee Supported Scholars
Claudio Cortellazzi, Western Sydney University
Mentor: Deirdre Lemerle
I was fortunate enough to be accepted to attend the 2023 Crawford fund conference in Canberra. As a first year PHD student with my topic of research being sustainable agriculture and the Crawford Fund being my very first conference, I did not know what to expect but I was very excited to attend and be able to network with likeminded people with the same goal to combat future global issues.
The conference exceeded my expectations, and it has broadened my way of thinking as there was such a diverse panel of speakers from different disciplines that I would not normally consider.
As my research is very focused in one area, I was very grateful to be able to listen to the speakers talk about their current and past projects and the importance of their discipline, as often it is easy to get tunnel vision and get lost within the bigger picture.
The Crawford Fund has helped broaden my way of thinking and has guided me to wanting to be a better researcher. I have started thinking about how I can do my bit with my PHD to make an impact for the future.
Marieke Hoelscher, Charles Sturt University
Mentor: Mikayla Hyland-Woods
The theme of the 2023 Crawford Fund Conference was “Global food security in a riskier world”. I am extremely honoured to have been chosen as a scholarship recipient to attend the conference after returning from a two-week study tour in Timor-Leste during my last session of my undergraduate agriculture degree at Charles Sturt University exploring livestock, cropping, forestry, and fisheries. The conference was a great opportunity to hear about the main challenges but also opportunities for international agricultural research for development.
The scholar program was great fun but also invigorating. I thoroughly enjoyed the structured nature of the speed networking session and trivia night as well as having the scholar program split over two days! I had a lot in common with my mentor, a current graduate at ACIAR and learnt a lot from her about career and postgraduate study opportunities as well as introductions to other valuable people to chat to during the conference. I now know it is important to take risks and search for volunteering positions and reach out to networks to harness connections. The presentations during the conference were very relevant to me especially Deidre’s on how to break into international ag research and the session on how to approach media and journalists. I will also be joining the RAID Network to stay in touch and in the loop for further opportunities.
From the conference the main lessons were: There is no such thing as food security without healthy soils and adaptive crops. We can’t solve world order problems from a single discipline – we need to create multidisciplinary teams to collaborate on big issues. Climate is disrupting food systems – we need to actively reorder them. Seed banks will play a vital role in protecting nations and helping rebuild after conflict/climate disasters.
The highlights from the presentations for me go to the keynote speakers: Dr Cary Fowler, Professor Wendy Umberger, Emeritus Professor Kym Anderson and Dr Eliane Ubalijoro, all delivering extremely inspirational speeches. My favourite presentation was by Dr Khamis on black soldier fly production systems and the value to developing countries and smallholder farmers. I have done placement with a BSF production facility in Melbourne so found it fascinating to hear about the application to developing countries.
Australian farming systems have a lot to learn from overseas and vice versa. Shifting to multi-trophic diverse food systems like those of smallholder farmers will improve environmental sustainability and resilience. However, western countries such as Australia must be careful to not come in and dictate to these developing countries about what they need without first doing social research and surveys in the community.
Thank you again to the Crawford Fund especially the NSW Committee for supporting me to attend this conference, it was highly beneficial! I will be encouraging my peers in undergraduate degrees to apply for this scholarship next year.
Kayla Lochner, University of New South Wales
Mentor: Cathy O’Mullan
The 2023 Crawford Fund Conference theme focussed on examining global food security in a riskier world was a kind reminder to me of why I am passionate about agricultural research, and of the challenge we are all faced with: to create equitable, resilient and secure food systems for all.
When I think of agricultural research, I think deeply about how people are the centre of our food systems. With this in mind, I spent a lot of the conference reflecting on how much of the work produced in scientific agricultural research requires an integrated approach with those who are experienced in working in communities, work deeply examining human experience, and especially with those that utilise systems-based and social justice approaches to securing a food secure world. Crossing disciplinary boundaries and experimenting between qualitative and quantitative methodologies is only the start of such system-based transformations, and certainly discussed in between many of the conference sessions as a critical way forward.
