After three years of undergraduate veterinary science at the University of Sydney I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to undertake a research year as part of the BSc(Veterinary) program. With a growing interest in development work and food security I contacted Professor Peter Windsor about the possibility of being involved in his current research activities in South-East Asia. In early 2013 I travelled to Laos to undertake a case study on biosecurity knowledge transfer between smallholder farmers and extension workers. This involved working with project and extension staff conducting field research and smallholder farmer surveys in villages within Luang Prabang and Savannakhet provinces.
While I was there I had the privilege of being able to take part in foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and haemorrhagic septicaemia vaccination program, and developed a greater understanding of the challenges faced in improving livestock biosecurity. While I have previously travelled in India and Cambodia, this experience was a major eye opener for me. Actually seeing and experiencing the conditions smallholder farmers work with really hit home how lucky Australian farmers are with the infrastructure and services available. I was able to witness an FMD outbreak first-hand and actually examine lesions – growing up in Australia I had only ever seen pictures of this often low mortality yet high impact disease.
On reflection of this experience I am reminded of the advice given to me; “you can’t just sit there waiting for opportunities to come to you, you need to go out there and look for them, and even more importantly do not be afraid to take them.” While the year has been full of professional and personal challenges, I would jump at the opportunity to do it again. I am grateful to my support from supervisors and particularly the staff and smallholder farmers in Laos.
Isabel vaccinates a local cow in northern Laos for FMD.