By Jack Koci, Madaline Healey and Bianca Das
Networking with RAID
“The perils and blunders of working in agricultural development - how do you gain credible research in uncontrolled / high risk environments?”
“Gender and agriculture: Practical tips for involving men AND women in research activities”
These were just some of the topics tackled in a recent RAID speed networking event held in Brisbane in association with the TropAg2017 - International Tropical Agriculture Conference. The RAID event brought together over 60 enthusiastic agriculturalists, including early mid, and senior-career researchers, as well as industry professionals and esteemed international guests.
The evening commenced with a series of short talks from TropAg conference delegates. Jack Koci, RAID President, kicked off proceedings by highlighting RAID’s efforts in connecting, engaging, and supporting early and mid-careers involved in agricultural research and international development. Professor Judith Kimiywe, a Certified Nutrition Specialist in the Department of Food, Nutrition and Dietetics at Kenyatta University, Kenya, and a keynote speaker at TropAg, then delivered a captivating talk focussed on dietary diversity and what drives people’s food choices. Peter Horne, General Manager, Country Programs at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), shared some interesting tales and insights from his long career working on research for development projects, and discussed career pathways into this space. Dr Erin Wilkus, a research officer within the Farming Systems Research Group at QAFFI, concluded the talks by discussing practical tips for engaging in agricultural development.
Following the talks, early and mid-career researchers were broken into small groups and paired with up to three experienced researchers who facilitated discussions on topics relevant to a career in international agricultural research for development. Similar to speed dating, the group discussions were capped at 7 minutes, requiring rapid-fire introductions and lively discussion. After 7 minutes, groups rotated and a new topics were introduced. Key insights, lessons and knowledge shared were recorded by a team of roving facilitators and will be revealed in an upcoming RAID blog.
With the ice freshly broken, and many new contacts made, the evening concluded with a freestyle networking session. Overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and the perfect start to what was a wonderful TropAg Conference.
RAID would like to thank the University of the Sunshine Coast for sponsoring the speed networking event, the QLD Alliance for Agriculture, Food and Innovation (QAFFI) for helping in the organisation, and the TropAg2017 Organising Committee for allowing RAID to host an event in association with the Conference.
Networking with RAID
RAID president, Jack Koci, spends 10 minuts with soil scientist Paul Nelson
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a researcher/lecturer at James Cook Uni in Cairns, working on land and water-related things. I’ve been here for 12 years now and have to say that living in the tropics in Australia is as good as it gets.
I grew up in the suburbs of Adelaide and did an agricultural science degree (1982-86) at the Waite Institute, majoring in agronomy and soil science. Because soil is the basis of everything! The Waite was a marvellous place to study, with many distinguished scientists, a great bunch of students and a delightful setting. It still strikes me decades later that an agricultural science degree was a superb preparation for all sorts of things, because of the combination of theory and practice and the breadth and depth of subjects we covered.
After working and travelling for a few years I came back to the Waite and did a PhD in soil science (1993-96). I then moved to Queensland, to a job improving diagnosis and management of sodic soils in the sugar industry. After a few years with CSIRO I took a job leading the agronomy research program of the Papua New Guinean oil palm industry. From there I moved down to Cairns, where I gained a lovely partner, two wonderful kids - and by some cruel twist of fate, an allergy to mangoes.
How did you get involved in international agricultural R4D?
I came across a small advertisement in The Australian for a job in PNG in 1999. I’d always been interested in development, and this opportunity came at a stage in my life when I felt I had something to offer and I was up for the challenge. The job ended up being the most captivating, frustrating and rewarding work experience I’ve ever had; never a dull moment. Apart from supervising staff, vehicles, database, computer system etc, I developed and conducted research projects funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), AusAID and the European Union. Since coming back to Australia in 2004 I’ve continued to work in agricultural R4D projects, mostly in PNG and Indonesia.
An army helicopter and pilot in Sepik Province of PNG is the best soil survey vehicle I’ve ever used!
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
One challenge is not being in the place where the research is being done. Being a fly-in fly-out scientist is far from ideal. It’s always best to live in the place where you’re doing research. And now that I have a family I don’t want to be away from home for long periods - something I could never imagine when younger!
