A FORMER Taralga woman has been appointed an Officer AO in the General Division in the Australia Day Honours List.
Dr Robyn Alders (pictured) has been awarded the AO for: “distinguished service to veterinary science as a researcher and educator, to the maintenance of food security in developing countries through livestock management and disease control programs, and to the Australian poultry industry.”
Ms Alders said the most satisfying aspect of her work was that it transformed communities and gave people more choices in life. She has worked with farmers in Africa and Asia but is now based in Boston at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine where she is the principal investigator of the Respond Project that is part if the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats Program.
“My major work has been with the control of Newcastle Disease (ND) which is a really important disease of poultry,” she said.
“Small farmers in developing countries generally have about six birds that can get wiped out annually by ND and if we can stop that cycle by vaccination then the bird numbers increase and the farmers have a better way of life.
“This happens because they have increased options, they can sell five roosters and buy a goat and sell three goats and buy a cow, they can send the kids to school or buy clothes or pay medical bills.
“That’s how it works. It gives people a chance to plan rather than just be reactive.”
She said the development and distribution of this vaccine by Australians was a generous act by the Federal Government.
“The ND vaccine was developed by the University of Queensland from an Australian strain with support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. It is heat tolerant and that is why it’s so useful under village conditions. The master seed for the vaccine is made free of charge for developing countries.
“There was limited direct benefit for Australia to do this, so it has been a fantastic humanitarian act that contributes to global food security.”
Ms Alders said she knew she wanted to be a Veterinarian from age 12.
“I originally wanted to be a horse vet, but I ended up at Wesley College at Sydney University and there were some remarkable people interested in International development and social justice,” she said.
“I went on to complete a PhD at ANU and got more involved in Oxfam Australia. After completing my PhD I went and worked in Zambia for three years which was a tremendous learning experience. Everyone said you need experience but that it was hard to get so I just headed off and worked on a local contract.”
But she said Australians didn’t ave to travel around the world to make a contribution.
“You make a contribution wherever you are,” she said.
“I sometimes think what I am doing is easier. Some of the challenges for rural Australia are more difficult to solve. The floods in Queensland have been tough but maybe it will help people to understand how important local agriculture is.
“Governments and communities need to invest in the real things of life - shelter, food and good education. You don’t have to travel halfway around the world to make a difference. You can make a difference here.” Ms Alders was back in the district recently to catch up with relatives and friends.
She said since coming back she had eaten two Bryant’s Pies, always a priority when she makes it home.
“I’ve been catching up with family and friends because I didn’t get a chance to see them at Christmas because the cold conditions grounded planes in the northern hemisphere,” she said.
Though she leads a busy life, she said she would like to settle back in Australia in the near future.
“I would like to write a bit more. Right now it’s extremely busy with a bit too much travel,” she said.
“I have spent a lot of time learning some amazing things and it would be great to move from field work into addressing international development policy issues from a base in Australia. Where else would I be?”