Skye Gabb

Skye Gabb

By Skye Gabb

I’m being offered a lot of advice at the moment! In 2017 I’m getting married and having my first child and everyone seems to have opinions on both weddings and babies. But, this isn’t the advice I am looking for! Rather, I need advice on how to sustain my career through what will be a busy and disruptive few years.

Below is a summary of advice from colleagues that I’ve approached. Some you will agree with, some you won’t, but hopefully it will make you think!

1. Seek advice

When approached, people can be incredibly generous with their advice. Some of my colleagues have been very open about personal things like changing (or not changing) their surname, their decision to work full time or part-time and when the best time is to have children (apparently there isn’t one, just do what’s right for you). So, don’t be afraid to ask, there’s a wide range of advice and opions on offer!

If you’re not sure where to start, SAGE is a useful starting point. RAID also has a mentoring program; I had a great discussion with my mentor at ACIAR. If your interested in being paired with a mentor email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

2. Stay engaged when taking a break from work

Keep in touch with colleagues; drop in to morning tea at the office, go to the work Christmas party, attend seminars and conferences or keep working on publications with colleagues. However you do it, keeping in touch will keep you upto date with current research and new projects or opportunities for when you return to work.

3. Publications

If you’re a researcher, be aware that the gap in the your publication record may occur after you return to work, not when you’re on maternity/paternity leave. This is because the time taken to publish papers means that papers you submit before you go on leave are likely to be published while you’re on leave. THEN, when you return to work, it may take you a year or two of research to start publishing again. 

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It takes time to convert research into publications, this field work I did 2 years ago is still in the process of being published 

4. Part-time or full time?

It is suggested that it takes 10,000 hours of work to achieve mastry in a field. If this is true, then it will take you longer to become an expert in your field if you work part-time.Another thing about working part-time is that all the administrative duties take up a larger proportion of your time. For example, one day of training will take up 50% of your week if you work two days a week but only 20% of your week if you work full time. While you can be a part-time researcher, your career may not progress as quickly as if you worked full time.   

5. What’s in a name?

Changing your surname is a very personal decision; I’ve received strong advice both for and against it! The majority of professional women now keep their surname when they marry and there’s lots of reasons for this, including publication continuity and maintaining the professional profile you’ve built around your name.However, there are also arguments for changing your surname, including a desire to have the same name as your husband and children.

What next?

For a brilliant read, pick up Mia Freedman’s “Work, Strife, Balance”, that talks about bigger picture issues such as “If you take time out of your career to have a baby, everyone wants to know when you’ll be back. If you return to work in less than six months, people wonder, ‘But how can you leave the baby?’”.

So there’s plenty of advice out there if you go looking. Collect that advice and then make the best decisions for you and your family!

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How I’ve spent my time for the last few years (above) is definitely about to change!

By Wes Ward.

Wes is currently a Media Officer with Charles Sturt University, with experience working with multicultural teams in developing countries in SE Asia and the Pacific. During these times, he worked for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, the University of the South Pacific and the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme. He graduated with his PhD from CSU in December 2016, and since then has been communicating the findings of his research.

Imagine this. You are visiting another country for the first time, and you visit an Italian restaurant. Lasagne is on the menu, you remember your nona’s amazing food, and you order it.

Steaming, hot lasagne arrives at the table, smelling fantastic. To eat it, your waiter presents you with a set of chopsticks. You have never used chopsticks, the lasagne is soft and runny, not made for chopsticks, but you battle on and finish the dish.

The dish is familiar but the eating tools are not, and they are hard to learn and use.

Welcome to the world of inexperienced computer users trying to communicate with their overseas counterparts in international research projects. They see the project problems, they see the need, but the communication tools, the ‘chopsticks’, are not ideal for the job.

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Chopsticks are not the ideal way to eat lasagne!

International research teams usually include members from developed and developing countries, with variable levels of education and international experience, but who are endowed with either access to greater economic resources and skills, or access to the land and people with whom the research will be carried out.

Over the years, I noted communication barriers within teams that often led to poorly executed projects, sometimes even failures. I was intrigued and felt sure it could be done better, so a PhD involving a case study based in Australia and Laos ensued.

My first major result showed nearly all members of international research teams prefer face-to-face communication. This may not be surprising, but this may also not be possible where members live in different regions, countries and time zones. In response to funding limitations for travel, team members have come to rely on information and computer technologies (ICTs) to allow communication between members of teams collaborating for and in developing countries.