Another challenge is trying to stick to the main tasks and not get overwhelmed by the rising tide of administrivia. Australians used to be world-renown for their self-sufficiency and ability to get things done with no fuss. But within the last 20 years we’ve somehow let ourselves become the most over-regulated risk-averse country on Earth. Which reminds me of a saying I heard years ago comparing Sweden to Africa, but which applies equally well to Australian and PNG; “In Sweden everything is easy but you can’t do anything. In Africa everything is difficult but you can do anything”. There are plenty of challenges working in developing countries, but it’s fun tackling them.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
The most enjoyable and rewarding aspect of the work is the continual learning. And the friends I’ve made. I feel immensely privileged to be able to work so closely with people of completely different backgrounds and cultures. There are so many intelligent, industrious and passionate people involved in this field that the work is always fascinating and inspiring.
Learning about different cultures is rewarding, but learning about different physical environments is too! Studying soil science in Australia had drummed into me a mindset of seriously old landscapes, fragile, hardsetting, saline, acidic soils, drought, erosion, rapid degradation, slow recovery and so on. When I went to PNG and Indonesia, I found recent volcanic ash soils that are forming as you watch, that you can dig up with your fingers, and that have a perfect balance of nutrient elements. There are deep clays that drain quicker than you can pour water on; whole landscapes that appeared in one volcanic eruption; mountains being pushed out of the sea, and it blew my mind. Not to mention the profusion of life!
Dealing with big problems and seeing big changes in practices is also extremely rewarding. There are great opportunities to do basic, good research once you step outside the rich countries.
Who’d have guessed that land crabs can have a major effect on soil hydrology?! With assistant agronomist Wawada Kanama and lecturer Felix Gitai in Milne Bay Province, PNG.
Advice for younger researchers?
Two main things.
- One, become an expert in some technical or scientific field rather than trying to solve the world’s problems. It will give you an entry point to work wherever you want and apply your skills to any problem you want.
- Second, go and immerse yourself in a developing country for at least a year. It may set you back career- and income-wise, but it’s invaluable if you’re interested in development.
Those two things are not necessarily very compatible, but such is life. Whatever you’re doing now, do it really well, even if it doesn’t seem very interesting. Follow your nose and your heart to the next thing and embrace random opportunities. And finally, be patient- good things will come.
Drinking South Pacific Lager with agronomist Steven Nake in Oro Province, PNG.
To read more about Paul’s work go to:
Paul’s JCU staff page: https://research.jcu.edu.au/portfolio/paul.nelson/
JCU’s Land and Water Science group facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JCUlandwater/
Paul’s LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-nelson-a7520716/
By Jack Koci
Does the thought of sitting back and relaxing over Christmas and New Year with nothing to do terrify you? After a hectic year where every waking moment was spent hurriedly writing proposals, running experiments, catching flights, missing flights, presenting at conferences, submitting progress reports, writing papers, responding to reviews, and juggling family commitments…the list goes on… some of us might find the transition to a more sedate lifestyle somewhat challenging.
Well fear not my friends! RAID has you covered. We’ve put together a scrumptious platter of some of the best blogs from 2016, to ease you gently into the holiday period. So ditch the lab coat and wack on a singlet and boardies, throw away the boring ham and cheese sandwich and cut up a mango, switch off the science show podcast (or don’t it’s awesome), and put on the cricket, and sit back and enjoy some literary gold produced by your fellow RAIDers.
PS, if reading these blogs has done nothing but excite you, you may like to write one of your own. There are some great prizes on offer as part of our Blog Competition which runs until mid-2017. Get in touch, we’d love to share your story.
Written by Madaline Healey
“I remember as a 17-year-old telling all my high school friends that I was heading off to university to study agriculture. “Agriculture! You mean you want to study to be a farmer?” That response was something that I would endure through my entire undergraduate years.”
Madaline reveals why international agricultural development is her chosen career path.
Madaline and her colleagues inspecting crops for pests and diseases is Laos
Written by Rebecca McBride
“Last year I attended a RAID event and was lucky enough to hear Tony Fisher’s advice for young researchers. Amongst his wise words and interesting life stories, he recommended good books for learning and being inspired.”
The recommendations for good reads in this blog should keep your mind ticking over during the holiday period.
A selection of some of the recommended books
Written by Peter Windsor
“There are so many rewarding aspects to our work, but it is hard to beat the appreciation shown us by poor smallholder farmers proudly displaying their fattened large ruminants that are now keenly sought by international traders because of their superior weight, body condition and disease freedom.”
