Our natural resources are the foundation for our regional industry.
Prior to European settlement, Indigenous people used the natural resources available to them to maintain local and sustainable economies. They relied on seasonal foods from the land and sea and trade was very important.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today continue their strong connection to homelands and have an important and increasing role in sustainable tropical industries.
The regional economy of the Wet Tropics region remains highly dependent on the health of its natural assets, notably primary production and tourism.
Agriculture and primary production
We have incredible diversity in the Wet Tropics in regards to primary production, possibly greater than any other region within the country.
Tropical fruits (bananas, avocados, mangos and pawpaw), broad acre cropping (cane) and grazing for cattle production all deliver the most economic value to the agricultural sector.
Other products and crops include dairy, eggs, citrus, potatoes, pumpkins, corn, peanuts, flowers, coffee and tea. Farming adds significantly to employment, investment and spending in the region.
As the gateway to two World Heritage wonders, being the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest, our region has earned a reputation as a major tourist destination.
We welcome approximately 2.1 million visitors per year and in 2010 brought in $2.2 billion export dollars. Tourism has been the fastest growing industry and 20% of jobs in the region are directly related to tourism.
Retail, construction and health sectors also provide many employment opportunities. Other established commercial activity includes international education, aviation and fisheries, plus support for marine and mining operations.
Potential growth exists for emerging businesses in information technology, elite sports and creative design.
Turning risk to reward
Both tourism and agriculture are vulnerable to climatic, political and exchange rate variations. The influence of these external factors has led to an economic history marked by cycles of boom and bust.
Exposure to extreme weather events such as cyclones and flooding means times of isolation and market interruption, leading to increased costs for construction and insurance.
Our proximity to less developed neighbouring countries also adds biosecurity risks for plants, animals and people.
Despite these challenges, our region’s competitive economic advantage is founded on our location and natural assets as well as the adaptability of our community.
We have the technology, health, education, cultural diversity and social structures within a politically stable nation to make the most of our tropical environment and place in the world.
At the centre of two World Heritage sites, Cairns and the surrounding region is an idyllic international study destination and attracts passionate and highly knowledgeable people from across the globe.
The region is a catalyst for tropical expertise gained through extensive research in reef and rainforest systems, agriculture, medicine and other areas such as architecture and renewable energy sources.
Building Asian and South Pacific markets provide unique growth opportunities. As domestic and international demand for food and other products increases, the region is well positioned to expand and capitalise on this trend.
Carbon-based markets will also present new opportunities and our natural resources are perfectly aligned to harness advances in renewable energy.
Expertise in tropical agriculture has resulted in productivity improvements and more sustainable practices.
Current improvements in farm practices and innovation in agriculture are reducing production costs and improving environmental outcomes, particularly for the health of the Great Barrier Reef.
Protecting and enhancing our landscape and waterways will ensure the sustainability of regional industry and give us the best chance of responding to the future challenges of a changing climate.
The population for Tropical North Queensland is projected to increase by an average annual growth rate of 1.5% between 2011 and 2031, being from 255,851 persons to 341,365 persons. (Note: Based on ASGC 2010. Source: Queensland Government Population Projections, 2011 edition).
"We can only call ourselves Australian if we have a long-term future in this country and that means to live sustainably."
Professor Tim Flannery at his Australian of the Year Presentation 2007