I am very grateful to my mentor, Dr Cathy O’Mullan from Central Queensland University, who has supported me to be confident in advocating for the utility and effectiveness of deeply qualitative research in a sector that is driven by science and innovation. She, and the conference, reminded me of why justice-based approaches are required to imagine a future food system that is diversified and equitable for those who work the hardest, but are so often disproportionately left behind, to produce our food.
But perhaps more importantly, the 2023 Conference highlighted how progressive, new thinking is emerging in Australian agricultural studies. In networking with other Conference scholars, the diversity of research and an interest in working together between disciplines, sharing knowledge and experiences, and supporting each other is beginning to emerge in a new cohort of young researchers. This is the start of what I hope will see greater diversity in the future of Australian agricultural research. Many of the conference scholars were also keenly interested in examining Australia’s role and responsibility in the geopolitics of food production, especially with our Pacific neighbours. Understanding how our capacity in innovation and research can be used to support a strong regional interest will hopefully contribute to a more balanced politics of food.
I really appreciated the networking opportunities – with other conference scholars and with other attendees – and the genuinely warm investment many of those I met had in learning about my professional development research ambitions. With many thanks to:
Sally Poole, University of Sydney / Digital Ag Technologies Australia (Data Ag)
Mentor: Tim Reeves
The Crawford Fund conference scholars’ program is one of the most uniquely energising and connective programs I have ever participated in. As soon as we entered the room, on the first day of the scholars’ program, the excitement and passion for international agricultural research was electrifying. The scholars and mentors spent that first day connecting with each other and listening to a few industry leaders about some of their career paths and key learnings that they have gained working in international agricultural development and food security.
This collective and energising passion for food security continued throughout the Crawford Fund Conference events as researchers, industry leaders, and scholars connected with one another and shared ideas. During the conference we learnt about the role that international agricultural research has in contributing to a more food secure world from a wide range of perspectives. Climate change, covid and increasing conflicts globally, were all highlighted as key challenges to global food security. However, these challenges were also highlighted as coming with new or different opportunities for improving the sustainability and diversity of our food systems. Some of the key highlights from the conference were:
One of my personal key highlights from the conference was connecting with my conference mentor Professor Tim Reeves. Tim was incredibly generous with sharing his knowledge and wisdom about agricultural research and development. He provided so much insight and encouragement relating to my goals and aspirations and was pivotal in ensuring I had the opportunities to connect with so many different people during the conference. This allowed me to connect with many people I would have never otherwise approached at the conference and afterwards. I am forever grateful to Tim for sharing his passion, knowledge, and connections with me.
Another major highlight of the conference was getting to know all the other conference scholars. It was fantastic getting to know about the work they are currently involved in and their aspirations for the future. We all come from such a diverse range of backgrounds and areas of expertise but were all united by our passion for a sustainable global food secure future. This made for many thought provoking and fun moments throughout the conference and scholars’ days and no doubt many long term connections and friendships. Thank you to the Crawford Fund for providing me with such an impactful, connective, and informative opportunity.
Jorge Ramos, Charles Sturt University
Mentor: Mellissa Wood
The first thing that I want to mention is how smooth the 2023 conference was run: from the expertise of the speakers and diversity of topics covered, to more mundane, but equality important elements like catering, transport and the like, every aspect was of high quality. This impeccable execution stands as testament to the skills, experience and attention to detail of the organising team.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended the 2023 conference. The conference was a great opportunity to reinforce ideas and create new intellectual pathways. It was a forum where seasoned experts presented fresh perspectives alongside young scholars offering innovative insights. This blending of thoughts was one of the most rewarding aspects of the conference for me. The opportunity to engage with these diverse perspectives allowed me to “recalibrate” some of my ideas, particularly in the context of my work in developing countries.
It is easy to lose sight of the practical application of research when you’re purely focused on academic pursuits. At times this has been the case during my current research; when trying to understand microclimatic aspects of coffee agroforestry, while still trying to keep a good perspective of the nexus between social elements and biophysical dimensions. The conference brough a good perspective of these practicalities and the many challenges facing global food security.