Peter Windsor reflects on an amazing career in international ag R4D.
Peter with Indonesian veterinarian Ronny at a disease investigation training course in Dili in East Timor in 1993.
Written by Mic Halliday
“My time over there has certainly been unique. Early trips were spent collecting urine, faeces and rumen fluid samples from bulls, goats and buffalo, trekking to many remote locations to chase down animals of interest. Waiting for a buffalo to urinate, using a bull-tickler stick to try and encourage a few drops out can be quite tedious, but it beats having a cow cough its stomach contents all over you!”
Mic shares some interesting tales from his time working in Indonesia.
Mic collecting rumen fluid from an obliging bull in Sumbawa
Written by Skye Gabb
“Travelling to unique and remote places is one of the highlights of working in R4D. However, one of the downsides of this is that when things go wrong there aren’t the same support systems that we’re used to at home.”
Skye Gabb shares her top 10 tips that might help you get yourself out of a sticky situation.
Skye meeting some of the women and men involved in research activities – one of her highlights of working in Indonesia.
For National Science Week 2016 Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, is calling on all Australians to get to know the names of at least five living Australian scientists. To celebrate this RAID has profiled five up and coming Aussie scientists working in international agricultural R4D – and they are Jessica Bogard, Caspar Roxburgh, Julia de Bruyn, David Gale and Anika Molesworth... Enjoy!
Jessica Bogard – linking nutrition, agriculture and the environment
Current position: Jessica is a nutritionist doing her PhD at The University of Queensland’s School of Public Health alongside the CSIRO Global Change team. She is researching the role of fisheries and aquaculture in contributing to improved food and nutrition security in developing countries, using Bangladesh as a case study. Through her PhD she has focused on linking the disciplines of nutrition and public health, agriculture and environmental science.
She became passionate about this topic through her work with WorldFish in Bangladesh, working with fisheries experts, agriculture specialists and economists, all working towards the common goal of eliminating hunger and poverty. She worked on several food security projects, investigating the nutritional value of the many indigenous fish species in Bangladesh, and strategies to use such local nutrient-rich foods to improve nutrition among mothers and young children.
Favorite thing about working in international agricultural research for development: The opportunity (and necessity!) to work with people from many different disciplines, this can be both challenging and rewarding. “It’s also an incredible experience to work in different countries, learning about the people, their cultures and history”.
In 10 years’ time: Jessica hopes to be continuing research for development work, linking agriculture, nutrition and health, particularly in the Pacific region. And most of all, she hopes to have contributed to improved nutrition outcomes in the communities where her research is based.
Check out Jessica’s RAID blog:
Learn more about Jessica’s work:
Research - ResearchGate
Jessica working with a rural community in Bangladesh, adapting traditional recipes to improve the nutritional quality of complementary foods for infants and young children, using small indigenous fish
Caspar Roxburgh – increasing food security in Mozambique
Current position: Caspar is a PhD candidate at The University of Queensland (QAAFI) working on improving maize yields in Mozambique. Caspar studies the diversity in management and yield on farmers’ own fields and then identifies best-management practices and tests their effects on crop yields. The ‘best management’ he identifies can then be used by poorer-performing farmers in the community to increase their food security and economic empowerment.
Caspar’s work is multidisciplinary by nature. He uses group discussions and one-on-one interviews to learn about farmer practices and uses field experiments and crop systems simulation models to test new management ideas. By studying farmers’ own knowledge and best practice, he aims to provide communities with ready-to-use and relevant ideas. Caspar spent over a year of his PhD living in Mozambique and trained several local agricultural students during his time in the country. His work has identified improvements which lead to a 50% increase in food production without any additional cash or labour requirement.
Favorite thing about working in international agricultural research for development: Being in an environment where problem solving is an everyday activity you never know what will go wrong next – it keeps him nimble, agile and innovative!
In 10 years’ time: Caspar hopes to run his own agricultural development organization specializing in smaller-scale management and technological improvements in Southeast Asia and Southern Africa. He also hopes to contribute to wider debates around addressing global hunger and the food crisis.
