By Jimmy Bidstrup
Vietnam is a beautiful country, alive with culture, tradition and a vibrant society. Unfortunately this has not always been the case and during the 20th century this nation was ravaged by war, civil division and serious environmental degradation. However with a new century well and truly welcomed there is a bright future ahead and Vietnam is blooming as a powerhouse of South East Asia with a significant part of this thanks to their agricultural industry.
As a second year university student at the University of Western Australia (UWA) I was among a group of 13 students given the opportunity to study at the Vietnamese National University of Agriculture (VNUA) during the summer of 2017 thanks to the New Colombo Plan Scholarship. This adventure focussed on the current transition that the country is experiencing as they move away from old style cooperatives, which were instated during the height of communism in the country, to new world cooperatives. With these new world cooperatives in place they now put an emphasis on providing services to individual producers and leaving more freedom for personal decision making by farmers to hone their enterprises.
Figure 1: UWA and VNUA students walk together through a field belonging to the Mien Thiet cooperative
In the past Vietnam has been run under a highly agrarian and tightly controlled centrally planned economy but with the opening of their economic model new world cooperatives are replacing the traditional communist structure. This move has allowed for tremendous progress for the development of the Vietnamese agricultural sector by opening it up many of the benefits of globalism and in particular trade. Moving from such a rigid system has not been without its hiccups, and in addition to this the country’s limited infrastructure represents a challenge for growers when considering the distribution and export of fresh goods. Despite this Vietnamese cooperatives continue to achieve small victories such as securing international export contracts with countries like China and the US who represent massive consumer markets. This experience reinforced to me the need for continuous improvement of agricultural systems to meet constantly growing demand and new market desires through feedback such as market signals. I would also emphasise the importance of a clearly understood and efficient supply chain as it can have massive impacts on issues such as food wastage, grower welfare and also quality assurance.
Figure 2: The Mien Thiet Cooperative is a well-designed series of longan trees surrounded by waterways which feed irrigation systems such as this one.
One of the keys to the successful transition of cooperative styles has been institutions such as the VNUA who are now taking an even greater role in the community by educating and helping support the current and future generations of agriculturalists. During my time in this admirable establishment it was magnificent to see the enthusiasm of their students who showed fascinating entrepreneurial skills as well as a deep interest in being able to enact change in domestic food production. It was also great to see their curiosity regarding Australian farming systems and a real thrill to feel that they too were both committed and passionate about agriculture.
The scenery of Vietnam is simply breathtaking and the culture of this country is truly spectacular however, I have to admit that just like in agriculture itself I found the people I was able to enjoy this experience with were really what made it so special, enjoyable and frankly enlightening. On this trip we were lucky to have a mix of many different fields of specialisation including biology, environmental management, zoology, accounting, economics, agriculture and business law and this led to numerous fascinating conversations about the future of the agriculture industry globally. It made me realise that agriculture in the contemporary is not just the farmer, but all the supporting industries around growers and gave me a greater appreciation for all those who play their role and contribute to agriculture in their own way.
Figure 3: The original Longan tree imported into the Hung Yen province from which all trees in the district have been sourced from descendants of this single specimen
On this journey I found myself many thousands of kilometres from home in a completely different environment, and yet there was truly something familiar about the warm hospitality, passion for agriculture and sheer love of producing quality food and fibre that agriculture shares globally. Visiting Vietnam gave me the chance to experience a completely new way of agriculture, commerce and customs and I am very thankful for the opportunities that agriculture has offered me. I also strongly feel that this has helped me gain a much greater idea of the influence the agricultural industry has on a world stage and that it must be promoted in a way that society understands that it is an industry of paramount importance. Several decades ago my personal hero Norman Borlaug proclaimed that ‘food is the moral right of all people’, and today in a globalised world where students of different countries can study and contribute to agriculture together I feel proud to know that we are working towards making this a reality for the population of the world.
Jimmy Bidstrup is an UWA agricultural science graduate, passionate agricultural advocate and agronomist for Elders in Esperance. He aims to provide his clients with a quality service to ensure their enterprises are productive and sustainable whilst also promoting the global agriculture industry.
