Jess Bensemann is an Agriculture Development Manager for the New Zealand Aid Programme at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Her role involves managing the design and implementation of agriculture development projects across the Pacific, Asia, Latin America and Africa. New Zealand is respected internationally for coming up with creative solutions to solve challenging problems in farming. Farming in New Zealand is driven by market signals, with much less government involvement or subsidies than most other places in the world. Jess finds that this means we have a strong focus on trying to continuously improve how we do it, and this attitude goes a long way overseas. Jess works with New Zealand agriculture experts and companies to enhance the ability of farmers in developing countries to improve their incomes.
Jess gets most excited about facilitating and enabling others to make something awesome happen. In New Zealand agriculture there are some pretty smart, amazing things going on that have the potential to really make a difference in the world of food. Jess is inspired by people who have passion to do something better than we’ve done in the past, to try new and different ways of working. She has found that the primary industry in New Zealand is full of opportunities for people to make something positive happen for themselves, their families and the environment.
Jess has developed a new appreciation of kaitiakitanga and the Māori view on the relationship between land and people. She believes there is huge importance and value in emphasising the connection we have to the land, rather than our control over it. Jess studied Economics and Finance at Victoria University, and then worked for Meat and Wool New Zealand as a Trade Policy Analyst and in the Economic Service before heading to Massey University to do her Masters in Agricommerce. After that as a volunteer in Papua New Guinea, she got to experience farming and agriculture in a completely different context. She worked together with farmers growing cocoa, taro, and coconuts to develop local cooperatives run by women. "Farmers there face significant challenges to produce and sell their crops, from a lack of infrastructure, changing climate to increasing pests and disease. Yet they are some of the most optimistic and positive farmers I have ever met."
Jess has been in Wellington at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the last four years, with a break last year to travel for seven months on a Nuffield scholarship. "Nuffield was an amazing opportunity to learn more about the world of food and agriculture, current trends and sticking points. If you want to challenge yourself and contribute something back to the industry I can’t recommend the experience highly enough."
Jess feels as though we are lucky to have so many leadership opportunities in the primary sector, which others from law or accounting would jump at. "Wide open space, freedom and independence are things that us country kids are lucky to grow up with. It becomes part of our nature, and like most rural people in cities like Wellington, there’s an internal push to escape as much as possible. Luckily I have wonderful friends and family nearby where I can go and get my farming fix over the weekend, or venture into the hills of the Tararuas."
The appreciation you have gained to improve the way we farm the land here in New Zealand must be part of what fuels your passion for a life in the primary industries. Your enthusiasm to challenge and explore new and sustainable practices is something we admire greatly. Great work Jess!