Morpeth Rotary Club
Lisa Wood, who hails from a farming family in South Carolina in the USA, is a Rotary sponsored scholar at the Newcastle University, where she studies environmental science and political science.
In a talk to Morpeth club members about her studies and experiences in these subject areas so far, she said there is a crossover between agriculture and the environment which meets in politics.
While at university in the US, she had an exchange visit to north east Thailand to experience the everyday lives and challenges for the residents.
They have many different rice varieties and each one has its own associated religious and community ceremony running alongside the actual farm work in the rice fields.
Recently, there has been a lot of change and some of the lifestyle and culture is disappearing. Thailand is chasing international markets that want white jasmine rice – it makes more money, but it is not the sort of rice that local people eat, uses lots more pesticide and results in a poorer environment.
It is of most benefit to the government, not the farmers.
Non-governmental development organisations are supporting alternative agricultural networks in Thailand and encouraging organic farmers to find their own international and niche markets.
The subject of her degree work was the policies behind farming and she then did a Masters course in Holland, looking at the connection between politics, corporations, small farmers and people in the supply chain.
After hearing about the Rotary global grant scholarship, she was able to secure a place on a six-month programme that will enable her to continue her studies and increase her understanding of agricultural science.
So far, she has covered soil, livestock, greenhouse production and arable methods. She is looking at minor cereals and varieties of rye and oats that are not much used with a view to starting breeding trials to produce variety and diversification of crop.
Lisa is very taken with the North East and enjoys the contrast of the rural areas with the culture of Newcastle city.
During questions, she noted that just getting a large corporation to change a little could have a very positive impact on small farmers.
Morpeth Rotary President Andrew Hamnett presented Lisa with a book about Northumberland as a special thank you for her interesting talk.