I’m in a fortunate position as Chair at AgriFutures Australia because I get to engage with these passionate rural women every day.
We are a diverse organisation and our work in agriculture is diverse. We support the people driving the future prosperity of Australian rural industries and regional communities by providing them with learning opportunities and experiences. We identify and nurture research and innovation opportunities that are synergistic across rural sectors. We invest in research which enhances the profitability and sustainability of our levied rural industries. And we support new and emerging rural industries.
Many names come to mind when I think about whom to acknowledge on International Day of Rural Women. The United Nation’s aim of the Day is to recognise the contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty. Both sexes deserve recognition but I find women are more likely to dance in the shadows and I feel passionate about capitalising on opportunities such as this Day to bring to light their achievements.
This year alone our organisation has worked with some incredible female, rural figures; Jo Kelly, an impact engineer spearheading the development of Australia’s seaweed industry. Australia has ideal growing conditions and a huge export opportunity for high value bioproducts from native Australian seaweeds but currently, there are no commercial scale seaweed ocean farms operating here in Australia and no strategic plan for industry development. Jo is the driving force behind the development and expansion of this blue economy opportunity.
Meanwhile, in the lab, working on a treatment for ulcerative colitis, an incurable inflammatory bowel disease which effects more than 75,000 people in Australia, is Lauren Chartier. The Adelaide PhD student, is investigating if emu oil can be used as a therapy for ulcerative colitis and colitis-associated colorectal cancer.
Cara Peek, a Broome-based innovator and a Yawuru/Bunubu woman. Cara was named our 2020 WA Rural Women’s Award Winner and will invest her Westpac bursary towards progressing the Saltwater Academy, which will provide training and employment opportunities for Indigenous Australians, while celebrating the heritage of the Kimberley Aboriginal pastoral industry.
And within AgriFutures Australia, we have 38 incredible female staff members (representing 82% of the entire organisation) working to deliver large research projects across our levied rural industries such as rice, thoroughbred horses, export fodder, tea tree oil and chicken meat, to name a few. The project outcomes will grow the long-term prosperity of Australian rural industries. Our team also work on capacity building programs such as our flagship Rural Women’s Award and global agrifood tech events like evokeAG..
Adding to this, our recently appointed Board is also made up of 50 per cent women; fulfilling our pledge is to continue to support women in agriculture to develop their leadership skills, experience and confidence. It’s not about fulfilling gender quotas; it’s about how we can best represent the diversity we have in our agricultural industry and how we can work together to benefit our rural and regional communities.
For all of these women mentioned above, it’s not just a job. Agriculture is our lifeblood. We are passionate because we live and breath in the communities which we are striving to nurture and grow. In a constantly changing world, we all remain committed to collaboration and innovation with the industries, producers and growers driving and shaping Australian agriculture now and into the future.
Some of this passion shines through in our new AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Book which we are using as an occasion to mark the Rural Women’s Award 21st anniversary.
The launch of our AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Book and programs like the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award shine an even brighter spotlight on the initiatives being driven by rural women and which make sure no rural industry is left behind and no rural community is forgotten.
I’m fortunate that I get to be involved in these programs and platforms that our organisation runs to support rural women. But there are other ways you can be involved on 15 October 2020, International Day of Rural Women. We have launched a hashtag #hatsofftoruralwomen across our social media channels and encourage you to use this hashtag and share the stories of the rural, regional and remote women you work with on a daily basis and who inspire you.
I take my hat off to all the incredible, inspiring women who work in agriculture, who live in our rural communities and who remain so passionate in the work they do despite enduring so many hardships. Keep thinking bigger. Keep sharing your voices. And throw more fuel onto the passion that is there.
Mrs Kay Hull AM
Chair, AgriFutures Australia