Notably, many presentations highlighted the issue of food security in light of the escalating climate crisis. Dr. Éliane Ubalijoro’s (CIFOR/ICRAF) presentation resonated deeply with me, not only for her personal experiences during the Rwandan genocide in the 90s, but also for her compelling argument regarding the increasing relevance of trees in agriculture. While agroforestry has long been recognised as pivotal to the livelihoods of many small landholders in developing countries, it is only in recent years that its significance in climate change adaptation and food security has gained prominence. Dr. Ubalijoro’s insights, along with those of other speakers, underscored this shift in perspective. The emphasis on scaling up “trees for food security” instils confidence in me that the work we are undertaking in Timor-Leste in the field of agroforestry in the context of climate mitigation and adaptation with local farmers, is on the right path.
I also had the opportunity to have interesting conversations and share ideas with many of the participants; but specially with Mellissa Wood; my mentor, and Dr Helen Scott-Orr, the Coordinator of Crawford Fund NSW. Both generously introduced me to other scholars and experts. Thank you both and thank you to the Crawford Fund! The opportunity to establish new connections is unvaluable, and the conference provided an ideal environment for fostering these connections.
Matthew Roscher, Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS), University of Wollongong
Mentor: Helen Scott-Orr
Many people highlighted the uniqueness of the Crawford Fund annual conference throughout the three days of events. After attending the 2023 conference, titled “Global Food Security in a Riskier World: Diversification for Resilient Food and Nutrition Systems,” I can now understand why. The conference enables early career researchers to integrate with established experts from a broad range of disciplines in a way that I had not previously experienced in a conference setting. Being one of these early career researchers as a third year PhD student, I found the conference valuable to gain exposure to disciplines further afield of my studies and to broaden my understanding of both the challenges and opportunities ahead.
The speakers throughout the events provided diverse perspectives of the on-farm and off-farm risks that rural people face in different social and ecological contexts. While much of the lectures and discussions focused on terrestrial environments and I come from a small-scale fisheries school of thought, there were many transferable lessons to draw from. This is partially due to the understanding that people typically engage in dynamic and intersectoral economic activities. Strengthening global food security in a riskier world therefore requires policies and investments that can account for the complex ways in which people build their lives in order to mitigate and adapt to these risks. Informing such policies and investments requires a diversity of perspectives to be included. I came away from the conference with a renewed conviction regarding the importance of multi-disciplinary research to generate these insights.
The conference highlighted numerous technological innovations from the past decade that can help contribute to resilient food systems around the globe. These exciting innovations provide an opportunity to increase production, market efficiency, gender equity, and sustainable resource management, among other benefits. However, technological advances also pose a challenge to increasing existing inequalities if they do not reach the most vulnerable people. Previous research has highlighted a growing digital divide occurring around the globe, where those who do not have access to technology are becoming further marginalised in an increasingly digital world. There is also much research on the concept of poverty traps in which the poorest are unable to mobilise their limited assets to pursue emerging opportunities. As I reflect on the discussions around these advances, a key message that I took away is the importance of insuring inclusive and equitable access to these opportunities. This message can perhaps be best summarised through Dr. Éliane Ubalijoro’s remark that the opposite of poverty is opportunity.
To sustainably feed 8 billion people, we must do more with less. The conference strengthened my confidence that we are headed in the right direction, but it also made me more aware of the enormous amount of work ahead. Thank you to the NSW Crawford Fund Committee for the opportunity to attend the conference and hear about some of the great work currently underway. I am eager to contribute to this work through the research I will conduct as part of my student award, with the vision of creating a more food secure world for the next generation.
University of New England Supported Scholars
Mentor: Prof. Lindsay Falvey
I had an incredible experience at the Crawford Fund Conference 2023 as a Crawford Fund scholar. The conference was an enlightening experience that brought together professionals from diverse agricultural backgrounds at various stages in their careers. As a PhD student, interacting with these seasoned professionals provided a panoramic view of the myriad opportunities within the agricultural industry. Moreover, the conference deepened my understanding of international agricultural development and illuminated potential career trajectories.
