Timorese farmers inspire Charles Sturt student to chase honours project abroad

23 JANUARY 2024

Timorese farmers inspire Charles Sturt student to chase honours project abroad

Experiencing the resilient agricultural systems in Timor-Leste not only made Campbell Watt grateful for living in a first-world country such as Australia but inspired a new passion to help others thrive.

Campbell grew up on his family farm near Penshurst, Victoria, and while agriculture was in his blood, it took him a little longer to realise his passion to pursue a career in the field.

Over the three years following his high school graduation, Campbell worked as a farm hand at a largescale fine merino sheep and beef farm north of Hamilton, as well as on his family’s farm.

“It was working both there and at home which helped me discover my passion to learn more within the agriculture industry,” he said.

“I wanted to know more about the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of things occurring in the natural world around me.”

This drive to learn more led Campbell to study a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, where he’s now in his fourth year completing an honours project.

Campbell was one of 13 Charles Sturt University students who travelled to the southeast Asian country of Timor-Leste as part of the Agriculture, Forestry and Livestock Education program funded by the New Columbo Plan.

During the two-week immersive program across August and September in 2023, students gained insights into agricultural production and sustainable living in the Asia-Pacific region by engaging with various industries and livelihood activities such as cropping, forestry, fisheries and livestock.

“I was aware that many of the Timor population suffered from poverty and that its agriculture industry was underperforming, but I wanted to see firsthand how the people and organisations there were working to alleviate some of the socioeconomic issues the country continues to face,” Campbell said.

His wish was granted, as Campbell got an inside look at the societal challenges of the nation beyond the experience of everyday tourists.

“The fact that there was no supply of clean water within many parts of the country was a shock, and throughout the trip we developed an understanding of the recent war and terror in Timor-Leste during Indonesian occupation and the hardships that many people of my own generation have had to face as a result,” he said.

“Despite this, it has made way for some extremely passionate people desperate to improve agriculture in Timor-Leste.

“During many of our farm and project visits it was clear to see the pride and passion within people who were not going to make it anyone else’s problem, but instead help generate positive change in Timor-Leste themselves.”

This passion of the local community also made Campbell aware of what a privilege it is to live in Australia.

“I realised the privilege I’ve had growing up in regional Australia and I’ve certainly taken for granted what we have in terms of the infrastructure around us like education, health and agriculture,” he said.

Senior Lecturer in Human Geography in the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences, Dr Jennifer Bond, also attended the trip and encouraged everyone to apply for these types of opportunities.

“The Timor-Leste trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both the students and myself as we were able to explore agriculture and rural development there in a way that no tourist can do,” Dr Bond said.

“The trip included high-level meetings in Dili and farm tours in the regions to explore agriculture at different scales.

“However, more critically, the trip included visits to key cultural and historical sites such as the Chega! Exhibition, the Timorese Resistance Archive Museum and Balibo, so that students could see the current agricultural context holistically in terms of Timor-Leste’s past.”

Since the study tour, Campbell is determined not to take anything else for granted, instead driving positive change where it’s needed.

“This trip led me to accept an honours position based in Vietnam to further develop my agricultural knowledge outside Australia and help make changes which may potentially have a greater magnitude then the impact I could have in Australia,” he said.

“The project will be based on research of Cowpea, an alternate crop to rice grown during the dry season which is impacted by saline intrusion. This will be based in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam.”

Beyond his university studies, Campbell hopes to continue in the field of research.

“Research is something that really excites me, to be able to work on the front line of change is pretty special,” he said.

“I’ve been told by several people that agriculture is the most important industry in the world, and I certainly am believing it now.

“Everyone needs to eat, and the need to maximise efficiencies in agriculture to feed a growing population is something the industry is enjoying the challenge of right now.”

Charles Sturt Global programs give students an international experience as part of their degree. From a six to 12-month exchange at an overseas university, to short-term study, faculty-led programs, internships or work placements, there are overseas opportunities to suit every student. 

For more information, visit the Charles Sturt website here or find us on Instagram and Facebook @charlessturtglobal  


Media Note:

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Jessica McLaughlin at Charles Sturt Media on 0430 510 538 or via news@csu.edu.au

PHOTO: Campbell Watt experiences the agricultural networks of Timor-Leste through the eyes of local farmers.

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Wagga Wagga Agricultural Science Charles Sturt University International