In this blog post Dylan shares what drives him
Hi everyone, my name is Dylan and I’m passionate about agricultural systems that produce enough healthy food for all and reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. This passion has led me to commence my PhD studies investigating the agronomy and ecology of a native Australian grass species that was cultivated for its grain by Indigenous Australians. The project is in partnership with Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation and Latrobe University.
One question I often find myself being asked is ‘What has sparked your passion and driven you to do what you do today?’.
From an early age, growing up in the Riverina I witnessed firsthand some of the challenges facing our agricultural sector. I have the most vivid memories of the millennium drought from growing up on a farm on Wiradjuri Country in NSW. From seeing towering red walls of topsoil approaching over the horizon and enveloping the sky into darkness, to watching green crops wither away from a lack of rain and parched sheep gathering around dams dwindled to no more than a mere puddle. There were many times I wanted to do something to help. As a kid, I felt powerless to do anything. However, as I grew up, I soon realised that I could help contribute towards overcoming the challenges facing our farmers – even ones as big as tackling climate change and land degradation.
We are living through a time of rapid change and challenge, where our agricultural systems are increasingly vulnerable to fracturing. It is a time where the world population continues to rise, placing added pressure onto food security and our planet’s finite resources. It is a time where the health of our soils is poor and in need of repair. On top of this, we are seeing the high-risk nature of farming exacerbated by a changing climate. It is a time which demands adaptive thinking and innovation if we are to ensure future prosperity of our modern agricultural systems.
One crucial way to achieve this is through the incorporation of traditional agricultural knowledge into our modern systems. Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth and is renowned for its particularly harsh conditions. Yet, despite this, the continent has been successfully inhabited by humans for tens of thousands of years. Perhaps one of the most held misconceptions is that Indigenous Australians relied exclusively on a ‘hunter and gatherer’ approach to obtaining food. However, Indigenous Australians were incredibly innovative and sustainable when it came to food production. One must only read through Bruce Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emu’ to realise that food production systems in pre-European Australia were very well established and sustainably managed. One of these traditional food production systems consisted of domesticating, growing and harvesting grains from native grasses. The cultivation of grains for human consumption has played an important role in human survival and societal development around the world (think rice in Asia, wheat in the Middle East and maize in America). For Indigenous Australians, this was no different. In fact, evidence suggests that Indigenous Australians were the first people on Earth to use grain for food, with starch particles found on grinding stones in parts of Australia dating back many tens of thousands of years.
Since European colonisation, there has been great loss to these native grain production systems. Not only has environmental destruction led to native grasslands becoming one of the most threatened and degraded ecosystems in Australia, but highly relied upon traditional knowledge that had been developed and passed down over many generations was suddenly lost as a result of dispossession and genocide.
There is increasing recognition that the growing of Aboriginal food plants will contribute towards a more prosperous and sustainable modern Australian agricultural sector. It will also provide empowerment to Aboriginal communities and play an important role in healing Country. Additionally, the upscaling of native food crops could be an important tool to combat the effects of a changing climate on food production and to protect against losses to biodiversity.
These are just some of the reasons behind what drives me to pursue a career in agriculture and where I find myself today. I look forward to my continued learning journey and hope to do my part in ensuring Australia’s agricultural sector prospers into the future.
We are looking forward to working with Dylan and learning more about his research and providing him with opportunities to share it with next gen consumers and agriculturalists in our school programs