Learn more about Caspar’s work:
UQ news - Colour-code to translate benefits
Research - ResearchGate
UQ PhD candidate Caspar is working to improve maize yields on smallholder farms in Mozambique
Julia de Bruyn – changing the world, one egg at a time
Current position: Julia is a veterinarian, PhD candidate and research assistant at the University of Sydney. She is currently part of a multi-disciplinary research team exploring the potential for livestock and crop interventions to achieve sustainable improvements in human nutrition, in Tanzania and Zambia. Julia’s PhD focuses on the impact of community-based vaccination programs against Newcastle disease in village chickens on the diets and growth of young children.
Favorite thing about working in international agricultural research for development: The opportunity to use knowledge and skills to work collaboratively – with communities, stakeholders and other researchers – to find solutions to complex global challenges! “Research aiming to guide sustainable approaches to meeting the nutritional needs of a rapidly-growing population is an exciting area to be working in”.
In 10 years’ time: Julia hopes to have seen the evidence base supporting the impact of agricultural interventions on human health outcomes grow. She hopes that the village chicken populations of Central Tanzania have expanded and local households are seeing financial and nutritional benefits. By this time, the >500 infants and young children participating in her PhD project will be approaching adolescence!
Check out Julia’s RAID video and blogs:
Video – Vaccinator training in Tanzania
Blog – The African Chicken Project
Learn more about Julia’s work:
Julia outside the community office in Sanza Ward, Tanzania, alongside a poster promoting the consumption of poultry products by pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and young children (“Eat Eggs. For Health, Strength and Growth.”)
David Gale – saving the soils of Vietnam
Current position: Dave is a postgraduate researcher at Charles Sturt University, working on a project to improve agricultural productivity in a naturally hostile soil using a waste product from sugar manufacturing.
Favorite thing about working in international agricultural research for development: The people - from farmers who offer small cups of tea or rice wine, to enthusiastic students and staff at the university who will buy you a coffee for the opportunity to practice their English for 15 minutes, as well as locals in the street who want to welcome you and include you in their lives.
In 10 years’ time: Dave hopes to be living in a developing country managing one or more community based agricultural or horticultural research project.
Check out Dave’s RAID blog:
Learn more about Dave’s work:
David working in Vietnam assessing the potential to ameliorate metal toxicities and increase phosphorus availability
Anika Molesworth – Young Farmer of the Year and champion for Australian and international agriculture
Current position: Anika is a PhD candidate at Deakin University researching organic soil ameliorants to improve soil fertility and water management, conducting trials in Australia, Cambodia and Laos.
Anika is passionate about international agricultural research for development, because she believes those involved in this industry are making a meaningful contribution to food security, the protection of natural resources, and the vibrancy of rural communities. She loves learning about different cultures and farming systems around the world – no two days are ever the same – “a career in international agricultural research can be challenging, but it is always exciting, dynamic and highly rewarding.”
Favorite thing about working in international agricultural research for development: The people she encounters. “You meet with world renowned scientists, collaborate with local agricultural officers, and visit farmers who welcome you into their homes. These people always leave me humbled and optimistic of the future.”
In 10 years’ time: Anika hopes to still be working as an international agricultural researcher, and would love to own a farm herself one day. “Agriculture is my passion. I hold great wonder for the natural world and a great inquisitiveness in how humans interact with it. Producing food to feed a growing global population with reduced environmental footprint is one of the defining challenges of our time – and I feel so lucky to be part of finding the solutions.”
Check out Anika’s RAID blogs:
Learn more about Anika’s work:
When not wading through rice paddies, Anika spends as much time as she can back at her family’s outback sheep station. The red sand country a stark contrast to the tropics.
On the 8th August, 35 University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) students and staff gathered by lakes at USC to enjoy a BBQ and talk all things agriculture and international development. USC has a strong contingent of researchers involved research for development, spanning the disciplines of forestry, aquaculture, agricultural ecology, natural resource management and community development to name a few.
Cathy Reade, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at the Crawford Fund, was on hand to announce the award of two USC students with Young Crawford Scholarships. We also heard from Jack Koci, PhD student at USC, and President of RAID, who gave a brief intro to the RAID network, Madaline Healey, a Research Fellow and lecturer at the uni, who talked about her pathway into international ag research for development, and John Herbohn, Director, Tropical Forests and People Research Centre, who shared some insights from his career working in this space.
This was RAID’s first networking event at USC, and given the interest (and appetite), we’re sure there will be plenty more to come.