I also found a number of barriers to effective communication between team members. Language stands out as number one problem for researchers for whom English might be their second or third language, particularly where technical terms are used and spoken in an Australian accent!

On the other hand, researchers from Western countries, including Australia, believed developing mutual trust and respect are most important. Interestingly, while Australians I have interviewed consider language differences important, especially fluency in English, this issue was not their number one concern, and they saw little need to learn their counterpart’s language.

Time and geographic distance between team members and cultural groups also presented difficulties for communication, especially in developing professional relations and trust. Research shows close proximity increases effective communication, but funding may preclude this particularly where travel is expensive. This is where ICTs can play an important role.

Cultural differences were another major barrier. Team members from Eastern and Western cultures often have differing attitudes to ‘face’, or the perceived ‘public worth’ of a person, and to professional relations, where Eastern team members often desire personal as well as professional relations with their Western counterparts. For Easterners, personal relationships helps develop trust in teams, but such personal relationships can be a barrier for Western team members who do not appreciate the importance of a Beer Lao and game of petanque after work each Friday.

Team members can also assist communication by developing a personal sense of ‘cultural intelligence’. This includes empathy for other cultures, willingness to learn about others, and listening skills. Team members with high cultural intelligence are held in high regard by others.

Other communication barriers include differences in organisational structures, national political systems and access to funds; amount of broadband and infrastructure available to run various ICTs; and the importance of non-verbal cues such as a nod or a grunt for effective communication.

These barriers are apparent in all communication, both face-to-face and via ICTs. This has important implications for ICTs used in multicultural communication as each varies in its ability to account for cultural differences while completing a task in a research project.

My research shows no one ICT overcomes all these barriers. No one ICT can make an inexperienced researcher a better team member.

However, I did find that email was by far the most preferred ICT, especially by non-native English speakers. Why? Because it gave them time - better than instant messaging, Skype or even face-to-face - to craft their messages and get advice as required, especially where they wanted to preserve their face with native English speakers and maintain good relations. They want to understand and be understood. This flies in the face of traditional IT theory which decries email for not transmitting non-verbal cues, particularly for Eastern cultures.

Other ICTs have their pros and cons. Skype has been hailed recently as a replacement for face-to-face meetings. But within international research teams, non-native English speakers in particular were concerned at the lack of understanding, trust and so poor communication engendered when using it, while limited access to sufficient broadband and infrastructure is also limited its use in some developing countries and organisations in them.

There was much more to my work, but I hope you now have a taste of what is in my thesis is titled “Exploring in-person & technologically-mediated communication within international agricultural research teams”.

Contact Wes for a copy of his thesis - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Here are two more great RAID blogs on communicating!

Blog: The power of language “To Pasa Lao, or not to Pasa Lao, that is the question”

Blog: Now we’re talking 

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Tools of the trade!

Why is gender important?

In smallholder research projects it is common to use “household typologies” to look at the impact of different interventions. The problem with this is that the household is treated as a single unit where the adults have equal control over resources (i.e. land, credit) and decision-making power and it is assumed that the impact of any change (positive or negative) is evenly distributed within the household.

As a general rule, this isn’t the case!

Therefore, instead of looking “at” households, researchers need to look “inside” them and engage with both men and women if they want to make an impact at both the farm and household level. Here are our top 10 tips for involving both men and women in research activities:

10 tips for mainstreaming gender

1. Consider who owns, manages and benefits from the crop or livestock in question

The specific crop or livestock species being researched will affect who benefits from the project. Consider who has access and control over the assets for this enterprise and who is doing all the work. Remember that the person who does the work isn’t always the one who benefits!

2. Seek input from both male and female farmers

Hold focus groups with men and women separately; this encourages productive and useful discussion, as people are more likely to speak openly when other participants may share their views. Importantly, use female facilitators for women’s focus groups and male facilitators for men’s groups. For questionnaires, think about who to target. Data on some topics, such as food and healthcare, might be best collected from women. In other cases, an effort should be made to target men and women equally.

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Photo: Women's only focus group in Uganda

3. Cater for all languages and literacy levels

Women are often less educated, so they may struggle with approaches that require literacy or numeracy. In such cases, symbols, images and weighted scoring activities can include all participants regardless of education level. Language can also constrain communication, so ensure that staff speak the local language as the country’s official language may not be spoken by all participants. 