January sidled by (without hesitation) and it’s time we start sharing some of the blogs we’ve been holding on to…
But first – what about our 2018 Blog Competition? All blogs posted during the calendar year are eligible to win one of our committee-endorsed prizes. My favourite prize? This year’s Best New Blogger will receive an “overseas travel kit” stocked with GastroStop and a portable espresso machine – you know, just the bare the essentials…
We look for blogs which are engaging and interesting; take us on your journey but teach us something too. After much deliberation from the communications team and a final assessment from an independent reviewer, we are very pleased to congratulate the following:
WINNER: “Connecting with Timorese youth through fisheries” - Kim Hunnam
RUNNER: “The three rules of farmer: plough, plough, plough…” - Harry Campbell-Ross
BEST NEW BLOGGER: “5 valuable lessons I have learnt over my PhD” - Amy Moss
And some honourable mentions to:
“Rice is life” – Sarah Hain
“Femur deep in a Myanmar soil pit: people-to-people bonds in international agriculture” - Joseph Vile and Samuel Coggins
What attributes allowed these blogs to rise to pole position? Our external communications expert gave us some feedback:
What a fantastic piece! A strong opening line, excellent imagery and alliteration early on (“black buckets balanced on bicycles”). The author has a flair for writing and threads the needle finely between telling the story and educating the reader on Timor-Leste, its history, geography and demographics. The author provides a really neat summary of her PhD (one sentence? Well done!) and outlines the challenges of fieldwork in developing countries and the importance of local partners in making literally everything happen. The discussion of the author’s collaborators (their backgrounds and enthusiasm) remind me of my own PhD fieldwork. This is very much the experience. The use of quotes and anecdotes are excellent and make the whole narrative more engaging. I also love the nod to technology and digital data collection (best practice!). The acknowledgement of challenges and the flagging of celebration round out the article well. Exceptionally well written, sound structure, and a wonderful and accurate depiction of the experience conducting international agricultural (fishery?) research. Someone give her a job!
The analysis in this blog is bang on. The author has captured the essence of modern-day international agricultural development: simple solutions (e.g. conservation tillage / minimum till / no till) are glossed over by the industry because of cultural barriers, a lack of extension and a tendency of research to focus on new solutions rather than well-established ideas. The blog is personable, written nicely in the first person. The author’s voice comes across as approachable and down to earth, but nonetheless makes reference to elements of agricultural science (e.g. pedalogists and their view on tillage) to indicate technical knowledge. The commentary on farmers decision-making in Cambodia is free from judgement and shows the type of understanding that typically comes from someone who has farmed themselves. Nothing about this blog drags. It’s short, sharp, straight to the point and was easy to read. Ultimately, it wins out for perfectly capturing the core issue in international agricultural development. If readers only read this blog, they would get a good idea of the issues with farming in the region.
A classic listicle blog – tried and tested formula and often a great way to engage readers and share valuable (or just fun) information. In this case the author has shared some sound (if not often-repeated) words of wisdom for PhD students and researchers in general. In particular, the lesson on being ‘in it to win it’ is one I really believe in and one that more people need to get on board with. The writing is sharp and well crafted. I loved the use of photos (and humour) to show the pitfalls of making assumptions. The self-reference to breaking this lesson in the explainer of number 2 is also nicely done. Overall the tone of the blog is really fun and light-hearted, making it approachable. Given the piece is likely targeted to the shy, early on PhD student this is an important detail and really improves the piece in my mind. I feel this is a very share-able piece and one that may be valuable to many RAIDers. This placed 3rd mainly because it lacks the originality of the other two blogs I put ahead of it and has less RAID-specific content (I could see this appearing on any student blog site).
Well done to all of our bloggers for the year! Thank you for contributing to RAID and helping us in our mission to exchange knowledge, lessons and experiences of researchers with a passion for agriculture for international development.
Now – if you’re feeling inspired – pick up your pen, whiteboard marker, keyboard, video camera or voice-activated typing device – and tell us your story.
Our crew of Northern Territory RAIDers is growing thanks to the active efforts of our NT State Rep Maddison. NT RAID kicked off the week with a catch-up at the Darwin Sailing Club. Several members met for the first time and the seven attendees brain stormed future RAID activities by the beautiful waterfront!
