Over 97.4 per cent of our region is rural and used for agriculture, and a large proportion of this occurs in remote areas, however only 24.8 per cent of the region’s population is identified as rural population (Queensland Government Statistician’s Office, 2015b) (Office of Economic and Statistical Research, 2012). Rural landholders are key on-ground sustainable land managers and have an understanding and strong emotional connection with the land. They have a crucial role to play in improving the condition of natural resources on their land, while improving long-term productivity and profitability.
Rural landholders and communities continue to face many challenges, including:
- remoteness and isolation;
- decreasing and ageing rural populations;
- attracting, retaining and managing the cost of labour;
- cost of education and fixed costs;
- relatively low quality and reliability of infrastructure (including digital) and services;
- low local enterprise diversity;
- poor access to equity for building a sustainable practice;
- world market shifts;
- changing government priorities; and
- high climate variability.
Research based on measures of resource-dependency and adaptive capacity, found that across the Monsoonal North area, social resilience is low particularly for graziers (Marshall, et al., 2015). Social resilience is defined as “the ability of social and ecological systems (such as cattle producers and rangelands that are mutually dependent on each other) to cope and adapt to change”. The research identified that most cattle producers are highly vulnerable to climate change, with only 16 per cent of producers considered to have higher levels of resilience to change. They tend to be younger, well networked, technology users, who manage larger businesses and feel a high level of responsibility for the future productivity of their land (Marshall, et al., 2015).
Social media could help to promote communication between landholders and their communities. While communications technology has advanced, landholders and communities in our region’s remote areas continue to have difficulty participating in the national and global economy due to a lack of digital capacity. Indeed, significant areas of our region continue to have only rudimentary dial up services.
Rural to urban migration continues to occur, with already isolated rural communities experiencing declining populations and increasing average ages. This trend is attributed to the lack of rural youth employment opportunities and timely succession planning (Bandaranaike, 2005). From a young age people within the rural community learn and develop experience and understanding of natural resource values and management. Maintaining this human resource and ensuring the intergenerational passing of knowledge is a significant challenge for future management of the majority of our region.
To face these challenges, individuals, family enterprises and communities in remote and rural parts of our region need support to build their resilience and capacity to adapt. Professor Helen Ross, from the University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, identified six key factors that help communities to be resilient (The University of Queensland, 2015):
- people-place connections;
- knowledge, skills and learning;
- community networks;
- engaged governance;
- a diverse and innovative economy; and
- community infrastructure.
The research identified that NRM groups were “well positioned to help communities thrive alongside improving their environments, and to also improve their capacities to deal with and adapt to major changes such as industry deregulations, economic downturns and natural disasters”.
Industry associations play an important role in providing industry information, training and education programmes and lobbying to influence government policy. Some of these industry associations representing the interest of farmers in the Burdekin region include:
- AgForce Queensland;
- Bowen Gumlu Growers Association;
- Burdekin Productivity Services;
- Burdekin water supply & irrigation groups;
- Canegrower groups, including:
- Meat and Livestock Australia; and
- Queensland Farmers Federation.
NRM policies that affect rural land managers must be flexible and realistic to account for varying conditions and take a long-term strategic approach. The delivery of NRM policy, information and training, needs to:
- be enduring;
- engage a large proportion of the community;
- consider socio-economic circumstances;
- account for extreme weather events (eg. water security); and
- identify that improved resource condition leads to better financial performance and farm profitability.
It is possible to sustain the land by increasing people’s confidence and capacity to adapt (Stokes, et al., 2010). If land managers have the capacity to adopt sustainable practices, pursue innovation and contribute towards environmental stewardship, they can better support the resilience of our natural resources, and in turn enhance their own wellbeing.
Adopting sustainable agricultural practices in the region is strongly influenced by family, the local community and networks (Pahl, 2015). Trust and confidence in new practices often only occurs when other producers or trusted people in wider networks can give reassurance. Taking up innovative practices is also linked to increased levels of formal and informal training, and financial capacity, with the driver being financial sustainability and gaining knowledge (Greiner, et al., 2003).
Industry, government and researchers have demonstrated that adopting long-term sustainable NRM practices correlates to long-term productivity and profitability (O’Reagain & Bushell, 2011), (McIvor, 2012) (Poggio, Page & Grieken, 2010) (Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, 2010). A key goal is to establish landholder confidence in this information and provide them with the support to adopt new practices.
- Bandaranaike, S. (2005). Crisis & Change: Engaging Rural Communities In the Sugar Industry.
- Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation. (2010). Economic analysis of ABCD cane management practices in the Burdekin Delta region.
- Greiner, R., Stoeckl, N., Stokes, C., Herr , A., & Bachmaier, J. (2003). Natural resource management in the Burdekin Dry Tropics: social and economic issues.
- Marshall, N. A., Capon, S., Curnock, M., Edgar, B., Race, D., and Scherl, L. M. (2015). A handbook for enhancing social resilience in the Monsoonal North of Australia.
- McIvor, J. (2012). Sustainable management of the Burdekin grazing lands – A technical guide of options for stocking rate management, pasture spelling, infrastructure development and prescribed burning to optimise animal production, profitability, land condition and water.
- Office of Economic and Statistical Research. (2012). Bowen and Galilee Basins Population Report 2011.
- O’Reagain, P., & Bushell, J. (2011). The Wambiana grazing trial Key learnings for sustainable and profitable management in a variable environment.
- Pahl. (2015). Better beef and reef Staged framework for property investment that supports pastoralists improving herd management and infrastructure.
- Poggio, M., Page, J., & Grieken, M. (2010). Paddock to Reef Monitoring & Evaluation Economic analysis of ABCD cane management practices for the Burdekin River Irrigation Area.
- Queensland Government Statistician’s Office. (2015b). Queensland Regional Profiles: Workforce Profile for BDT region (Burdekin Shire, Charters Towers Regional Council and Townsville City).
- Stokes, C. J., Marshall, N. A., Howden, S. M., & Nelson, R. N. (2010). Enhancing adaptive capacity. In: Adapting agriculture to climate change: preparing Australian agriculture, forestry and fisheries for the future.
- University of Queensland. (2015). NRM groups vital for community resilience.