Our Plan for Sustainable Industries
The ecosystems of the Wet Tropics support its two key industries, being agriculture and tourism. Without a healthy and functioning natural resource base, neither of these industries will thrive.
This message was loud and clear from both the regional and local level workshops with every single local landscape group identifying sustainable industries as a local priority, in particular agriculture.
Due to limited engagement with the tourism industry, there is a strong focus in this Plan on agriculture. Ongoing interaction with the tourism industry will result in a more comprehensive plan for this industry.
Our Plan for Sustainable Industries is based on extensive engagement about:
- The challenges preventing us from achieving our Sustainable Industries Goal
- The opportunities that may assist us in achieving our Sustainable Industries Goal
- The priority actions that we should put in place to address the challenges and also make the most of the opportunities
1. We will influence the policies and regulations that govern us to ensure they are supportive of diverse, sustainable and resilient industries across all areas.
Challenges: Policy often feels like it is developed in silos, applying a one-size-fits-all approach. Compounding the challenge for industries are the constantly changing goal posts and short-term policy cycles.
The current planning framework also allows national and global market forces to favour large-scale enterprises and can impede diversification, resulting in less control for the food producers. Many agricultural industries in particular feel disconnected with the policies that have a major influence over their future viability.
Opportunities: There is mounting community concern about the homogenisation of our agricultural industries and a growing public voice is calling for a more local, diversified, sustainable, quadruple bottom line approach to our food production.
Priority actions focus on development of a cross-sector, multi-partner regional Influence Strategy and knowledge brokerage.
2. Our Wet Tropics industries will work collaboratively making the most of available knowledge so as to adapt quickly and proactively to change by sharing and using information.
Challenges: There is diminishing funding for research and development (R&D) in agriculture as the best and most experienced professionals move on to other opportunities, often overseas.
While the move from public to private funded R&D means there is vested interest in what is researched, there is also vested interest in the interpretation of the result.
Unfortunately public extension services have been steadily declining and access to information about new and innovative approaches is not easy to access. Cross-industry pollination is not common, limiting the opportunity to learn from one another.
Opportunities: There is a growing movement for a new paradigm in agriculture in the Wet Tropics region, with an increasing number of inspiring farmers who are trialling new ideas.
We are perfectly placed to make the most of the reputable universities and scientists currently in the region and draw on the recent climate change information to inform decision making.
With strengthening connections between industry, NRM bodies, government and the science community, the future is looking bright.
Priority actions focus on novel collaborative partnerships beyond the traditional NRM professionals, ensuring we are singing from the same song sheet, even if singing different parts.
3. We will proactively pursue opportunities for Traditional Owners to play a key role in, and secure long-term employment benefits from, industry development in the region, in particular tourism.
Opportunities: The Rainforest Aboriginal People of the Wet Tropics are already engaged in a wide range of industries in the region, in particular those relating to the values of country.
Of note, there are many excellent and successful cultural tourism initiatives, large and small, that showcase Traditional Owner values and knowledge and provide gainful employment opportunities. However much more can be done.
A more proactive approach to providing opportunities within industries relating to natural resource management for the Traditional Owners of the region will bring benefits for all.
Priority actions focus on promoting and communicating cultural values and developing a Wet Tropics Aboriginal Cultural and Natural Resource Management Business Plan.
4. We will ensure our Wet Tropics industries are diversified, resilient and future-proof, with a stable, increasing return on investment sustaining profitability.
Challenges: The cost of production continues to increase and food distribution systems continue to favour large enterprises closer to warehousing facilities.
As a result, local industry feels disempowered by uncontrollable market forces. Add to this the uncertainty relating to changes in climate (including saltwater inundation, severe weather events and new invasive species incursions) and the future of our agricultural industries feels fragile.
Opportunities: Luckily the climate and conditions of the Wet Tropics provide enormous potential for diversification and innovation, allowing new industries to emerge (including carbon sequestration) that could provide more viable mainstream options for farmers.
A prosperous future is there for the taking providing we are looking ahead to the future and are prepared to adapt.
Priority actions focus on attracting novel funding for innovation in agriculture, new ‘sustainable’ branding and a ‘Driving the Future Program’ to support industries to build resilience.
5. We will inspire the Wet Tropics community to place high value on the vitality of our industries, including our farmers, and actively support local production and service provision.
Challenges: There appears to be a disconnect between producer and consumer, with consumers not seeing the visible effects the declining industry is having on farmers.
The fact that consumer demand for cheap produce is actually hurting local farmers is not always evident to the general public. While the tension between ensuring a farming enterprise is profitable and minimising negative environmental impacts is always present, many farmers feel misunderstood by the community.
Negative attitudes towards farming have been exacerbated by media suggesting that farmers are not active and caring stewards of the land. All of this can contribute to a loss in pride in the industry and creates challenges with securing intergenerational succession.
Opportunities: There is a new fresh face of farming emerging in the region. There are highly innovative, productive and profitable farming enterprises achieving gains for the environment and making a contribution to climate mitigation.
This is matched by an increasing public interest in buying local, ethical and sustainable produce. Fast tracking this trend is an enormous opportunity.
Priority actions focus on new branding and delivering a ‘good news’ community-focused communication campaign.