Brief: The idea of the blog is to provide readers/members with something light hearted and easy to read which shares some interesting stories of your experience working on international development projects.
Things to include;
- Who you are?
- What do you do?
- Where you work?
- Photos (i.e. 2 minimum and 3 maximum of size <2MB as shrinking can be a time consuming process). Please include a title, relevant names, and one or two sentences about what the photo is of. Please note: Where possible, we intend to disseminate blog images through our social media platforms. If there is an issue due to image ownership that prevents us from posting your images, please inform us when submitting your blog.
- Length (try to keep it to one page of text approximately 1000 words or less)
- Find the right balance between personal stories and a take home message - this could include a R4D experience which demonstrates technical information, a scientific finding or a key lesson learned.
- High quality photos and interesting captions make for a much more engaging blog
- For some examples, check out the top 5 most read blogs from 2015 http://www.raidaustralia.net/index.php/news/item/264-the-final-countdown
Ideas on what to talk about;
- Challenges and successes. A challenge or success story are a great way to share experiences and things that you have learned, so feel free to share these types of stories.
- Any advice/recommendations for people entering or working in the international agricultural development field
- Any big moments/light bulb ideas that you have had or experienced working overseas. Maybe these can be helpful for other people
- We encourage our members to highlight interesting and conversational topics that initiate discussion. However, if authors are discussing controversial topics we ask that they be somewhat bipartisan and present information acknowledging the different points of view.
A little bit of science. It’s good if a little science is included as well (although this not at all necessary!). If so, it would be better to put the key outcome/finding of the research and a link to a paper/report. We don’t intend for this blog to be a library of scientific reports or be filled with too many facts and figures.
Got a story you think our members will love? Submit a blog post and we'll publish it as part of our fortnightly series.
Before submitting please read our blog guidlines and ensure your story fits within our requirements.
To submit a blog, use the submission form here.
Have any questions? Contact us here and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.
RAID has built a network of state-based representatives. These representatives coordinate local RAID events and can help you get in touch with professionals in R4D.
Contact State-based Representatives through the Contact page
Di Mayberry - CSIRO Brisbane
Jack Koci and Madeline Healey - University of Sunshine Coast
Julia de Bruyn and Johanna Wong - Sydney University
Rohan Riley and Deane Woruba - Western Sydney University
Thomas Williams - Charles Sturt Univeristy, Wagga Wagga
Rebecca McBride - Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
Anthony Leddin - Valley Seeds
Jenny Hanks - Univeristy of Melbourne
Rowan Smith - University of Tasmania
Brendan Brown, Nicholas Hansen and Franziska Doerflinger - University of Adelaide
Myrtille Lacoste - University of Western Australia
Gianna Bonnis-Profuma - Charles Darwin University, Darwin
Meet the team:
Jack Koci is President of RAID. Jack completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in Hydrology and Water Resources with Honours at James Cook University, Cairns. From 2013 to 2015, Jack worked as a Research Officer at ACIAR, involved in the Soil Management and Crop Nutrition, Land and Water Resources and Forestry Research Program Areas. He is now completing a PhD at the University of the Sunshine Coast, investigating the hydrological processes driving gully erosion and associated sediment and nutrient loss from grazed tropical savannas in northern Australia.
Carl Menke is Treasurer at RAID and a Research Graduate Officer in the Natural Resource Management Cluster at ACIAR. Carl completed his undergraduate in environmental management with honours at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, before starting his masters in soil and plant nutrient cycling within a rehabilitation context. He is very interested in the sustainable management of soil and plants systems to maximise long term growth, as well as novel agricultural and communication technologies.
Jenny Hanks is the Secretary of RAID. Jenny completed a veterinary degree at Charles Sturt University where her first experience in R4D was in Pakistan on a dairy development project. Since completing her degree Jenny has volunteered on an ACIAR project in Laos, was a grad at ACIAR for two years and now works as a project coordinator for the University of Melbourne on a smallholder farmer project in Myanmar.
Jack Hetherington is Events Director. Jack completed a Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience at Sydney University majoring in Production Animals. In his final year Jack undertook an Honours project assessing the relationship of livestock ownership and food security indicators throughout the Millennium Villages. Currently, he is a Research Program Officer at ACIAR and has been coordinating a series of research activities evaluating mobile technology for data collection.
Miriam McCormack is on RAID Central Committee as an Events Director alongside Jack Hetherington. Miriam is currently working as a Research Program Officer at ACIAR, Canberra, after starting last year as a Graduate officer. In 2015 she completed my Bachelor Agricultural Science (Honours) at UTAS, Hobart. Her honours thesis focused on the knowledge transfer and technology adoption of smallholder beef farmers on the south central coast of Vietnam. Miriam is interested in farmer decision making and motivation. This year her work is focusing on gender and agricultural extension in international research for development projects.
