Tuesday, 28 February 2012

ACIAR staff graduate with international accolades

Congratulation to two of ACIAR’s Program Support Officer’s (PSO's) who graduated from the Australian National University at the end of last year with international degrees.

Olivia Shanahan and Janet Williams graduated from the College of Asia and the Pacific, Olivia with a degree in Security Analysis (Asia Pacific) and Janet with one in International Affairs.

Graduation day for ACIAR Program Support Officers, Janet Williams (left) and Olivia Shanahan (right).
Our PSOs play a vital role in ACIAR. Their main job is to provide administrative advice and support to our Research Program Managers. Those who work with scientists can appreciate the mammoth job at hand. The PSO role involves tasks such as finance and contract administration, preparation and monitoring of budgets and sorting out the vast array of project information. The diversity of the PSO positions bring people with a plethora of skills to ACIAR. It is this variety of skills, expertise and experience that strengthens the PSO network.

Janet Williams explains why she thinks the business of ACIAR is more important than ever.  

"Having worked at ACIAR for a couple of years, I commenced my postgraduate studies with an understanding of the importance of agricultural development in developing nations.

My goal at that time was to finish the degree and use my experience working in an international agency to explore opportunities in security or maybe diplomacy, if I could better develop my negotiation skills.
In the first couple of subjects of the degree, we spent a lot of time having theoretical discussions about developing and developed nations. Some were about trade relationships and the gradual evolution of the international system to a hegemonic power structure. Many were about the concept of power and how fear of aggression dictates the relationships between nations.
Throughout these courses the pride I have in ACIAR’s work was something that lingered in the back of my mind when we discussed the lip service Western nations pay towards the pressures and problems facing developing nations; the cultural transference that has taken place since media and communications technology burst onto the scene last century; or the pressure developed nations place on developing nations to further their own interests.
During these discussions, I recognised that ACIAR’s subtlety and results-driven interest in smallholder farmers and capacity building were qualities to be appreciated and respected.
By the time I entered my final semester, my appreciation and respect for ACIAR’s work had increased tenfold. Our work generally hasn't got the glamour of national security or trade negotiations, but that absence had become one more thing to admire.
I had come to the conclusions that ACIAR’s (forgive the pun) grass-roots philosophy is one of the many elements that make it so effective. It is driven by the needs of end-users and shapes its work to ensure that smallholders and communities in developing nations will have the ability and the resources to continue into a future without our agency's assistance.
Over my final semester the importance of the work ACIAR undertakes really hit home. I studied two subjects - Global Security and Contemporary Issues.
In both of these subjects it became obvious that resource scarcity, food security and poverty alleviation are as important in the world today as nuclear proliferation and terrorism.
In carrying out the research for one of my assignments, the statistics I found on the impact of food insecurity and poverty were disconcerting and rightly so:
Food security came crashing into the public domain in 2008 when grain prices around the world doubled due to rising oil prices, increased demand in biofuels and a drop in cereals production.[1] Though food prices returned to normal levels, the crisis is far from over. In 2010, almost one billion people were undernourished due to lack of access to food. It is estimated that the world’s population will grow by almost fifty percent in the next forty years and that food production should increase by at least seventy percent to keep up.[2] It can be easy to see food security as merely an aspect of the climate change threat and if the latter can be reduced, then the former will be secured. However, while the increase in extreme weather variations does affect the availability of resources, it is only one cause (among many) of food insecurity. Trade policies, changes in dietary habits and the constantly increasing population also impact on the price and availability of food around the world. Before the food crisis, the number of deaths caused by poverty was hundreds of times higher than the number of deaths caused by terrorists.[3] The difference in security spending versus aid and development spending will ensure that unless something changes, this disparity will only increase.
Over the course of my last semester I saw repeated examples of how food security and poverty alleviation in developing nations impacts on the rest of the world. In the twenty-first century the international system is interconnected and interdependent to an unprecedented degree.
Problems facing the developing world can no longer be brushed off as ‘their problems’. The challenges of one nation belong to its neighbours. The issues facing one region face us all.
If I had not already come to the conclusion, my final semester at ANU would have been enough to convince me that agricultural development and ACIAR’s manner of its undertaking provide the best chance of meeting the pressing challenges of the world today head on."

Janet Williams, ACIAR Program Support Officer

[1] ‘High Food Prices: Impact and Recommendations’, International Fund for Agricultural Development, April 2008, retrieved 14 October 2011, http://www.ifad.org/operations/food/ceb.htm
[2] Asian Development Bank, Food Security and Climate Change in the Pacific: Rethinking the Options, Asian Development Bank, Madaluyong City, Philippines, 2011, p10.
[3] KM Fierke, Critical Approaches to International Security, Polity Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2007, p31.


  1. Great stuff. Those two look like smart cookies.

  2. Great story and congratulations ladies!

  3. Congratulation graduates!
    Enjoy your profession and get another research for results.


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