A landscape approach is gaining traction as a natural resource management strategy Down Under. “Landcare” – Australia’s community based natural resource management (NRM) process and ethos – has endured for more than twenty years as a national movement, and longer at the state level. It grew from many local groups who realised the need for a new approach to NRM.
It is flexible, comprises a myriad of local and regional programs, and receives assistance from National and State Government, Catchment Authority, and the private sector to augment the work and financial contribution of local volunteers. There have been changes in emphasis and letterheads by governments and variations in government support, but it remains basically bi-partisan politically and continues sometimes in spite of government.
Over time, the programs have shifted towards an ecosystem approach on the level of catchments and whole landscapes, replacing the more isolated farm or local projects of earlier days. This was enhanced ten years ago by the delineation of fifty-seven catchments covering the continent. The locally based and controlled Catchment Authorities work with the landcare groups in the catchment and administer most of the limited government support, usually for “facilitators”.
In some cases this has reduced local Landcare group enthusiasm. However, for any program to be sustainable it requires the support of the farmers who own the land and make up the majority of the volunteers. To be effective, a number of adjacent farmers must co-operate to provide the environmentally relevant scale. Numbers vary, but there are over three thousand rural and urban groups and more than one third of Australian farmers have some association with a Landcare group.
The fundamental basis and necessity for success is local and community-based voluntary involvement, as well as initiative and control. It is generally accepted that the “Locals” are not only essential for project implementation, but also know the most about the land and how to manage it. Because there are no rigid rules to observe, there are many variations between cropping and grazing farms, coastal and inland areas, rural and urban, Australian Anglo-Celtic, and recent migrant or indigenous groups.
In cropping areas there has been the widespread adoption of minimum tillage, in grazing areas a change to pastures better suited to more volatile rainfall, and in urban areas a move to restore public areas such as river frontages. The creation of wildlife corridors, fencing of riverbanks, weed control, and tree planting practices are also included in local management.
Landcare is now practised in a growing number of developed and developing countries with several volunteer international organisations to help spread the message. In fact, there is an East African Landcare training program taking place this week in Uganda for “on the ground” participants from five East African countries.
This burgeoning of Landcare initiatives is a testament to the growing interest in community-based natural resource management. To learn more about the activities around the globe, please visit the Landcare International website. More information on the African and Australian activities are also available online.
Bruce Lloyd is former Australian Landcare Council Chairman and Member of Federal Parliament.