David McGill works with Skye Gabb on maintaining RAIDs communication and social media. David completed a Bachelors of Agricultural Science at the University of Sydney and his PhD at Charles Sturt University working on quantitative genetics. Over the last eight years David has been the project manager/leader of an ACIAR project working on improving small-holder dairy production by working with local extension and research departments. In early 2016 David started working at the University of Melbourne in an international R4D role in animal production. His interests vary widely ranging from genetics and epidemiology to impact assessment using the big data we can capture using mobile technology - and of course continuing with his strong links and partners in Pakistan.
Madaline Healey is responsible for coordinating partnerships and sponsorship between RAID organisations and networks. Madaline studied a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at Melbourne University and a PhD in thrips ecology at CQU before heading off to Laos as a volunteer entomologist. On returning to Australia in 2015, Madaline started working at the University of the Sunshine Coast on ACIAR projects in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. Her interests are integrated pest management, biological control and all things veggies.
Rowan Smith is a RAID committee member supporting the events, partnerships and finance roles. Rowan completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) in Hobart. In 2012, Rowan completed a PhD at UTAs working on the impacts of wildlife grazing on pastures in Tasmania. In 2013 Rowan began coordinating an ACIAR project working on developing productive and profitable smallholder beef enterprises in Central Vietnam. Rowan's research interest focuses primarily on pasture and forage production as well as herbage development. Rowan is a self-confessed sports nut!
By Thomas Williams
Over the past five years, I have been absolutely infatuated by the concept of having a long and illustrious career that focusses primarily on International R4D. Since being first exposed to a developing Ag project as an undergrad in 2012, I’ve been pursuing any opportunity that would ultimately leave me in a position where working in R4D is a reality.
To date my efforts involve developing a PhD project that focusses on R4D, becoming an active member of the RAID community, and engaging with as many people involved in R4D projects as possible. So far my plan seems to be working, and project leaders have always entertained me when I very bluntly ask the question “so when will you have a job for me” (actually, on that point, any suggestions feel free to email me)
I am living the PhD dream, travelling the world, looking sexy in a lab coat, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. My only hesitation; when attending conferences in my scientific area, I become star struck by the work my colleagues are doing. Buzzwords such as “next-gen sequencing” ring loud through every talk. My colleagues are doing some incredible science but, how dare they be advancing the field of parasitology faster than I can write this blog. They are making me look “basic”. I work in developing agriculture. Most of these “new technologies” just aren’t designed to work in this area. I know it, but I find I’m convincing myself that what I am doing is still good science on a regular basis. And when it comes to post-conference beers, justifying your work using methods that colleagues moved away from 20 years ago can be difficult. I too want to sit at the cool kid table, and not be the one repeating kindergarten.
One of the nice re-affirmations in R4D is the impacts that working with farmers in developing areas can have (although sometimes hard to quantify). Literal life-changing impacts can be seen, compared to what may be a minute economic gain in Australian Ag. Yes, this small gain is quantifiable over a large industry, but R4D can cause enormous social benefits, as well as production benefits. A child who didn’t go to school now enrols and down the line they become a vet, further helping the agricultural sector. It is an absolute honour to be involved in projects where this is happening. It gives you warm and fuzzies, but I still can’t shake the feeling that I am behind the eight ball when it comes to current science.
During the process of writing this blog, I listened to an ABC Conversations episode with Bill Lawson1. Bill had a successful career as an engineer, then turned his focus from solving structural problems to solving social ones. The repetitive narrative that resonated with me throughout the interview was Bill’s mantra of solving problems at the point-of-origin, not at the end-point. It was an engineers train-of-thought applied in a different field, and it was successful. It resonated with me because as a scientist in R4D, we are often taking a similar approach. One of the greatest capacity building opportunities of an R4D project is the development of problem-solving abilities. And not just problem-solving in the sense of designing experiments, the problem-solving in R4D projects is far broader. You must be aware of social, cultural, and logistical aspects.
Problem solving: getting science done in R4D
At the end of the day, I need to maintain an income for an indefinite future. Idealising the beauty of R4D is great, but I may not always be able to continue working in this area. So do I market myself as a problem solver extraordinaire? Maybe, but I can’t solve problems if I’m not current with the science.
So what am I doing about it? Currently figuring that one out, but I have two feet so why not point them in different directions? Yes, they may have to hop rather than stride, but they’ll still get to their destinations if only a little slower.
