Ahead of International Day of Rural Women on Thursday 15 October, Charles Sturt University and Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation PhD student Ms Zahra Naqvi describes her experience working with women from small holder dairy farms in Pakistan as one of the most rewarding in her career, and reflects on her work and the value of education.
I was part of a dairy extension and research project, ‘Strengthening dairy value chains in Pakistan through improved farm management and more effective extension services’ supported by ACIAR, in collaboration with the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore, Charles Sturt University, and livestock and dairy departments Punjab and Sindh in Pakistan.
The project adopted a unique approach involving training the whole farming family through innovative ways of extension. Working with rural women farmers in the different geographical and cultural regions was an enlightening and invaluable experience.
These rural women were real working hands in smallholder dairy farming communities and were never involved before in any training program in agriculture sector in Pakistan.
I worked with over 200 rural women farmers in Punjab province and the most exciting part of my job was extensive face-to-face interactions and socialising with rural women to build their confidence and motivation levels for improving their farming practices.
Building friendship and winning their trust through networking and engaging was an incredible success. I achieved this by engaging women farmers in practical demonstrations, quizzes, competitions, and role-plays to deliver the key extension messages.
This remains the best part of my memories and some of them are still in contact and have turned into strong friendships.
Ms Naqvi is now studying a PhD at Charles Sturt University, investigating processing and cooking techniques to improve eating quality of low-value meat from culled dairy cows. Her research is supported by a John Allwright Fellowship funded by ACIAR.
The project in Pakistan was expanded in 2016 to include analysing beef value chains. There’s no beef cattle breed in the country so the majority of the meat is a by-product of dairy culled animals, providing inconsistent eating quality. This sparked my interest in research to improve meat eating quality and to contribute to the knowledge and skillset in Pakistan.
Dairy cows, as a source of meat, are an often overlooked commodity around the world due to substantial toughness and hence inferior eating quality. The use of cutting-edge research approaches employing enzymatic hydrolysis and sous vide cooking has shown promising results in improving the palatability of low-valued beef meat. I hope the processes optimised in my research project would be transformed into some industry or commercial initiatives.
Moreover, I intend to replicate research methodologies and techniques learned during my PhD project in Pakistan.
The PhD student’s message for women and girls on the International Day of Rural Women is one of congratulations and encouragement.
Given my experience with rural women in Pakistan, I would like to acknowledge the hard work and resilience of rural women in providing the backbone of the food supplies we eat every day. They contribute significantly to agricultural production, food security and nutrition, particularly in developing countries where they provide the majority of the farm labour.
Their tireless dedication and commitment is the real wheel driving their own household and feeding the world.
I understand rural women and young girls suffer disproportionately and it is my life-long goal to keep contributing towards empowering women and building their capacity.