4. Run your activities when male and female farmers are least busy

Seasonal and daily activities may hamper the involvement of men and women differently. Seasonally, women are often responsible for planting crops, so it is difficult to engage effectively with female farmers in the planting season. On a daily basis men and women also have different responsibilities. Time you activities appropriately, for example in Indonesia we met men in the morning while the women were busy cooking lunch and then met with women after lunch when they were free.

5. Communicate information in a range of ways

Men and women have different social networks and often receive information from different sources. In addition, they often fail share information with their spouse; so don’t assume that information given to men will be transferred to women and vice-versa! Deliver extension material through a range of different formats that will reach both men and women.

6. Make the most of social structures and networks

Community-based women’s groups can be an ideal way of reaching a strong network of motivated women, who will be able to build support among their peers and help with community mobilisation. If you’re having difficulty reaching out to women, consider broadening the scope of your activities. A dairy project in Pakistan had success in connecting with women by running cooking competitions and by working with a local health worker.

7. Recruit local women to community-based roles within the project

For community-based roles, insist on even representation of men and women. For example, in African villages men AND women have been recruited to work as chicken vaccinators, with local leaders asked to nominate both men and women for these positions. This sends a strong message to leaders and the broader community that the project is serious about gender equality.

8. Facilitate women’s involvement in training activities and meetings

Select venues close to women’s homes and provide appropriate breaks to make participation easier for breastfeeding women and mothers of young children. For example, poultry vaccinator training programs in Africa and Timor Leste are conducted in three “half-day” sessions to help both men and women attend.

9. Employ women at all levels in the project

Employing young women in their final year of university or recent graduates can help to build capacity and increase the number of women available to work on current and future projects. These women are often then well suited to being employed by NGOs and government organisations, or to go onto further study. Where suitable candidates are available, employ women in senior management positions or positions of leadership. Provide flexible employment conditions and support where possible, remembering that these women may also have young families and may find it difficult to commit to long periods of fieldwork.

10. Include gender mainstreaming in the project plan

Consider gender issues right from the start. During project planning develop a strategy for engaging with both men and women, evaluate it on a regular basis and make changes where required. Involving a gender specialist can also help to ensure that relevant issues are considered at all stages of the project. At this stage, think about how you might monitor and evaluate your efforts.  For example, when you record the number of farmers attending a training, will you disaggregate the data by gender?

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Figure: Men and women have worked together to evalute forage legume technologies in West Timor, Indonesia

Useful resources

Tools: Gender toolbox and resources developed by Swedish organisation SIDA:

Video: Overview of Gender in Agriculture, 30 minute video by Janice Jiggins: 

Twitter: #genderinag for a weekly newsletter from CGIAR Gender and Agriculture Research Network

Book: Moser, Caroline. (1994). Gender roles, the family and the household Gender planning and development. London: Routledge.

General information:  

CGIAR Page on Gender

FAO Gender site

GAP website


Thank you to Julia de Bruyn, David McGill and Miriam McCormack for their valuable input.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016 00:00

How to have an Aussie Christmas overseas!

No matter where you are and how you celebrate, from the RAID team we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  

If you’re spending Christmas overseas this year, here are a few tips to help you celebrate the holiday season in “Australian” style!

1. Food

If there’s one thing that’s truly Australian, it’s trying to cook a turkey and roast vegetables on a 40˚C day! If you’re anywhere in the tropics, skip this northern hemisphere tradition and go for seafood. Not only is sourcing a turkey near impossible, but local seafood is likely to be a lot tastier!

2. The tree

The tackier the better! In Australia, my family’s Christmas tree always wilts and half the decorations fall off and when I was in Indonesia my Christmas tree was plastic with branches that flashed like disco lights. So, findyourself a pre-made plastic gem or make up some of those paper chains that you learnt to make in kindergarten!

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Plans vs. reality! My friend’s Christmas tree (left) compared to my family’s one (right)!  

 3. Gifts

The joke about ‘jocks and socks’ is more often true than not, as that’s only gift I’ve ever received when overseas for Christmas (thanks Mum!). If you’re after something special stick to local arts and crafts or treat yourself to a holiday at a local destination.

 4. Weather

Hot, hot, hot! If you’re in the tropics, then you’ve probably got this one covered! 

5. Carols

Denis Walter singing at Carols by Candlelight, a Christmas Eve institution you can access overseas thanks to YouTube! So, set up your laptop on Christmas Eve for a sing along with your local friends!

