Study trip gains vital insights

Kate PollardCountryman

As sheep producers in southern WA face the volatility of the live export market, a group of women from the northern beef industry have returned from visiting their biggest market, Indonesia.

While industry may wonder what good 10 women can do in Indonesia, the answer is simple - they can talk from experience. And women love to talk.

Organiser Catherine Marriott, the founder of Influential Women, which aims to empower women in agriculture, said it was a first for the industry.

The group, including five northern pastoralists, came from diverse backgrounds; from growing up in Edinburgh, Scotland, to working in a major hospital, and only one had been born into station life.

"What a diverse, passionate and intelligent group of women," Ms Marriott said.

"All of them are in family-owned cattle enterprises, which is a massive story in itself."

Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association executive office Luke Bowen, who met the women in Jakarta, said engagement with Indonesia was critical for the trade's future.

"For these producers to come up here and get a good hands-on understanding of the relationship is fantastic," he said.

"It will be a benefit to the industry, no doubt about it."

The trip involved visiting feedlots, abattoirs, a wet market, Meat and Livestock Australia's Jakarta office, a Bakso balls manufacturer and a cooking demonstration by Indonesian women.

But most importantly the trip was a chance for the women to gain renewed confidence in their industry.

They can now share the positive stories and the changes in animal welfare in Indonesia while understanding the impact the live cattle ban had on Indonesia as a country.

"We were very focused on the impact it had on pastoralists and there has been very little media coverage on how it affected the average Indonesian family, which has been greater than in Australia," Ms Marriott said.

"They are shutting down their abattoirs and putting off workers for two weeks at a time because they can't supply enough meat."

Going on the trip has also given the women an appreciation of the passion of the Indonesian people to instigate change quickly and the amount of money spent to do this.

Ms Marriott also believes the women now have a global perspective of the role they play in feeding the world.

For the past five years, Ms Marriott has worked as a ruminant nutrition consultant in Asia as well as working for Wellard Rural Exports to improve animal welfare along the supply chain.

The idea for the women's trip was something she had in the back of her mind which was given the chance to become a reality after she won the WA Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women's Award.

As part of the win, Ms Marriott had to develop a project - a forum to empower women involved in agriculture so they could be confident advocates for industry and share good news stories with media.

The forum was held in Broome and northern pastoralists jumped at the opportunity to get involved in a women's trip, even though it coincided for many with mustering.

The success of the forum laid the foundation for Ms Marriott to set up Influential Women with business partner Elizabeth Brennan.

It has created a real buzz with plenty of excitement among women wanting to get involved.

Geraldton has held a forum and dates are being organised for events in Albany, Katherine, Bunbury, Perth and Darwin.

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