Travelling for research

Zebu bull, Brazil

Experience. Six countries, seven weeks and 21 flights later, Matthew Gunningham returns to Circular Head with new found knowledge and insight into the world of agriculture. The Mawbanna dairy farmer was one of 23 young primary producers and managers across the country to be presented with the Nuffield Scholarship, which sees them undertake research into agriculture and fisheries across the globe using the $30,000 bursary for a 16-week program of group and individual travel. Matthew shares his experience with Chronicle readers.

Canberra, Australia

I have returned from the first part of my Nuffield Scholarship travels, having attended the Contemporary Scholars Conference in Brazil and then travelling on to a further five countries on the Nuffield Global Focus Program.

I was awarded the Nuffield Scholarship in September last year. The selection process entailed a detailed written application and then having to face a state interview panel in Launceston, followed by a national interview panel in Melbourne. Competition is always intense for a coveted Nuffield Scholarship.

The Australian Nuffield Scholars met in Canberra on Sunday March 5, where we spent the next two days attending presentations from various agriculturally related organisations based in Canberra. These included The Grains Research and Development Corporation, The Fisheries Research and Developments Corporation, CropLife Australia, CSIRO and The Cattle Council of Australia.

One of the highlights was a presentation from Major General Michael Jeffery who is the executive chairman of Soils for Life, he was appointed by the Prime Minister as the national advocate for Soils. He made a very compelling case for the protection of our soils as a national asset.

We also attended part of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) conference that was held in Canberra whilst they were there.

We also had the opportunity to visit the National Gallery of Australia, The High Court, Old Parliament House and attend a service at the National War Memorial, where we had chance to meet and chat to director Brendan Nelson.

On Wednesday March 8, we boarded a plane bound for Brasilia, the capital of Brazil where all of the 2017 Nuffield Scholars from around the world were due to convene for the Contemporary Scholars Conference (CSC).

Brasilia, Brazil

On Wednesday March 8 we caught a flight to Sao Paulo, a city of 20 million people in Southern Brazil.

Brazil has a land mass greater than that of Australia, has a population of 200 million and produces 10 per cent of the world’s food.

We met the Kiwi Nuffield contingent who had spent a few days in Argentina prior to flying up to join us in Brazil and we toured some of the monuments of Sao Paulo as well as the CBD, culminating in a visit to a large food market with some surprising items available for purchase.

We then flew the two hours north to Brasilia, where we were to spend the next nine days with the whole contingent of 2017 Nuffield Scholars from around the world at the CSC. Our group joined up with scholars from other Nuffield countries the UK, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Canada, Brazil and also scholars from South Africa and the USA.

The CSC was a combination of self development workshops, dealing with leadership, personality profiling and managing change. We also had speakers from a diverse range of backgrounds who gave us a broad perspective on world food and agriculture ranging from the very large agribusiness organisations Bayer, Rabobank and Altech through to case studies on succession planning from two Brazilian family businesses, and the inspiring story of two New Zealand friends who started a dairy business in Brazil, now milking over 4000 cows in 500 cow herds – stocked at 10 cows per hectare in order to consume the huge amount of feed grown on an annual basis.

They are now marketing their production directly to consumers and have found a ready market for fully traceable, high quality dairy products.

The program also included several technical visits; we visited Embrapa – the government run Agricultural Research Organisation – to look at palm oil, sugar cane, beef and forestry. We visited a large vegetable grower, who also produced soybean and maize seed. Other visits included a small horticultural farmer cooperative giving members access to some of the larger food retailers and a reception at the Australian Embassy in Brasilia.

A highlight was a visit to a community charity based in a poor area of Brasilia that was aimed at engaging young people in dance and craft. They had established a thriving business making pizzas serving the local community that provided funds for the ongoing development of their work.

It had been a very busy and eye opening week, where I had met a lot of other likeminded people from all over the world and had learned a lot about world food and agriculture and in particular about Brazil. This is a quote I took away with me from the week: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone – if you want to go far, go together.’

On Sunday March 19 my nine travelling companions and I boarded a plane bound for Santiago in Chile for the start of our Global Focus Program.

Read more in an upcoming edition of the Chronicle.

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