Charles Sturt University
Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation

Crawford Fund Conference: big data, food security and networking

Graham Centre members have a new appreciation of the potential for the digital revolution to aid research to boost global food security, after attending the Crawford Fund's annual conference earlier this month.

Graham Centre staff and students at the Crawforrd Fund ConferenceThe Graham Centre supported two conference scholars this year, PhD students Ms Cara Wilson and Ms Arundhita Bhanjdeo. Professor Jim Pratley, Adjunct Research Professor Deirdre Lemerle, Ms Toni Nugent and PhD students, Mr Thomas Williams and Ms Shumaila Arif also attended.

Ms Wilson said, "I got so much more out of the Crawford Fund conference than I ever could have expected. It was one of the best I have been to in terms of networking and the presentations provided at both the conference and the scholar days were interesting and valuable. Being paired up with a mentor who could introduce us to people from all walks of life was a fabulous way to network."

Australian farmers are already reaping the benefits of better use and access to data through mobile phones, apps, drones, sensors, robots, cloud technology and open-source software and the Conference discussed how the technology could be used by farmers in developing countries.

Mr Williams said, "Some of the main talking points were machine learning, solving complex problems with simple 'big data' solutions, and how agriculture still has some catching up to do before the value of big data is truly recognised.

"The Crawford Fund Conference draws many delegates from different political and research backgrounds. It is here you realise there are a great number of people working in research for development and food security.

"Their passion and knowledge in these areas was evident in every presentation and this exposure to a great group of researchers in Australia working in international agriculture development is something I appreciated."

Mr Williams said another take-home message was the importance important to focusing on wholesome and nutritive food security in agricultural research, rather than just total production.

"The Conference keynote speaker Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, who is the Vice President for Country Support, Policy, and Delivery of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, argued that focusing on total production is not the best the way to achieve true food security.

"Dr Sibanda used compelling case-studies that highlighted a need to focus on wholesome, balanced nutrition when attempting to increase on-farm production, and encouraged collaboration between experts in agriculture, nutrition and social sciences to better achieve food security goals," Mr Williams said.

Ms Arif said, "I was interested to hear about the potential for big data to be used in research aimed at transforming agricultural development and the lives of smallholder farmers in developing countries. The Conference was also a great networking opportunity and gave me new insight into the opportunities for career development and future research."

Ms Bhanjdeo said, "It was interesting to see how people from different age groups and countries who have different research interests but parallel goals interact. It was great to hear popular and emerging perspectives on the digital revolution in the sphere of agriculture. My PhD study is focused on the smallholder farmers in India and it would be amazing to stay in touch with all the other researchers working in Asia and share issues, challenges, or best practices."

The Crawford Fund's annual conference was held on Monday 7 and Tuesday 8 August in Canberra. Read more on the Researchers in Agriculture for International Development (RAID) blog here.

Photo caption: Ms Toni Nugent, Adjunct Research Professor Deirdre Lemerle, Ms Shumaila Arif, Mr Vincent West, Ms Arundhita Bhanjdeo, Mr Thomas Williams Ms Cara Wilson and Professor Jim Pratley.