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Denis Walter singing Carols by Candlelight (source:

6. Clothing

Thongs and a santa hat are not only weather appropriate but they’ll put you in the festive spirit as you join in the dress code of Aussies at beaches around Australia.  

7. Entertainment

Feeling a bit weary after your Christmas day celebrations? Then there’s sure to be a bar or venue nearby on Boxing Day that has the cricket on TV. Whether you’re a cricket fan or not, it’ll probably be a cool and relaxing spot to spend the day.

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Boxing Day cricket at the MCG after I returned home from Indonesia

No matter where you are and how you celebrate, from the RAID team we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  


The University of Sydney will be partnering with the Research for Development Impact Network to host the RDI Network (formally the ACFID University Network) Conference on June 13-14, 2017. The focus of the conference will be on partnering across sectors and disciplines for impact in sustainable development and we will be inviting input and participation from local and international researchers, practitioners, civil society actors, government and private sector representatives. 

We are currently inviting Expressions of Interest (EoI) from students who are interested in organising a student forum to happen as a side event to the conference on the 15th June. The forum is not only for students; it will be designed and run by students. 

The student committee of 10-15 members will work with assistance and mentoring from the RDI Conference organising committee and The University of Sydney to: 

  • agree on and set the strategic direction relating to the program and speakers; 
  • draft relevant documentation including: thematic overview and concept note, running sheets and the final program; 
  • approach potential sponsors, invite speakers and other students; 
  • act as organisers, facilitators and MCs on the day of the forum; and 
  • assist the host university with logistics and media 

Students who volunteer will be duly recognised and acknowledged on the conference website, and receive free registration to both the conference and the student forum. There will also be an opportunity to submit a paper to the conference proceedings peer reviewed journal on the theme and outcomes of the student forum.


Download the Expression of Interest form below


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Wednesday, 09 November 2016 00:00

Australian Agronomy Conference

The 18th Australian Agronomy Conference will be held at the Mercure Ballarat Hotel and Convention Centre, Victoria from 24-28 September 2017.  The Australian Agronomy Conference is the meeting place for Agronomists; it supports research and the community of Agronomists by connecting Agronomy communities across Australia to each other.

The theme for the 2017 conference is “Doing more with less”.  A central plank of Australia’s productive output is agriculture, worth over AUD$13.6 billion exported annually.  Agronomy is key to ensuring that farmland is productive across Australia’s diverse landscapes.  Innovation in machinery and precision technologies, plant species and varieties, soil and plant management may allow the agronomist of today to successfully help agricultural producers thrive.  These innovations are timely as the world deals with increasingly variable climates, environmental degradation, and increasing, more developed global community that requires more diverse products from agriculture.

Key dates in 2017:

25 January               – Paper submission due

April                           – Paper submission notifications emailed

23 July 2017            – Early bird registration close

24-28 2017              – 18th Australian Agronomy Conference

For more information visit

Thursday, 20 October 2016 00:00

Your thesis, your future

Chris Barlow, Fisheries Research Program Manager, ACIAR

Chris Barlow is the Fisheries RPM at ACIAR and recently shared his pearls of wisdom with the 2016 John Allwright Fellows during their training workshop in Canberra. Chris previously featured in an episode of “10 minutes with”, where he talked about his career in International Ag R4D.

Today’s advice from Chris covers three areas: Writing a thesis - What to do AND what not to do, and building a career beyond your studies.

Writing a thesis – what to DO

1. Start now

  • Do not plan to write the whole thing or even the majority of it in the final 6 months. Delaying is a recipe for disaster

2. Plan 

  • Start with the Table of Contents and work chapter by chapter
  • Look for easy wins
  • Chapters do not have to be written sequentially
  • Make a timeline – and stick to it
  • Diligence – completing a thesis is as much an exercise in planning and perseverance as it is in academic performance

3. Constant communication with Supervisor

  • Don’t be shy; be pro-active
  • Try to impress your Supervisors with your application to the job at hand - your supervisors will likely be important for your future employment, whether it be on their team or as a referee

4. Write up each Chapter as you go

  • Make a folder, and add sections as you write them
  • Each section does not have to be a completed chapter – it could be just materials and methods, or the introduction for a chapter
  • There is great satisfaction in seeing the thesis grow