USC staff and students get networking by the lakes
RAID has enjoyed another great year, connecting, engaging and supporting early to mid-career researchers involved in agricultural research for international development. Formal membership has grown to 384 people (an increase of 79% since last year), with many more people engaged through various social media platforms (e.g. 386 members of the Facebook Group, 726 likes of the Facebook Page, 310 followers on Twitter). One of the most successful features of RAID’s website has been the weekly blog, which explores the varied and interesting experiences, lessons and insights of researchers working on international agricultural projects. RAID published 49 blogs in 2015/16, with an average readership of over 550 hits/blog. The website has also been regularly updated with new job, study and volunteer opportunities.
RAID has continued to host regular events which have facilitated networking among young researchers and senior scientists, provided a platform to share stories and information, and promoted discussions about career pathways in international agricultural research. Over the past year, RAID has supported 11 events across Australia, including stand-alone networking events (e.g. picnics and barbeques) as well as larger social events at national and international conferences, engaging more than 330 people. In July 2015, RAID hosted its inaugural annual capacity building event, focused on using digital media platforms to communicate science outcomes. The two half-day workshop was attended by 30 participants. Participants identified the opportunity to network with one another, and develop new skills in video communication, as being of great value to their careers.
With continued growth comes increased complexity in operations and management. To ensure long-term sustainability and momentum, the Executive Committee investigated options for becoming a formal organisation. The Committee saw great potential and value in partnering with the Crawford Fund, recognising the Fund’s ongoing support of RAID, and the strong alignment of priorities. In June 2016, RAID formalised a partnership with the Crawford Fund. With new organisational arrangements in place, RAID is now focussed on strengthening the engagement of early to mid-career researchers in agricultural research for international development. We are very excited about what the next 12 months has in store.
President, Researchers in Agriculture for International Development
Written by: Jack Koci
For those of you considering applying for the new ACIAR graduate position, read on to get a first-hand account of the experience from Jack Koci…
Like many uni graduates, I had just come to the end of my Honours degree and was wondering, ‘what on earth am I going to do with my life?’
Luckily for me, I’d just received an email informing me of a graduate position at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). At that point, I had no idea who ACIAR was, and to be frank, I hadn’t even considered international ag R4D as a possible career path. All I saw was that the job was located in Canberra and I wasn’t sure if my North QLD bones could handle the ACT’s bitter chill.
Picture 1: Visiting smallholder onion farmers in Myanmar’s Central Dry Zone.
After looking at ACIAR’s website, and watching some of their YouTube video’s (have a look, they’re really interesting), my attitude shifted and my excitement grew. It was as if a whole new world opened up to me and the possibilities seemed endless. I got in my application and was very excited to find out I was successful. I packed my bags, bought a scarf (you should have seen the look on the salesman face in Cairns) and headed south.
Picture 2: Meeting project staff in Myanmar’s Central Dry Zone, wearing a longyi pulled up too high.
ACIAR commissions international agricultural research for development projects as part of Australia’s aid program. Now it’s important to point out here that ACIAR doesn’t actually ‘do’ the research, rather they identify research priorities, commission Australian institutions to develop and lead projects in close consultation with partner country institutions and stakeholders, and provide the overarching project management.
Picture 3: Visiting forestry trials in Solomon Islands.
Given my background in hydrology and soil science, I was slotted into the ‘Natural Resources Management’ cluster. ACIAR has 3 other clusters, including, ‘Livestock and Fisheries’, ‘Crops’, and ‘Economics and Social Sciences’, each of which have a range of research programs. I worked across the ‘Soil Management and Crop Nutrition’, ‘Land and Water Resources’, and ‘Forestry’ research program areas.
Picture 4: Attending an inception meeting in the Philippines.
Over my 2 years at ACIAR, I participated in multiple overseas project development missions and program review meetings, including trips to Myanmar, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. I also undertook project management of new projects and was actively involved in communication and dissemination activities. I developed skills in time management, communications, teamwork and leadership and made strong professional networks within Australia and abroad. I also gained a practical understanding of how to design, implement, monitor and evaluate successful research for development projects. On top of all of this, I gained some life-long friends and mentors. Pretty much a dream start to a career.
Picture 5: Catching a sunrise in Bagan, Myanmar.