The discussions at the conference shed light on the intricate challenges faced by the agricultural sector, particularly in enhancing food security. The breadth of the speakers offered a holistic perspective on addressing the multifaceted challenges that plague global food security. This includes factors such as climate change, geopolitical issues, and the practicalities of grassroots agricultural practices. It became evident that the path to solutions demands an amalgamation of technological advancements, well-informed policies, rigorous research, and cohesive global collaboration.
Dr. Cary Fowler’s emphasis on the adaptability of crops and soil in changing conditions, combined with the pivotal role of trade in global food security, was particularly enlightening. This sentiment was further reinforced by Prof. Kym Anderson’s call for improved markets, heightened investment in agricultural research, and pivotal policy reforms. Additionally, Prof. Wendy Umberger’s insights into on-farm risks and their overarching impact on global food security were both inspiring and thought-provoking. She poignantly illustrated the vulnerabilities of smallholder farmers and how climate change magnifies these risks. Yet, she also offered hope by suggesting that with the right tools and strategies, these risks can be mitigated, building resilience in the process.
One of my most profound takeaways from the conference was the undeniable power of collaboration. Recognising the value of interdisciplinary synergy, I am now more than ever eager to engage with scientists and researchers from various fields in my own research.
A standout aspect of the conference was the mentorship program. Being paired with a mentor was not only educational but also deeply personal. This provide the opportunity to develop a professional relationship enhanced knowledge transfer and networking opportunities. My mentor, Prof. Lindsay Falvey, expressed genuine interest in my research, offering invaluable guidance regarding my career aspirations. Hearing about his enriching experiences, especially his work in diverse cultural environments like Thailand, was truly inspiring. This mentorship, combined with the conference’s insights, has shaped my perspective, making me more equipped and motivated for the journey ahead.
Overall, the conference was a great experience, and I would like to thank the Crawford Fund and the great people at RAID and the University of New England for providing me the opportunity to participate in this year’s conference.
Mentor: Lindsay Falvey
Two years ago, I attended the Crawford Fund conference for the first time, albeit virtually due to Covid travel restrictions. This year, I had the privilege of representing myself in person and actively participating in all the conference activities as a conference scholar over three days. This conference stands out as one of the highlights of my year. It’s not just because of the high-quality speakers and the valuable information they shared but also the network I’ve built during and after the conference.
The conference shed light on several compelling topics, but one that deeply resonated with me was the fact that, as of 2019, nine per cent of the global population still experienced hunger, and this number continues to rise daily. Having grown up in small villages in the North of Vietnam, I understand the feeling of going to bed on an empty stomach, especially during the winter. How can we ensure global food security, preventing no one from going to bed hungry, especially in times of Covid, climate change, and conflicts, all converging at once?
While these challenges are daunting, they also present opportunities for us to enhance and safeguard global food security. To achieve this, we need a comprehensive approach, from understanding the situation, and the need in each region and what could we prioritise first (Dr. Wendy Umberger), to altering policies to addressing constraints, and building resilience within our food systems (Dr. Cary Fowler). Additionally, the conference emphasised the crucial roles of forestry and agroforestry in mitigating climate change and contributing to our food systems (Dr Eliane Ubalijoro), as well as the significant impacts of markets on local and international food security (Dr Kym Anderson).
Another highlight was the significance of networking, mentoring, and volunteering. I’m grateful to my conference mentor, Lindsay Falvey, for the wisdom and connections he helped me establish during and beyond the conference. Engaging in Scholar Day activities also provided me with opportunities to connect not only with professionals in my field but also with industry experts, decision-makers, and academics. I see more opportunities ahead with RAID and Australian volunteer programs, offering avenues to work, learn, and exchange knowledge in developing countries.
A valuable lesson I’ve learned is that in addition to improving my knowledge in my field, of animal science, I also need to develop soft skills such as social interaction and public speaking. These soft skills don’t just enhance my ability to communicate and collaborate effectively within the field but also open doors to broader opportunities for engagement and impact.
Last but not least, I would like to express my gratitude to the University of New England and the Crawford Fund committee for their support in granting me the opportunity to be a conference scholar. I believe that by working together, we can ensure that no one goes to bed with an empty stomach.