5. English is important

  • Poor grammar and style will distract reviewers from the content of your thesis
  • Seek assistance - if necessary employ an English editor

Writing a thesis – what NOT to do

6. Don’t mess around at the start

  • Avoid excessive planning and reviewing, as that can, unwittingly, become an impediment to progress  
  • Beware of displacement activity – anything that is unnecessarily detracting from your time and attention to the task at hand (aka procrastinating)

7. Don’t lose focus

  • Constancy; keep on task
  • Don’t delay assignments and the like
  • Meet your milestones

8. Don’t let part-time work come before study

  • A few extra dollars through part-time work is OK, and may in fact be beneficial as it gives you an outside interest (in addition to the cash)
  • But it must not be to the detriment of your study, in terms of time or mental energy

9. Don’t leave thesis writing to the end

  • Like point 1, START NOW

10. NEVER Plagiarise

  • With programs like Turnitin, any unreferenced copying will be detected and you will be burnt
  • Referencing the work of others is not only the correct thing to do, it also demonstrates a broad knowledge of the topic and relevant literature

Building a brilliant career

After completing your thesis you will continue on your journey in building a brilliant career.

1. Be a great LISTENER

  • Always take the time to listen to what your colleagues have to say, and never be dismissive
  • When people are talking with you, engage in the moment - make eye contact, and be respectful
  • And act when necessary

2. VALUE THE STAFF around you

  • Working life revolves around teams.  Everyone has a part to play, and each person should be valued for that
  • Let everyone know they are an essential element in whatever has been achieved.
  • Share the glory - it is a team effort 

3. As a scientist, you must PUBLISH

  • There is no compromise in a research career, you need to maintain a regular pipeline of academic publications

4. You WORK FOR your organisation

  • Always remember that you work for the organisation that pays you
  • Be positive in making your contribution to the organisation and its goals


  • When pushing through the many hardships and frustrations of writing a thesis and later pursuing your career, remember your good fortune.  You are intelligent, you have been given the opportunity to study and see the world, and you are productively employed and contributing to your country.  Count your blessings!


In summary: 

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Chris Barlow contemplating, after another hard day on the water

Wednesday, 12 October 2016 00:00

Gifts from the Golden Land

By Ania Peterson

“Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens…” I am in a hotel lobby in Meiktila, Myanmar, singing a deeply expressive Sound of Music duet with my lecturer. Loudly! The proprietor of the hotel continues to chant his Buddhist mantras, pretending he doesn’t mind that his lobby has been turned into a makeshift laboratory, complete with centrifuge and 60 cattle blood samples.

My colleagues are running an ad hoc tutorial on making blood smears for the Myanmar veterinary students, while periodically stopping to join us in song as we make our way through the entire Julie Andrews back catalogue. I suspect the poor proprietor is looking forward to us leaving, we with our insistence on things like sheets on a bed and turning up with muddy clothes needing washing. However, Dr Angus Campbell and Dr Elsa Glanville have been coming here for years now, so maybe they are used to it.

Dr Angus has taken four of us final year DVM students to Meiktila to take part in the Dahat Pan project, a project between Australian and Myanmar researchers—the Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department of Myanmar, the University of Veterinary Science Yezin, the University of Melbourne and the University of Queensland. The project is funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). We are studying cattle, small ruminant (goat and sheep), chicken and forage production in Myanmar, as well as looking at blood borne parasites in cattle and small ruminant nutrition. In addition, we are surveying the household demographics of the families participating in the project.  It’s an awesome opportunity to see a veterinary development project in action, and I’ve been looking forward to it all year!

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A budding vet at work!

I was so excited about this trip I even tried to learn to speak Myanmar. I would practice as I headed to uni at 4am to change ice boots on a laminitic donkey, dreaming of the day I would escape the university hospital and travel to the Golden Land. On arrival, I discover that my Myanmar language is in fact, appalling (accidentally ordering everyone at the table a glass of lime juice with a raw egg in it was a low point!). Fortunately, we are working with a group of Masters students from the University of Veterinary Science here in Myanmar. They start university at only 16, with the first year being an intensive course in the English language. After that first year, all classes are taught only in English! They act as interpreters as well as researchers, a challenging role that I do not envy!