Through the contacts I made at ACIAR, I am now pursuing a PhD at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and have plans to lead ACIAR projects down the track.
So for those of you thinking about applying for the new grad position. My advice, go for it! You will definitely not regret it. Oh, and for those of you concerned about the Canberra cold, one piece of advice. Layers. So many layers. I have a scarf if you need one.
Picture 6: Preparing a social club lunch with fellow graduates Emma Zalcman to the left and Bonnie Flohr to the right.
Well folks, that’s another year done and dusted. In this, our final blog of the year, RAID would like to thank all of the excellent contributors which have made our blog series so successful. We really value your unique and interesting insights into the life of an international agricultural researcher - the highs, the lows, the challenges and successes, and the little gems of knowledge in between.
While we can’t go through all the blogs, we decided to highlight the top 5 ‘hitters’ of 2015. Read on to see how you can get involved next year.
5. ‘Integrated crop-livestock systems, Laos’, by Anika Molesworth.
“Two big chocolate brown eyes looked up at me from behind long dark eyelashes. This cow knew how pretty she was, and nonchalantly posed for my photos.”
A cracker first couple of sentences that really draws the reader in. This was a beautifully written piece that highlighted the importance of integrated crop-livestock systems in developing countries.
4. ‘Some of the incredible women I know’, by Dave McGill.
“Whether it be Jessica Bogard and her fish work in Bangladesh, Julia de Bruyn and her experience in Africa working alongside Robyn Alders or Kylie Ireland educating about plant health in Laos – it is a true inspiration to see all these women not only working so passionately in these places, but also that they have the opportunity to do so.”
To celebrate International Women’s Day, Dave McGill, wrote a heartfelt blog about inspiring women working in international agricultural research for development.
3. ‘Veterinary public health in Luang Prabang, Laos’, by Russel Barnett.
“The trip was an amazing experience that gave me insight into the Laos culture and also revealed the career options available for future veterinarians like myself in veterinary public health and agriculture research and development projects.”
Russel gave us a great blog about his eye-opening experience travelling to Laos on university placement, and the opportunities for veterinarians to make a difference in developing countries.
2. ‘Tales of Taveuni, Fiji,’ by Geoff Dean.
“Your picture of Fiji …… idyllic sandy beaches, palm trees, blue, blue water…. and loads of tourists. Take out the last factor and throw in lots of pristine rainforest, unique endemic flora and fauna and some of the world’s best diving. And for those with an agricultural leaning, add deep volcanic soils and a rainfall measured in metres. That was my AVI placement –Taveuni, the garden island of Fiji.”
Geoff’s fantastic tale of living and working with his wife and two kids in pacific paradise, accompanied by some stunning pictures, made us all want to set sail.
And the number one blog of 2015 isssss......drum roll please....
1.‘How will you be celebrating World Egg Day 2015?’ by Julia de Bruyn,
“The countdown is on: one week until World Egg Day 2015! It’s not on your calendar? Before I started a PhD working with small-scale poultry-keepers in African villages, it wouldn’t have been on mine either. In the past couple of years, as I’ve transitioned from a clinical mixed-practice vet to the world of food security research, I’ve learnt much about the nutritional challenges faced by people in resource-poor countries – and in the role of livestock (including chickens) in tackling these challenges.”
Julia’s short and sweet blog captured the attention of big audience with an eggsellent message.
So what made these blogs successful? Well a combination of things really. A catchy title, an engaging first sentence, a personal story, timing with a major event, short and sweet, beautiful pictures, social media sharing – all of these things can increase your audience. However, don’t stress about the detail, the main point is to just give it a go. Practice makes perfect after all.
We look forward to your contribution!
See you next year.
With the EOFY stress subsiding, RAID's core management committee considered it to timely to reflect on achievements over the past year and a half.
Since its inception in December 2013, RAID has grown from a group of 8 founding members to over 250 people, actively sharing knowledge, ideas, opportunities and enthusiasm for agricultural research for international development. Membership is diverse, covering undergraduates, keen to learn more about working internationally, postgraduates, earning their stripes in research for development, post-docs, kicking goals on the international stage while trying to secure the next round of funding, and senior research scientists, keen to impart their much-valued knowledge to the next generation. Add in a sprinkling of NGO’s, farmers, and genuinely interested outsiders, and you have a group of motivated people, enhancing each other’s careers through the RAID network.
