Researcher Kirt Hainzer shares about his amazing life journey which led to CQUniversity.
I remember my first trip to Egypt like it was yesterday. I was 7, and I was living in Cyprus with my family. My Dad, a chef from Austria, was working on a cruise ship that made a loop from Limassol to Port Said every week. I remember leaving the ship and being completely inundated with Egyptians selling all matter of goods and haggling to take us on a rickshaw. But it was the state of everyone’s teeth that I remember most vivid. I’ll never forget those teeth. My mum told me that’s what would happen to me if I didn’t brush my teeth, and I’ve kept impeccable oral hygiene since.
Food and travel have been an integral part of life, so I guess it’s not unusual I work in agriculture development. I work at CQUniversity on an ACIAR (Australian Centre for Agricultural Research) funded project with the Institute of Future Farming System’s Professor Phil Brown and Associate Professor Talitha Best. Our project supports commercial sweet potato farmers of the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Highlands. Commercial farmers in the PNG context doesn’t mean masses of land or equipment, but refers to those motivated farmers aggregating harvests from their local communities to sell to distant urban markets in Port Moresby and Lae.
Growing up in the restaurant my parents owned in Port Stephens in New South Wales gave me an education in food that only later would I realise the value of. After my first solo trip overseas at 13, I completed high school and by 17 was snowboard instructing in the Austrian Alps. I completed my Bachelor of Finance in Leeds (UK) before starting my career at Deloitte in Edinburgh. I just managed to last four years as a management consultant before a role with AusAID took me to Bangkok and gave me the chance to work with female cooperatives in remote western Nepal, ethnic minorities in Northern Laos and spice farmers in North-West Vietnam. I completed by Master of Science in Agroecology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands before I went back to South East Asia to continue working with farmers in Vietnam and Laos. A road trip from LA to New York (via the west coast) led me to a job in LA as an urban farmer with the largest urban farming company in the US. After a year in Argentina working on agriculture extension projects, I landed the job with CQUniversity which brought me back to Australia after 12 years away.
My role with CQUniversity develops the value chains of sweet potato farmers of PNG. This means developing interventions to improve the collaboration between value chains participants, so that gains can be shared among all participants. A successful value chain relies not only on production efficiencies and market opportunities, but also critically relies on collaboration between each participant along the chain. Although the terms value chain and supply chain are often used interchangeably, a supply chain focusses on the efficient integration of supply and production processes to reduce costs, where as a value chain is a set of interrelated activities a company uses to create a competitive advantage over other chains within their industry. The use of value chains continues to be integral to the rural development agendas of aid agencies due to their ability to improve livelihoods.
I continue to be inspired by the resilience of smallholders in developing economies. These farmers often operate with little or no government assistance, abysmal transport networks and are often paid far below market prices due to their isolation. For me, there is no better job which combines my love of travel and food, whilst also addressing poverty in a meaningful way.