We are heading into villages throughout the Central Dry Zone of Myanmar to collect our data. Last week we focused on assessing small ruminant nutrition and surveying the demographic data of the households involved in the project. The household surveys were a wonderful experience, in which we sat down with families while they told us how they lived. It was festival time over here, so we were usually brought platefuls of delicious fried chickpea crackers and Myanmar donuts, made of deep fried rice flour sweetened with palm sugar. As people concentrated on interviews and recording data, I felt I was eating for two as the women pressed more dishes on me. Fortunately, I have a large collection of elderly Polish relatives, so I have been in training for this moment my entire life.

Getting to know the families gave us really important information about how the animals are cared for – in one village, up to five members from each family has left to work in factories in Thailand, leaving them with a severe labour shortage. Many families have been forced to sell their stock as they do not have the time to shepherd them for miles each day to graze. One farmer is given a photograph of his sheep that was taken on the projects last visit. ‘Mine? My sheep?he says, as he stares at the photo in wonder. He drifts off into a sad reverie, and clearly feels their loss keenly.   

It is interesting to see the number of women involved with livestock farming, especially the small ruminants. At the farmer meetings we hold, most of the attendees are women. They have lots to say in discussion and are happy to share experiences, while the men tend to sit back and chew betel leaf.

Improving the nutrition of the small ruminants has helped reduce mortalities among their young, and the women and children benefit greatly from the increased income. They are clearly appreciative of the project – the women are especially happy to see Dr Elsa, who knows their names and asks about their children. I am impressed by the relationships the project has managed to develop, thanks to the time and effort put in by the research staff.

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Enjoying Myanmar’s beauty in a moment of down time - from left, Omid Neishaboory, Ania Peterson, Elsa Glanville, Kelly Wood, Emily Dickson

Sadly, in the second week, the lovely long chats with farmers about their children are over, and we get down to business collecting the cattle blood. I tend to see cows as oversized, hostile lawn mowers, with a pointy/bitey end and a tendency to projectile-poo from the other. 

There is no such thing as a cattle crush here, so farmers and local veterinary technicians hold the cattle for us while we collect the samples. They are wearing thongs and the traditional longii, a kind of sarong, in contrast to the boots and overalls we typically wear in Australia. The sampling proceeds relatively smoothly, some of the cattle are very well behaved, others clearly have aspirations to take up Spanish bull fighting, but the samples all manage to be collected. It is touching to witness the farmers stroking and speaking softly to their cows, reassuring them that this mad-woman in her large hat will go away very, very soon. The cattle and I are all extremely relieved when the process is over.

However, I will not be relieved when our Myanmar trip is over, but saddened. I have fallen in love with Myanmar – the pagodas peeking out from behind the almost fluorescent green jungle foliage, the energy of the streets and the warmth of the people. In Kyauk Aoe, a woman gives me a gift of sesame oil in a plastic water bottle. She has made the oil herself, sifting the seeds from the pods and then pressing them, all by hand. I am floored by the generosity of the gift – such a quantity would have taken ages to make, and the family earns $1300 AUD a year. I feel completely humbled. This experience has given me a real drive to keep working in veterinary development. I want this woman to have a well closer to her, so she does not have to walk so far to get water for the goats. I want the lambs and kids to survive infancy, so families and animals dont suffer through the economic and emotional loss of 80% mortality rates. I want better access to treatments for FMD than some of the traditional methods. I want a better world, and thats what the Dahat Pan project is working towards through working with farmers in Myanmar. I am so grateful to have been given this experience, and I hope I can find a way to keep contributing to this kind of work after graduation.

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Surveying livestock owners to learn about their families with Omid

Caitlin McQuarrie (BVSc V, University of Sydney)

Recently, as part of my final year of my Veterinary training, I undertook a month-long rotation in Luang Prabang, Laos, gaining experience on large-scale animal health research projects.

I had the opportunity to fly down to Vientiane to attend an Australian embassy event. As a recipient of the New Colombo Plan mobility scholarship, I was lucky to be invited to the graduation ceremony of about 60 Lao-Australia National Scholarship students from The Lao National University in Vientiane. The Australian Foreign Minister, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, was present to congratulate the students on their achievements, and to hand out their certificates.

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Figure 1: University of Sydney Faculty of Veterinary Science students Caitlin McQuarrie, BVSc V (left) and PhD student Luisa Olmo (right) met Hon Julie Bishop MP in Laos in July 2016.