Left foot (R4D):
I think I’m doing okay.
Right foot (staying current):
This is the foot I am actively leaning on right now. My guide for staying current is this:
- Wherever possible, don’t ostracise yourself from the broader scientific community. Sometimes I do want to slink off after the first post-conference beer, but the beers are free, so I am staying. Informal conversations are golden.
- Volunteer your time. Look around your institution. Are there colleagues doing incredible science? Well use your time and help them. Yes, your days will become longer, but you will learn new skills and develop new relationships that may ultimately be beneficial to you down the track.
- Keep your library current. Some understanding is better than no understanding. Each week I scour the journal databases and select something new in my area to read up on (perhaps this is just justified procrastination for writing my dissertation, but I believe it keeps me current).
- Be vigilant. Sometimes a new technology will come up with direct implications in R4D projects. The above steps will keep you vigilant, but always be asking the question “can I solve a problem with this information?”.
- Diversify your investments. Where possible try and find opportunities to work in more than one field. My PhD project is split between Pakistan and Australia. Having the Australian aspect has allowed me to conduct research using different techniques, that may not apply to the work in Pakistan.
I’m learning more and more that the role of a scientist is not clear-cut. At this time in my career, I have the opportunity to diversify freely, and I’m using it. I’m taking all the possible steps I can to prevent from becoming “too basic”. Maybe my feet will spread too far apart, but I don’t have the benefit of hindsight, and at the moment I think I’m doing okay.
Diversifying your investments: working with buffalo in Pakistan and Australia
By Emma Hand
Before leaving Australia to embark on my 12 month, Australian volunteer assignment to Samoa, I was excitedly telling everyone I met about my upcoming experience. My volunteering assignment is part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative.
Who wouldn't be excited about 12 months in paradise? The first thing most people said was, "Where's that?" or "You mean Solomon Islands?" Once we had established that I was about to be living on a tropical island, the next comment was usually something along the lines of "Oh, you'll have to get used to Island Time" (or..."good luck with the humidity").
Most people who have travelled a lot or worked in development know that everywhere has its own concept of time, and that the rhythms of life happen at a different pace in each country or region. While Japan, for example, may be associated with a fast-paced lifestyle, Island Time usually has negative connotations around a slow pace of life and even laziness. I have been living in Samoa for six months now, but it didn't take me long to work out that Samoans are definitely NOT lazy. Life just happens differently.
AVID volunteer Emma Hand getting up close and personal with the fresh drop of lambs. The breed? Fiji Fantastic Sheep (FFS). Developed from of a cross between the Barbados Blackbelly and Wiltshire breeds. Photo credit: Darren James
In my role as Farm Management Trainer with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Animal Production and Health Department, I have been working with staff to improve pasture production (amongst other things). One of my initial suggestions was to begin planting a different grass species. For a couple of months nothing really happened, I continued to make the suggestion to no avail. Then all of a sudden, one day I turned up at the farm and the first paddock had been sprayed out entirely and planted with new springs, as if overnight. I have since worked out that a lot of farming activities do actually happen overnight here... ahh that humidity!!
Similarly, we witnessed the construction of a new school on what had been a bare block of land, within a matter of weeks. I had jokingly made the comment to my partner, one afternoon as we were passing the construction site, that the opening day must be coming up soon... Lo and behold, a couple of days later we drove past the opening day, with a hundred kids in attendance, already in their new school uniforms.
The thing with Island Time is that things either happen very slowly, or very quickly! It all depends on how far away the deadline is and how important that deadline is to the community. When the deadline is approaching and it appears as though it won't be reached, us Palagi's tend to begin stressing; the typical Samoan response is one of relaxed, reassurance. Just when you think all is failing, the entire village, or work team, bands together and gets the job done. It is a wonderful community achievement to have such commitment to helping each other out.
The Samoan team heading out. Photo Credit Darren James
But what does this all mean to development? Although it is great that our pasture improvement project is now underway; the fact that the majority of the actual work happened, quite literally, overnight meant that I ended up having little involvement. The job has been done, but there are a few changes that I will make for next time. So, my valuable lesson is that it is important to establish, as early on as possible, how things happen and what activities are carried out when, and, how time in general works in the country you are working in. Learn to take advantage of this and work with it. In the future, I will be learning from my Samoan friends that most strenuous activities are best carried out in the evening, to avoid the humidity.