In last week’s blog on women’s empowerment, Romana reminded us not to leave men behind. If both women and men can embrace change and improvement, sustainable benefits can be achieved.
She learnt this from NAG progam manager Dr Myo Ma Than. My first thought - What is NAG? (Yes, another acronym for the ever-expanding list). NAG stands for Network Activities Groups - a family of 400 individuals who facilitate collaborative, community-driven projects. They operate under four goals of livelihoods, governance, civil society and public service. One of their projects has helped established solid access roads and the Bae Mi villagers can now "wear slippers" on their walk to town, instead of facing a muddy trek.
But back to Romana's reminder... so how do we include men on this journey? It may start with understanding the gendered norms and values of the community. In their article ‘Gender norms and agricultural innovation: insights from six villages in Bangladesh’ Aregu et al. 2018 argue that the ability of development interventions to support innovation is undermined by a lack of specific understanding about how gender norms and relations interact; “we need to know more about how they matter, for whom, when and why”. Accordingly, this article examines “how men and women in South West Bangladesh perceive gender norms to affect their ability to innovate, adopt and benefit from new technologies in aquaculture, fisheries and agricultural systems”.
Romana also spoke of NGO Shwe Inn Thu who have tackled women’s empowerment from the bottom-up; problems and assets are identified together with the community and self-help groups are formed to equip women with new skills.
Similarly, Craig Johns believes “Australian AID money is at its most powerful when the impact is at the grassroots and community level”. The University of Adelaide and the University of the Sunshine Coast teamed up to deliver value-adding workshops to stallholders in Fiji, for example, turning damaged fruit and veg into jams and chutney!
The idea of this short piece is to share any recent published articles, blogs, papers, podcasts or books that relate to it and may be of interest to our members. We (the RAID team) hope that this is a way for us to share interesting things to read or listen to.
A lunchtime information and networking event was held at the University of Tasmania on 28th March 2018 to showcase RAID as an Australia-based not-for-profit organisation and highlighting the value of international agricultural research for international development. The event brought together undergraduate, honours, masters and PhD students with early, mid and late career researchers with an interest in agriculture and international development. We had a speaker from industry, Lee Peterson, who talked about his work in Vanuatu on sandalwood, and work in Europe regarding berry production. He explained the clear link between his research in Vanuatu and regional development, particularly around capacity building and sustainable development.
One student commented, “I found the whole presentation very interesting, it's hard to pinpoint a particular point. However, I did think that the contrast between the two systems was very interesting. The highly regulated and monitored berry production system vs. the manual labour and long time scale for the hardwood production. I find it interesting how diverse international agricultural research can be.”
Lee’s talk also highlighted the advantages of overseas research to the Australian community. Neville Mendham the Tasmania Crawford Fund Coordinator, and Richard Warner, Chair of the Crawford Fund’s Tasmania State Committee were also in attendance, and gave the audience lots of information about ACIAR, RAID, The Crawford Fund and the Crawford conference. There were a number of questions from the very interested audience, and the session was recorded and distributed so that students who were unable to attend were able to find out about Lee’s work and the work of the Crawford Fund at a later date.
Last night RAID’s ACT reps Dave and Kylie hosted Canberra’s first ever stand alone networking event – and it was a great success! 35 agriculture enthusiasts braved the crisp Canberra air to join us at the cosy Duxton Loft. Members in attendance represented ACIAR, CSIRO, ANU, The Department of Environment, The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and various private companies.
Our RAIDers mingled over food platters and a fun game of “people bingo” where we were rewarded with chocolate (YES!!) for identifying people with similar research experiences – whether that was having worked in the same country or having to access your field site by boat!
RAIDers also heard from Tony Fischer about the Crawford Fund and scholarships for the annual Crawford Conference. The theme for this year’s conference is “Reshaping Agriculture for Better Nutrition – The Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, Health Nexus” (if you are interested in attending this year’s Crawford Conference as a scholar – please click here).
The ACT networking event connected fellow RAIDers in the ACT, one remarked, “I realised that Canberra is actually really well placed for a strong RAID community. There are many individuals who have moved to the area for work, without social circles and who are eager to meet and mingle. One of the main comments from the night was – when are we meeting up again!”
