Taking our knowledge to the world
Dr Wayne Pitchford and Dr Bill Bellotti have both taken Roseworthy to the world, through placements with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR), a federal government authority that operates as part of Australia's Aid Program. Its focus is on poverty reduction and sustainable development.
Dr Pitchford is a quantitative geneticist, with a lot of his work revolving around identifying genetic markers for meat quality and feed efficiency. He has recently been made a National Program Manager of the Beef CRC, managing programs in feed efficiency, maternal productivity and responsible resource use.
"I always had a heart for development programs and was offered a sabbatical opportunity through the International Livestock Research Institute. I spent six months in Kenya, working in a totally different environment, which was a great experience for me and for my family, who relocated with me," Dr Pitchford said.
"The main issue there is disease control. It's an area I was keen to learn more about, as well as production systems in the developing world, where the agricultural industry operates on a much smaller scale but is far more closely tied to people's lives.
"Agricultural development often stimulates economies like Kenya's toward development, and livestock plays an important role. Often, a cow or a goat is the only tradable, capital resource a family might have. These animals are the pathway out of poverty. A herd of cattle is effectively the family bank account," Dr Pitchford said.
ILRI is developing research in laboratories and getting very good feedback, but the link between laboratories and farmers is poor.
"In Australia we have a stud sector which means that genetic improvement is controlled and livestock with desirable traits are easily disseminated through the marketplace. In the developing world, we have to be able to operate at village level, as livestock is traded in small markets.
"Because of the importance of the animal to the farmers, they know their animals extremely well. What I was able to do is help farmers with strategies to improve the accuracy of selecting animals with desirable traits - the most important being resistance to disease, in this case Trypanosomiasis, a disease that reduces meat and milk production, carried by the tsetse fly."
Dr Pitchford worked in the field to train farmers to use ranks and ratings to select animals for breeding.
"I guess the main difference is that here in Australia, we are often finding ways to create more wealth, but in the developing world we are working to alleviate poverty."
Dr Bill Bellotti has just returned from China, where he leads an ACIAR-funded project that aims to improve the productivity and sustainability of subsistence farms in the western province of Gansu.
Again, the project involves working closely with local farmers. Local farms are just one hectare in area on average and farmers grow crops for their own family's consumption. Income is derived from any animals bred on the farm as well as the sale of some grain.
Dr Bellotti's focus was on improving farm productivity while reducing erosion, which is a major problem for the region.
"It was a fascinating process. The scientific principles like water efficiency and nitrogen cycling apply the same in Australia and China, but farm size, reliance on manual labour and the lower level of ability for farmers to take risks meant we constantly had to adapt our way of thinking," Dr Bellotti said.
"Coming from Roseworthy has been a distinct advantage as we are experienced in climate variability, rainfed farming and the crop and pasture species are similar.
"We worked to introduce crop rotation and also encouraged farmers to sow into the stubble left behind from the previous crop, a measure that helps stop soil erosion and also reduces the need to plough, saving money on fuel.
"This required a cultural change, as the farmers use the stubble to build fires for heating and cooking.
"We also researched the importance of crop rotation, using legumes to fix nitrogen in the soil "From an academic point of view, I worked with Chinese collaborators from the Gansu Grassland Ecological Research Institute, which has now merged with Lanzhou University, and the Gansu Agricultural University, to build capacity in research skills; building long-term experiments and simulation models, as well as improving their publication skills.
"They need to get that recognition to attract further research funding. Now that the project is six years along, some good things are starting to happen."
In recognition of his work, Dr Bellotti was awarded the prestigious Dun Huang award, which is given to foreigners making a major contribution to the region.
Roseworthy has a history of teaching students from developing countries, with a number of students coming from Nigeria, Kenya, New Guinea, Indonesia, South Korea and China. Additionally, Roseworthy and Waite graduates are being sent to the regions regularly, attached to ACIAR projects. Sharna Nolan, an Australian Youth Ambassador from Roseworthy, worked alongside the farmers for ten months in 2003 and Matt Kennedy, Honours graduate from Roseworthy, has worked in Gansu in 2005 as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development. ■
Story Lisa Reid