After the ceremony I had the chance to talk to Minister Bishop about my experiences and work here in Laos, and to promote the importance of the continuing research into the diseases affecting livestock in the region. She was genuinely interested in what I had to say in regards to our work here with the local farmers to educate them on the benefits of disease control and prevention strategies, and she is a great supporter of the New Colombo Plan.

Veterinary public health is about using veterinary science to improve the social, physical and mental wellbeing of people. This event was a wonderful chance to promote the importance of public health in developing nations and share details of the positive impacts of animal disease control and prevention in these regions. By implementing high-intervention strategies in farming in Laos, we can increase the profits of the farmers, and assist in decreasing the level of poverty in the nation as a whole.

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Figure 2: It was common to see multiple species on smallholder farms in Xieng Khoung Province.

The research project I was involved in is to assess the use of medicated lick blocks in the prevention of liver fluke in cattle. Whilst on my placement in Northern Laos, I was fortunate enough to attend three field trips into rural villages in three provinces. These field trips involved weighing cattle and collecting faecal samples from a selection of cattle to calculate the number of fluke eggs present in their faeces and, as such, the effect of access to these medicated blocks on the treatment and prevention of liver fluke.

I also spent some time in the Department of Livestock and Fisheries office in Luang Prabang, where I wrote a research paper on the potential of using medicated urea molasses block on prevention of liver fluke. I used previous studies in other countries, as well as related studies into prevention of other parasitic diseases using similar techniques in Laos. This research work helped to give a me a thorough understanding of the concept, and a greater appreciation of the work we were performing on the field trips. 

More information at: www.mekonglivestock/

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Figure 3: A young calf says hello – Xieng Khoung Province.

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Figure 4: A herd of cattle and buffalo… under close supervision of a rooster… Can you spot him? In Xieng Khoung Province.

Skye Gabb and David McGill

This week we attended the Crawford Fund Annual Conference “Waste not, want not: the circular economy to food security”, where industry and research leaders examined food loss and waste along the supply chain.

Given the importance of this issue (1/3 of food is lost or wasted every year!), we thought we’d share some of our key take home messages from the conference.

  • The most food waste and loss is “near the fork” in developed regions and “near the farm” in developing regions

         Dr Karen Brooks, Dr Brian Lipinksi

Foodwastegraph 1261

Food lost or wasted by region and stage in value chain, 2009 (Percent of kcal lost and wasted). Source: World Resources Institute analysis based on FAO. 2011. Global food losses and food waste – extent, causes and prevention. Rome: UN FAO.

  • Reducing food waste and loss can decrease food prices, this benefits the consumer but may decrease farmer income.

        Dr Karen Brooks

  • Interventions that can reduce food loss and waste include: sale or donation of unmarketable crops, improved policies and infrastructure, better market access, effective agricultural extension, improved harvesting and on-farm storage and better cold chains.

        Professor Louise Fresco, Dr Brian Lipinksi, Ms Madeline Healey, Mr Simon Costa, Mr Salesh Kumar, Professor Alice Woodhead

  •  A circular food economy allows resources to be recycled through the system. For example, biogas from fermented wastes can provide cooking gas and lighting for poor households, while capturing phosphorus from human excreta can provide fertiliser for crops.

        Mr Steve Lapidge, Dr Dana Cordell, Dr Bernadette McCabe

  • Clusters of volunteers who are linked to trained experts (e-mentors) can contribute to building capacity for farmers and extension, contributing to reduced food loss and waste.

        Ms Madeline Healey

  • “Pull” mechanisms can provide incentives for private industry to invest where there’s market failure in addressing food loss and waste.

        Dr Rodrigo Ortiz

  •  Using consistent terms in measuring and describing food loss and waste is important. The “Food loss and waste protocol” has been developed to standardise quantification of food and inedible parts removed from the food chain.

        Dr Brian Lipinksi

  •  Digital technology can link farmers, extension officers and researchers and help both reduce and measure food loss and waste. For example, the Plantwise program is using digital technology to help farmers to manage crop health.

        Dr Washington Otieno

  •  Decreasing food loss and waste is only part of the solution, increasing food safety and improving food access through safety nets and feeding programs is also essential.

        Dr Karen Brooks, Professor Louise Fresco


Read the biographies and abstracts of these and other speakers at the Crawford Fund Annual Conference here and the presentations here

Farmers with maize 1263

Minimising losses ‘near the farm’ is essential; in parts of the world nearly 40% of loss occurs at the ‘production’ stage on farm and a further 37% in the handling and storage of produce.

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