Gaining global understanding through an FAO internship
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is a United Nations (UN) agency that aims to end hunger and poverty worldwide. Its headquarters in Rome house a vast array of expertise in technical initiatives as well as research and governance. Its internships offer young people between the ages of 21 and 30 an opportunity to gain a broad understanding of the global agriculture challenges the world is facing right now, as well as to join the FAO’s mission of achieving zero hunger worldwide.
Eleanor Robertson, a recent graduate from the University of Liverpool, and Rosie Herrington, a recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh, gained places on the internship programme and here they describe the opportunities and experiences they had.
My fascination with the role of livestock in development was sparked during my intercalated Global Health masters degree at Maastricht University where I spent a fantastic year meeting incredible people and learning very quickly that I was extremely naive about the world. Since then, I have gained further insight into the intricacies of investigating disease in a wider social context and have become passionate about sustainable international development.
I was lucky enough to join the Animal Health department at the FAO in Rome for three months in the summer after graduation and can honestly say it was a hugely insightful and inspirational experience.
I had the opportunity to work within a project called Africa Sustainable Livestock 2050, which develops long-term livestock scenarios for Africa in an attempt to anticipate emerging challenges to public health (primarily zoonoses and antimicrobial resistance). It is essentially the policy arm of a larger FAO initiative, the Emerging Pandemic Threats Programme, which aims to prevent, detect and respond to global disease threats.
On a daily basis, I worked with a team of economists and vets to strengthen the evidence base on which future policies to protect animal and public health can be founded. My own work centred around making the case for a One Health approach in regard to zoonotic disease, which I was lucky to share through a presentation and an educational brief.
I learnt so much from the team in Rome and am grateful for the encouragement and guidance everyone gave me. The HQ building was overflowing with extraordinarily talented people who were passionate about the work they were doing and were very willing to share their experiences and expertise over a coffee. It was an incredible opportunity to simply be there, attending various meetings/seminars/discussion panels and gaining an insight into how the world of the UN functions. I was particularly lucky in that the Committee on World Food Security congress was held at HQ during my time there, allowing me to witness first-hand how a huge multistakeholder platform composed of government agencies, grass roots civil society movements and big industries can be coordinated to better global health.
It was also pretty special to explore a beautiful country (volcanic lakes, mountainous national parks and historic towns hosting wine festivals to name a few highlights!), learn from an impactful organisation and collaborate with people who share a common ambition.
I chose to apply for an internship at the FAO because I always knew I would like to take a break between graduating and starting clinical mixed practice - and I have an interest in following a career in international development further down the line. My FAO internship was six months long and split across two departments, Emergency Response and Resilience, and Animal Health. I learned more than I could ever have hoped about global agricultural issues and really can’t understate the opportunities an internship can open up if you look for them. If anyone reading this wants to chat about the internship, taking time out between uni and practice or about other short-term opportunities I looked into, please feel free to find me on LinkedIn.
My first two months were spent working in Emergency Response and Resilience, but more specifically on pastoralism and conflict. The pastoral production system's global herd of around 1 billion animals contributes to the livelihoods of people on almost half of the world’s land. This system is able to produce food in some of the world's harshest environments, using strategic mobility/transhumance to adapt to climatic conditions. However, many areas populated by pastoralists also experience conflict which, in turn, has effects on livestock and human health. In my opinion, therefore, it rightly deserves attention from the FAO and I felt very privileged to be able to learn from such a knowledgeable and experienced team. Although not always strictly to do with veterinary science, I found it invaluable to learn about the social, political and economic situations underlying food insecurity as it will help ensure that any future work I do will have as holistic and sustainable an approach as possible.
I also had the opportunity to write reviews, attend meetings and contribute to the department’s work in other areas, such as with its publications and joint projects with universities and other organisations.
After a couple of months I then joined the Animal Health department where I worked with the European Commission on Foot-and-Mouth Disease (EuFMD). This commission aims to protect member nations from FMD and it works in areas across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America where the disease remains endemic, as well as on other similar transboundary diseases. Here, I worked on projects involving emergency management, veterinary paraprofessionals and public-private partnerships. The department has a whole host of projects that I couldn’t do justice to in this article, so head to its website or social media for more info (http://www.fao.org/eufmd/en/).
Spending time in the Animal Health department allowed me to attend meetings discussing the global animal disease outbreaks of the week, attend interesting seminars and get an idea of the different roles vets can play at the FAO.
Outside of work, there were loads of fun people to meet and, of course, Italian food to eat. I also took pretty much every chance I got to go to the surrounding mountains. As I’m sure is clear by this point, I really enjoyed my time in Rome. I learnt a lot and definitely haven’t regretted taking this time out before starting in practice. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all of the amazing people I worked with, and those who supervised me for being so inspiring, supportive and encouraging.
Check out the FAO’s internships at http://www.fao.org/employment/collaborate-with-us/internship-programme/en/