FEW people would understand more clearly how intensely government policies can impact farmers, businesses and trade than former Perth local Valeska.
Her job is delivering red meat and cattle-related technical projects, business development and marketing programs in Indonesia.
It’s also delivering market knowledge and information back to Australian industry and government stakeholders to support improved trade and market access, strategies and decisions.
Valeska says the biggest challenge of her role as Meat and Livestock Australia’s country manager for Indonesia is in relaying more positive stories about the partnerships between the two countries.
“The depth and breadth of our initiatives, investment and collaborations in the agricultural space – both in Indonesia and Australia – are often lost, or misconstrued, in the politicisation of it all,” she said.
Based in Greater Jakarta, Valeska says a large part of her job is about understanding trade and consumer perceptions of Australian beef and cattle and establishing partnerships with Indonesian stakeholders to grow demand for Australian beef.
The aim, she says, is to ensure Australian beef and cattle remains competitive and meets consumer requirements, and therefore, maximises returns along the value chain.
“On a day-to-day basis this can be quite varied: reviewing technical materials on livestock management, working alongside the livestock services manager to deliver workshops or feedlot visits, participating in trade events, meeting industry associations and businesses, supermarket and wet market visits and running retail promotions,” she said.
Her career journey began with the Australian Department of Agriculture, working on its bilateral animal health program which saw her posted to Indonesia to run programs focussed on emerging animal health disease preparedness, control and response initiatives.
This, she said, led to a broader interest in the livestock sector.
So she jumped at the opportunity in 2015 to join MLA in a technical and market access role.
“The timing was fortunate in many ways as we had just come out of 2011-2014 which was a challenging period for Indonesia Australia relationships in some regard, and into a period of economic growth for both countries which led to strong public and consumer optimism and confidence – which is still continuing to this day,” Valeska said.
“My role has also evolved more broadly into managing the business development aspects, particularly around telling the Australian beef and cattle story.”
What she likes most about the work is the interactions with people from all walks of life, especially the Indonesian farmers.
“The farmers and producers in Indonesia and Australia are not that different: very passionate and take great pride in what they do,” she said.
“I think we often take what farmers do for granted, and don’t realise half the challenges they face every day.
“I hope that some of the things we do can help make a big difference, like providing tools and simple technology to make their jobs easier and improve their livelihoods.”
Valeska was involved in the largest Indonesian livestock export program conference earlier this year, attended by more than 750 farmers, industry associations, importers, exporters and government representatives.
“It hit me then that the event epitomises the 30-plus year journey between Indonesia and Australia – particularly in the agricultural, beef and cattle space – and I am privileged to be a part of it,” she said.
As for where she lives, Greater Jakarta is constantly changing and somewhat misunderstood, Valeska said.
“People tend to think of Greater Jakarta as a bit of a concrete jungle but with the millennial generation now venturing into businesses, opening up boutique shops, creating their green and hip communities, every weekend is a fascinating exploration for me,” she said.
“New parks, markets and cafes…or a walk down memory lane to old towns and obscure neighbourhoods. Doing this on the back of a bike gives a totally different perspective.”
But she does miss the beautiful beaches and nature parks of Perth and weekend trips to places like Swan Valley and Bunbury.
Her advice for others wanting to work overseas?
“Get involved with organisations and businesses through work placements or via volunteering for a taste of the international work. It also allows you to find buddies and mentors who can guide you towards this space down the track,” Valeska said.