It is also important to engage as many people as possible within the community in the early stages of planning any changes; in my example, everyone from farm staff to the CEO is important. This has a twofold effect; firstly, the community is given a chance to take ownership over the project and, therefore, has a much greater investment in and understanding of the project, as such, the project is far more likely to be completed successfully, with community pride. Secondly, community members gain an understanding of the process and are far more likely to undertake similar projects after we finish our roles and return home; thus achieving capacity building... and after all, that is what we are here for!
From where you'd rather be. Beautiful Samoa. Photo Credit: Emma Hand
By Thom Williams
Lahore. A city where vast expressions of wealth dissect derelict buildings and poverty with no true line of division. Traffic, goats, and people co-exist in chaos, causing the clocks to run a little slower here. Pakistan is an entity that cannot be described in a handful of sentences. Just when you think you are on top it, something new will crop up and send you into a tail spin. That being said, the hospitality here is unbelievable. One is never too far away from the solution to any problem.
Pakistan has deep ties with agriculture. It provides occupations to 50% of Pakistan’sworkingpopulation, many of whom are subsistence farmers. 35 million rural Pakistanis engage in the production and maintenance of 160 million animals.
Milk is a highly valued commodity here. Representative of this, Pakistan weighs in as the 4th largest producer of milk in the world. Here the buffalo reigns supreme. 64% of the nations milk is produced by riverine buffalo. These resilient animals produce milk with a fat content of up to 8%. The Pakistani people have grown accustom to this quality making buffalo milk highly demanded across the country. The wonderful buff has been neglected in recent times by the scientific community. Reasons for this could be attributed to the majority of buffalo residing in developing countries. Publications on buffalo endo-parasites are few and far between.
The purpose of my trip; to complete a large endo-parasite survey (to species) in Pakistan’s buffalo heard. From this base we intend to investigate impacts and develop an integrated parasite control strategy. With the support from the Australian Sector Linkages Program – Dairy Project we will distribute our outcomes back to the farmers.
At the current count we have met with over 100 farmers and taken samples from 1000 animals across the Punjab district. The farmers have been inviting, offering tea at every stop (an unavoidable event). Collection and processing of these samples has not come easily. All the speed bumps have been successfully navigated thus far. There are however a number of proverbial spanners that could get thrown into the works at anytime. I would like to take this opportunity to extend some “hot tips” to any intrepid researcher who finds themselves in Pakistan. Western colloquialisms do not carry their meaning to Pakistani ears so I am taking this opportunity to get some out of my system.
1. Don’t hold your breath: You will most certainly die. Nothing is going to happen on time. Get used to this and move on. Yes, some days are worse then others. All you can do is schedule as best as possible. I have been using my ‘twilight zone time’ as an opportunity to complete emails and write my journal.
Taking tea is a favourite past-time in Pakistan. When meeting with new people expect to lose a minimum 20 minutes to tea. If you drink black, bitter tea; get used to drinking it white and sweet.
“Insha’Allah” is a phrase you will quickly become familiar with. It loosely translates to “if god is willing”. It certainly fits into many scenarios here. On the other side I have found insha’Allah can also translate to “give or take an hour”. This is particularly true of 9am starts. You can certainly identify how each person uses the phrase and schedule accordingly.
2. When it rains it pours: This one can be taken quite literally. If you intend to do any outdoor activities June – August expect it to be hot, humid, and probably raining. On my trip I have experienced two seriously impressive rain events in September where the city stops for the day. In rural areas the rain can also cause havoc. Dirt roads are un-drivable, shelter to carry out work while staying dry is unlikely. Assume you are going to lose days, even weeks to rain if you come during said time frame.
3. Pack everything everything but the kitchen sink: Bring anything you require with your work with you. If you have room put the sink in as well. My biggest road blocks have been solely my fault. If you intend to do any lab-work here, make sure the equipment has been sourced before your arrival. If it is remotely unusual it could be extremely difficult to source. If you do have this problem fear not. The Pakistani people are problem solvers. After time, numerous phone calls and “insha’Allahs” you will find a suitable alternative nestled somewhere in the city.
One of my favourite quotes relates to the regular power outages that have become synonymous with country. As we plunge into darkness for the third time that morning, the whir of diesel generators begins:
“You see, this is why it is great to conduct research in Pakistan, the electricity never far away”
This perfectly captures the positivity exuded by Pakistanis. No dismay is bought on by apparent lack of continuous power. Never is there a problem that cannot be solved with a little Pakistani ingenuity. The country is amazing, the people are warm and inviting. I would not hesitate to come here again.
This last picture is of Tanveer (and his kids), one of the attendants at the University guesthouse where I stayed. Always a friendly face with a huge smile who makes a smashing karahi