RAID’s motto is connect, engage, support, and this has guided our activities over the past year. RAID’s website provides an online platform for sharing blogs, jobs and volunteer opportunities, events and photos among members and the broader public. The weekly blog in particular provides unique insights into the lives of international agricultural research scientists. RAID’s Facebook Group, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, with around 300, 160 and 65 members respectively, have served as excellent platforms for attracting new people to the network, and for generating discussion on important topics relevant to early-mid career researchers. RAID networking events have facilitated networking between individuals, within and across organisations and disciplines. The official launch of the network at the Crawford Fund Parliamentary Conference in August 2014, was attended by over 100 people. Since the launch, 6 informal networking events have been held across Australia and internationally, engaging more than 100 people.
RAID networking event in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, November 2014
RAID networking event in Adelaide in April 2015
To further strengthen the network, RAID has established informal partnerships with agricultural research agencies as well as funding bodies, advocacy groups and other networks. Key groups include: the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR); Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture (ACDA); Crawford Fund; Future Farmers Network (FFN); and Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD).
With the network growing, the core management group formalised a management structure in February 2015. RAID now has a Senior Executive, General Committee and State Based Representatives. State Based Representatives will be crucial for driving the network forward.
Over the next 12 months, RAID will focus on increasing the membership base, strengthening partnerships, building capacity and networking. Capacity building will be a particular focus area, with a number of initiatives planned. For example in July 2015, RAID will hold its first professional development workshop focussed on scientific communication. We will continue to facilitate networking and knowledge sharing between young scientists and promote career pathways into international agricultural research for development, as part of an Australian career in agriculture.
If you're keen to learn more, or have any ideas, don't hesitate to get in contact with us.
President, Researchers in Agriculture for International Development
As the name suggests, the Central Dry Zone (CDZ) doesn’t exactly have a cool climate. It’s hot. It’s like stepping into a furnace, particularly for someone who has just flown out of a crisp Canberra Autumn. On a recent trip to Myanmar, I feared my nicely ironed trousers, respectable business shirt and shiny boots just weren’t going to cut it.
I was in Myanmar to develop a new ACIAR project on improving land resource evaluation in the CDZ. Everywhere I looked there seemed to happy locals showing no signs of heat stress. What was their secret? What were they doing that I wasn’t? And then it hit me. The secret lay in their traditional dress. In Myanmar, most men wear the longyi, also known as a paso. According to Wikipedia, ‘a longyi is a sheet of cloth, sown into a cylindrical shape. It suits Myanmar’s climate as it allows some air to circulate and keep cool in the hot sun.’ You can always trust Wikipedia. I was faced with a predicament. Should I grit my teeth and put up with a couple of weeks of elevated temperatures, or should I don the traditional attire and spend the trip in well ventilated comfort? After repeated assurances from local colleagues that it would not be culturally inappropriate, I choose the latter.
Eager to trial my new look, I went to the nearest shop and bought myself a stylish new Longyi. Back in the hotel, I stepped into the cylindrical cloth and then began to wonder. How on earth does this thing stay up? Here’s Wikipedia again. ‘The Longyi is held in place by folding fabric over without a knot.’ That’s right, no zippers, no buttons, and most worryingly, not even a knot! I needed back-up, so I called in our in-country manager, who is an expert in these matters. After several hours training, I was ready to attend my first meeting.
Sitting in the mini-van on the way to the meeting, I was full of trepidation. Was the ‘fold’ going to hold? As we neared the meeting place, to my dismay, I could see 10 or so people waiting to greet us. There was no turning back. As I steadily rose from my seat, a wave of relief came over me. It had held! Full of confidence, I took a step forward and exited the van. Just as I went to greet the clearly impressed locals, I could feel the longyi loosening. My worst fears were coming true. With a moment to spare, I regained composure and prevented what could have been a very embarrassing moment. Clutching at my side to prevent further slippage, I calmly said, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you,” in rather rusty Myanmar language. To my relief, my local colleagues were more impressed that I embraced their culture, than worried about the imperfections.
After 2 weeks of travel, I can now confidently stride in a Myanmar Longyi. The health benefits are so that I’m even thinking of introducing it to my home town in Far North Queensland.
Have you had a similar experience wearing traditional dress while travelling? RAID would love to hear about it.