The next formal RAID event will be held in conjunction with the Crawford Conference in August – keep your eye on our social media and website for more information!
Wes Ward is currently a part-time Media Officer with Charles Sturt University (CSU), who has worked with multicultural teams in developing countries in SE Asia and the Pacific, and in Australia. During these times, he worked for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the University of the South Pacific, the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, and most recently CSU. He graduated with a PhD in December 2016, and since then has been communicating the findings of his study.
In my last article for RAID, titled Lasagne, chopsticks, and communication in international teams, I introduced the art of eating lasagne with chopsticks.
Chopsticks are not the ideal way to eat lasagne!
I likened this to what some scientists from developing countries feel when using particular information and computer technologies (ICTs) recommended (or sometimes enforced) by their overseas counterparts for communication within their research teams. Furthermore, these ICTs can be an expensive failure as they don’t meet the needs of the project and the team.
But what if you really wanted to make this collaboration work? What if you want to try other ways of ‘eating that lasagne’ to establish more effective communication between your team members?
Addressing this dilemma as part of my PhD, I developed a tool – I-CHET, or the Intercultural Combined Heuristic Evaluation Tool – to assess whether an ICT met the needs of local scientists and their international counterparts collaborating in research teams and living in different countries and time zones.
In Lasagne, chopsticks, and communication in international teams, I identified the main communication barriers that Lao and Australian agricultural scientists believed hindered communication in their research teams.
Most important for Lao scientists (and expatriates working in Lao PDR) was the use of technical English as the common language in the team, and for the Australians it was developing mutual trust and respect, with little recognition of the language barrier by some more inexperienced Australian researchers. Other barriers included accounting for cultural differences, needing to work in teams divided by distance, and overcoming economic and political differences.
I incorporated these barriers into I-CHET, and used a prototype of the tool to assess nine ICTs used in 2011/12 by international agricultural research teams comprising Lao and Australian scientists. These were the email program Outlook; Skype; two relevant agricultural websites, ACIAR and the Lao National Agricultural and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI); the audio and SMS features in mobile phones; LaoFab, a listserv for group discussions on agricultural business in Lao PDR; Facebook; and Adobe Connect for online conferencing.
In my previous blog, I highlighted the predominant and preferred use of email, particularly as it allowed non-native English speakers to better understand and ‘craft’ their messages; and problems with Skype, due to its inherent difficulties for non-native English speakers and its requirement for higher bandwidth, which was not available to Lao scientists at that time.
But what about the other ICTs, particularly social media and mobile phones?
Mobile phones have become common across South-East Asia and in developing countries in general. One major positive for developing nations is that mobiles circumvent the need to lay expensive physical telecommunication infrastructure across nations where none previously existed. When you peer across the Mekong, along the length of the Lao-Thai border and you see the microwave towers facing the Lao hinterland, you observe how Thai businesses are taking advantage of the Lao thirst to connect. But can our multicultural research teams use this ubiquitous technology?
Interestingly, as highlighted in the I-CHET analysis, the answer is ‘yes and no’. While the audio feature of mobiles encouraged interpersonal communication through the greater availability of some non-verbal language cues such as voice intonation, speed of delivery and use of ‘silence’, there was poor support for inexperienced users or non-native English speakers. As with Skype, the immediacy of messages transmitted by voice could also provide difficulties for non-native English speakers who could not translate messages from English into Lao fast enough for simultaneous conversation, especially if they wished to maintain ‘face’ with an English speaker.
Of greater interest, however, was a common problem noted by Lao users who complained that using mobiles with their counterparts was too expensive: visiting Australian scientists often used international roaming on their mobiles instead of local SIM cards and so messaging and calling at international rates. This made mobile communication far too expensive for Lao counterparts, even in their own country!
At the time of assessment in 2013, the possibilities of social media for team communication were being explored, particularly by some Australian scientists. Facebook features were ranked very favourably using I-CHET, particularly for its support for interpersonal communication and for working in groups. However, Facebook was not used or considered by Lao scientists for professional communication, while many used Facebook to communicate with family members living overseas.
