By ROBERT CRAWFORD
FORMER Berry and Sydney Royal Showgirl winner Ashley Wright-Hands describes her trip to south-east Africa as “life-changing”.
Ms Wright-Hands visited Malawi as part of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth (RASC) Next Generation Understanding and Assistance Mission.
“It was an amazing experience but, interestingly, farmers on the other side of the world face similar challenges to farmers in Australia,” she said.
“It was wonderful to be able to experience agriculture in another country firsthand but they have challenges like us with milk processing, gender quotas, health and animal care.
“But it also allowed me to see the big picture. We live in the world, not just Australia.
“We must think globally with regard to agriculture, gender disparities, health care, nutrition, conflicts and humanitarian issues.”
She said the two–week trip had many highlights but meeting, talking, learning and taking action with a group of like-minded, intelligent, down-to-earth young people from across the Commonwealth was “incredible”.
“We were bonded by our passion for sustainable food production and agricultural shows,” she said.
“And it was great to be able to pass on some of our knowledge and expertise.”
As a locum veterinarian she had plenty of animal health and husbandry skills to pass on.
Along with 10 participants from Scotland, the UK, Canada, Uganda and the host nation, they visited a number of different agricultural operations, including tea plantations, mango, goat and dairy farms.
One of the major highlights was attending two agricultural shows.
“One was at a village which had a high prevalence of HIV and, through the UK Open Hands Operation, we judged at the show,” she said.
“I was chief steward in the produce section and then presented prizes and they were useful things like hoes and watering cans, things they could use.”
The Phalombe District Agricultural Show took on special significance for Ms Wright-Hands.
Compared to Australian shows where placegetters often receive ribbons, at the Phalombe Show winners receive a place card, so Ms Wright-Hands had a number of Phalombe District Agricultural Show ribbons specially manufactured to present at the show.
“The recipients were delighted and so proud of their ribbons,” she said.
The presentations almost didn’t happen when the keys to the van the group was travelling in were inadvertently locked inside the vehicle with the ribbons inside.
“Thankfully, we were able to break into the van and get the ribbons out just in time,” she laughed.
She said she has a new appreciation of shows.
“Food is life. Agricultural shows encourage and reward quality food production,” she said.
“It has reinforced to me that we need to focus what an agricultural show is all about and also the important role agricultural shows play.”
The tour group also visited and spoke to a number of young farmers’ organisations, with Ms Wright-Hands giving a talk to a women’s group that farms goats.
“I was able to talk about the life cycle of parasites in goats. It was great to give something back,” she said.
They visited a dairy farm and saw how hay is bailed.
“It’s very different to what we do. They dig a hole in the ground the shape of the bale they want. They then lay the bailing twine through the hole and pack the crop or pasture in as tight as possible, before tying it off. And they have a bale of hay – pretty incredible,” she said.