Chopping up coloured strips of material with travel scissors was not how Caspar Roxburgh expected to introduce agricultural science to developing Africa. But as he began a field trial that would boost maize production for rural farmers in Mozambique, he knew his work had to get a little creative.
Roxburgh became inspired to study international development after travelling to South America and witnessing economic hardship. “I thought, coming from a position of privilege, I should do something to return the favour,” he recalls. But he wasn’t interested in a purely theoretical degree – he wanted the practical skills to complement it.
While pursuing a double degree in agricultural science and international development at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, he became interested in maize farming practices in Africa. As a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland, he went to the Manica Province in rural Mozambique to survey maize farmers – work which would evolve into his PhD thesis.
“I find this system where they have lots of rainfall, the soils aren’t too bad, they have lots of land –and yet the productivity was among the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa,” Roxburgh says. “I really wanted to know more about this.”