This highlights the importance of assessing the use of various ICTs in the contexts of various users. For example, the I-CHET assessments in my study were carried out in regional Australia, which will be different to assessments carried out on similar ICTs used in, say, the Lao capital Vientiane or provincial Laos. This is particularly due to differences in online infrastructure and institutional access and needs of various team members, who are the focus of the assessment. In addition, legal access may be curtailed, such as the blocking of Facebook in China but official acceptance of ‘local’ social media such as Weibo and WeChat.
So, what for the future use of ICTs by international research teams? I believe each ICT tool can have a place in a team’s communication toolbox, from the direct document dissemination of email, to the support for group ‘conversations’ offered by Facebook, and the cheaper alternative to face-to-face communication offered via online conferencing. In addition, developments since 2013, such as improved support for major languages other than English in Facebook, would go some way to overcoming the communication barriers I outlined.
However, I believe the use of these tools must be assessed, discussed and tested by and in the individual contexts of team members, and protocols regarding their usage negotiated and agreed by all team members before research projects start. This would avoid or minimise the initial frustrations, barriers and misunderstandings that can occur in communication between team members from various nations, cultures, levels of economic development and time zones.
Any problems arising in using communication ICTs should also be included in regular projects meetings to ensure the tools used continue to be the most appropriate for the needs of these teams. This also opens the door testing new or more appropriate tools for use by and in the context of teams.
Who knows, we could also find a new way to eat lasagne?!
BTW, for details on this study, my thesis is titled “Exploring in-person & technologically-mediated communication within international agricultural research teams”, and available at http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/235880785.
I have also described how I developed I-CHET in an academic paper presented to the 2017 conference of the international Association for Information Science and Technology, held last October in Washington DC.
There was a good turnout to last week’s RAID event, organised by PhD Candidate Elya Richardson and Animal Science lecturer John Otto. Rowan Smith (TIA pasture researcher and Tasmanian Coordinator of RAID) presented on his experiences in Vietnam as a coordinator of an ACIAR project, and Neville Mendham (local coordinator of The Crawford Fund) talked about his early career as a researcher of oil palm trees in Papua New Guinea. Students Claire Cunningham, Sally Stone Schack, Kristy Stevenson and Oliver Gales gave talks on their RAID trips to Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
Figure 1: Rowan Smith, the Tasmanian RAID representative opened the event, sharing his experiences of his work with ACIAR in beef cattle production in Vietnam.
Figure 2: Neville Mendham the Tasmania Crawford Fund Coordinator, sharing his wealth of knowledge and experience in agriculture and international development
Brief: The idea of the blog is to provide readers/members with something easy to read which shares an interesting story, perspective and ideas of your experience working on international development projects. Engage readers with a discussion of your unique view/perspective, rather than a travel recount.
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.
- 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
- Check out the 2019 RAID Blog Marking Template
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 big moments/light bulb ideas that you have had or experienced working overseas. Maybe these can be helpful for other people
- Any advice/recommendations for people entering or working in the international agricultural development field
- 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.
Child Protection Policy
The RAID Network is a program of The Crawford Fund and adheres to the principles described in the Fund’s Child Protection Policy. The overall goal of this policy is to promote the safety and well being of all children. One of RAID’s key activities is to engage with early to mid-career researchers through the publication of regular blogs on the RAID website. These blogs are written and submitted by RAID members. RAID does not directly interact with children, however, RAID recognises that it members may choose to submit blogs which incorporates stories, images or videos which capture interactions with children. All web content is reviewed for approval or rejection by the RAID central committee. All web content must adhere to the conditions outlined below.
Use of children’s images and video on the RAID website:
- Local traditions or restrictions for reproducing personal images must be adhered to before photographing or filming a child
- Informed consent must be obtained from the child and parent or guardian of the child before photographing or filming a child
- Photographs, films, videos should present children in a dignified and respectful manner and not in a vulnerable or submissive manner. Children should be adequately clothed and not in poses that could be seen as sexually suggestive
- Images should be honest representations of the context and the facts
- File labels and text descriptions should not reveal identifying information about a child when sending images electronically.