24 August 2016
A University of the Sunshine Coast researcher who is defending vital food crops in Laos has been invited to present at next week’s annual conference of the Crawford Fund, a not-for-profit organisation that uses agricultural research to enhance international development.
USC Research Fellow Madaline Healey will share an update on her work with the Crawford Fund, which is aimed at boosting the production of fruit and vegetables in one of the world’s least developed countries.
Ms Healey will be joined at the Canberra conference by two USC students, Bec Cotton and Natasha Hollis, who were awarded conference scholarships worth $2,000 each for their interest in and work towards agriculture in development.
Ms Healey’s project has seen her working with farmers in rural Laos to use more efficient systems and techniques in growing crops like cabbage, tomatoes and eggplant.
Most Laotian farmers currently operate at a subsistence level, but Ms Healey said that there were huge opportunities to build domestic and international markets for their produce – if growers had the right skills.
“The south-east Asian market has really opened up, and it’s growing,” she said. “We’re aiming to get Laotian subsistence farmers into those markets by developing their skills in everything from producing better seedlings to improving harvesting techniques.
“The groups that farmers could go to for support, like agriculture departments, don’t necessarily have the knowledge to help them. We have been working alongside provincial agriculture staff to develop their pest and disease diagnostic skills.
“The Crawford Fund conference will be a great opportunity to promote this work. I first attended the event as a student and it really opened my eyes to the possibilities of agriculture in development.”
Scholarship recipient Ms Cotton, 24, said she had developed a passion for agriculture while growing up in Maryborough, and was now focussing on the area in her Science (Honours) research project.
“I’m working with USC’s Sustainability Research Centre to develop organic agriculture in the South Pacific region,” she said. “I’ll be working in Fiji and conducting a case study in the Cook Islands.
“I’m really looking forward to travelling to Canberra and networking with some of the leaders in this field.”
The Crawford Fund conference will be held from 29-30 August.
— Gen Kennedy