Incorporating old and new perspectives to manage our land for ecological health

Land clearing for agriculture practices has had a fundamental impact on Australia’s landscapes and ecology. While these practices enabled Australia becoming one of the most food secure nations in the world and keep regional communities viable, in many cases they have caused environmental degradation. Recently there has been increasing interest in adopting more environmentally friendly practices, including land management practices of Australia’s First Nations people. We now have an opportunity in reincorporate First Nations knowledge to restore, maintain and protect ecological health as an integral part of land management, knowing that our own health and that of all native species depends on it.

Farmers play an important part of ACT society through their responsibilities as land managers for the Territory. Environmental management and other conservation activities are regularly undertaken by ACT farmers. Often, they work together through Landcare and Catchment Management groups to coordinate activities such as tree planting.

All land in the ACT is held through leases. The ACT is unique as Land Management Agreements (LMAs) establish sustainable agricultural management practices and good farm biodiversity while maintaining the ecological and cultural values of the land and protecting the environment from harm. The ACT Government delivers a suite of programs and helps farmers, community groups and individuals to care for the environment including:

  • bushfire mitigation, to protect the community, infrastructure and environmental assets
  • soil erosion prevention, which contributes to improved water quality
  • environmental plantings, to enhance biodiversity and habitat and encourage pollinators
  • control of invasive species

Many of these activities now benefit from incorporating traditional practices and knowledge, resulting in more effective fire and invasive species management as just two examples.

Environmental awareness is creating new land stewardship opportunities

Recognising how integral the maintenance of healthy landscapes is can also yield new sources of income for farmers, through the recognition and adoption of environmental stewardship as a core function. In many ways the idea of environmental stewardship mirrors our new understanding and appreciation of the role traditional owners have played for thousands of years through caring for country. As farming systems and practices continue to evolve, the roles and responsibilities for all landowners and managers to maintain ecological health to benefit us all will become increasingly important.

Environmental stewardship initiatives can supplement traditional farm income and may be an emerging opportunity. For example, the Australian Government provides support for biodiversity stewardship on farms, initially through a pilot to create income from plantings that deliver biodiversity and carbon abatement. This is in addition to the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI, now part of the Emissions Reduction Fund) that allowed land managers to earn carbon credits by changing land use or management practices to store carbon or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The recognition of the need for environmental stewardship has also seen increased opportunities for Indigenous Australians to be paid to bring their knowledge to other land managers.

Environmental stewardship in urban areas is also happening. One example is Gardens for Wildlife Victoria, which helps residents to develop and implement gardening programs that improve wildlife habitat on private land and supplement government-led habitat protection on public lands. Closer to home, the ACT’s ParkCare volunteers and LandCare groups look after native plants and habitats across the Territory.For individual households, the Climate Wise Garden Designs booklet provides advice on how to design gardens that suit climate and promote healthy ecosystems.

More demand for environmentally friendly production practices

The drivers towards environmental sustainability create opportunities for exploring new ways for agricultural production. There is increasing interest in procuring food ingredients from sustainable sources or in diversifying to new sources. Producers also try to use less packaging or turn to materials that have a lower environmental impact, are biodegradable or recycled.

New environmentally conscious production practices are emerging. The Australian meat industry has set a carbon neutral target for 2030 and, as a response, carbon neutral food brands are emerging. Regenerative farming practices have the potential to increase environmental health and, at the same time, improve financial and farmer wellbeing.

Mirroring these trends, urban gardening is also changing. There are individuals and community groups that help gardeners to adopt non-chemical methods for controlling weeds or pests and increase soil fertility and health. Urban agriculture can also enhance urban biodiversity and, through increased permeable surfaces and green cover, help to reduce city heat and rainwater run-off.

Food for thought

New production practices may be taken up slowly because of a lack of information about new opportunities, lack of nearby demonstration farms and the absence of vocal champions. There could also be uncertainty about political and policy settings, especially around climate change.

Financial and time investments needed to change farming or gardening practices could be high, leading to reluctance or difficulties for obtaining financing from banks or other lenders. New practices could also be incompatible with current ones.

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Have YourSay on Goal 2: Drought and climate change

Build the drought and climate change resilience of the ACT farm sector by identifying and encouraging practices that best fit the region’s conditions.