“Australia has a lot to give and a lot to learn” – Dr Tarni Cooper hopes that in 2017 the issues of food security become better known.

It’s a wonderful pleasure to introduce a new associate member of the Board at Kyeema Foundation. Dr Tarni Cooper is a veterinarian with experience working in smallholder livestock (Food Security and One Health) research for development (R4D) projects in East Africa and Vietnam. She is currently completing her PhD at the University of Queensland, in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute. Tarni is the Chair, Brisbane Chapter of the Communication for Development Global Network and serves both clinically and on the Steering Committee (strategy/communications) of Pets in the Park Brisbane.

In an interview earlier this year, Tarni shared what she is investigating through her research, her experience at the One Health Ecohealth Conference in Melbourne late last year and the vision she has for Kyeema Foundation and others like ours working for a more equitable and food secure future – both globally and right here in our backyard.

Kyeema AMR work

Tarni Cooper and co-researchers learn about veterinary prescribing practices in a community drug store, Northern Vietnam.

So what is your PhD thesis all about? Give us the 20 second pitch!

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which includes an increased ability for microbes such as bacteria to evade antibiotics, is a threat to human, animal and environmental health.

AMR has been labelled one of the most pressing global health issues of our time. Overuse and inappropriate use of AMs in humans and animals are the biggest drivers accelerating AMR. AMs have played an important role in improving health and increasing production output of livestock for the last half century.

High income countries have had some success in improving the stewardship of AMs through tougher policies and regulation. In low and middle income countries (LMICs), the situation is much more complex. Policy-makers face more challenges in implementation, as AMs can often be bought over-the-counter and from a plethora of sources. Also, the livelihoods of family farmers in LMICs are heavily contingent on the health and production output of their animals. If policies were successful, the relative cost of reducing AM use could be much larger for these farmers than resource-secure ones. 

My research seeks to understand the dynamics of these interacting challenges, to explore livelihood-positive ways to improve antimicrobial stewardship and resilience in smallholder communities. 

What about your work are you most looking forward to this year?

In the short term, I am looking forward to receiving the transcribed and translated data from my interviews and focus group discussions and seeing what they reveal. Later in the year I’ll be returning to Vietnam to build on those findings, gaining a deeper understanding of the communities and the role AMs play in their lives.

Field work is definitely a major highlight of my work; I am so fortunate to spend time learning about rural communities from the people within them.

You recently attended the OHEH 2016 conference. I hear it was a great few days. Can you share with us what work you were presenting?

 I presented our International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) poster on One Health research ethics. We argue that human research ethics has an important role in animal and environmental research.

When we work with animals and the environment, we need to work with their custodians in an ethical manner. We need to be sure that for example, farmers really understand why we are conducting research, what we are going to do and the risks and benefits to them, before they consent to research with their livestock. It is also critical that consent is truly given freely, not under any external influence.

The challenges in cross-cultural research ethics are many. ILRI has a human research ethics committee and we outlined several studies where we applied the universal ethical principles of Respect for Persons, Justice and Beneficence in smallholder livestock projects. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations I had with practitioners from all over the world, regarding challenges and opportunities they’ve found in working with the humans behind their One Health research. 

In your opinion, what was the highlight of the conference?

There were too many highlights to choose one; I spent my time running between sessions, wanting to soak up knowledge from other disciplines, which is what One Health and Ecohealth is all about. It was great to see my ILRI colleague, Dr Hung Nguyen present a special supplement of the International Journal of Public Health. Dr Nguyen also received an award for significant early career contributions to the field of Ecohealth. 

Tarni Cooper of Kyeema

Caption: From left to right, Fred Unger (ILRI), Pham Duc Phuc (Hanoi University of Public Health), Tarni Cooper and Hung Nguyen (ILRI/HUPH) spent time together during the OHEH Congress 2016, planning AMR research in Vietnam.

As a young member of Kyeema Foundation’s burgeoning team, can you share with us your personal vision for the work we do?

I look forward to the Kyeema Foundation, along with other groups working on food security being better known in Australia. Internationally we are known as experts in our field of village chicken health and have made a very tangible difference for thousands of people. In Australia, it can be very easy to take our food and nutrition security for granted but we are seeing increased problems, especially in nutritional deficiencies and environmental sustainability.

I look forward to Kyeema’s future role in raising awareness around food and nutrition security in Australia. We can share decades of wisdom from farmers in Africa and Asia, about sustainable farming and growing your own food. Australia has a lot to give and to learn.

Catch Tarni and other passionate Queensland scientists working in agricultural development presenting at an event next Wednesday the 15th of February 3-5pm, hosted by The Crawford Fund at Qld Parliament House – ‘Doing Well By Doing Good Forum’.