MORE Government investment in the professional management of groups is required if the volunteer Landcare movement is to continue playing a vital role in the management of Australia’s natural and cultural assets according to a leading social researcher.
“The best investment Government can make with Landcare is to employ more full-time professional coordinators,” said Professor Allan Curtis, the Director of Charles Sturt University’s Institute for Land, Water and Society-a major research institute comprising of some 200 members involved in social, environmental, ecological and economic research.
“I believe we are at a tipping point where insufficient investment in the fabric of Landcare is undermining the capacity of Landcare to contribute to more sustainable natural resource management.”
Prof Curtis who has been involved in Landcare research for the past 15 years recently completed a report for the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry on “Landcare in Victoria: after twenty years” based on a survey of all 709 Victorian Landcare groups operating at the end of 2004.
Prof Curtis has suggested a Government investment of $10million per year to employ and resource 70 full-time professional coordinator positions across Victoria was required to assure the future and continued success of Landcare groups.
“Those coordinators would almost be like football coaches, there to motivate people and provide the expertise for effective strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation,” said Prof Curtis who added governments would continue to rely heavily on the efforts and investments of private landholders in natural resource management.
“For the first time we have evidence of what I would call the ‘declining health’ of Landcare. I think we are running down the social and human capital that we have established through our previous investments in Landcare. We now have fewer landholders involved in Landcare in Victoria; we’ve got fewer groups – almost 150 fewer groups than in 1998; where groups still operate we have a smaller proportion of local people still in them; we’ve got fewer outsiders involved in assisting or studying the work of groups; and we now have evidence of very high attrition rates which suggests many more groups are not going to be viable for that long. Overall there has been a net loss of 15 to 20% of members each year.”
Prof Curtis said part of the problem was, in Australia, we tended to move from one policy option to the next.
“To some extent, Landcare has gone out of fashion,” he said. “My response is that we will always need a mix of approaches. We need to retain those things that work as we explore additional tools. Landcare groups undertake considerable on-groundwork in a very cost-effective manner, but more importantly, they play a critical role in facilitating the dialogue and learning needed to work out how to manage our great land.
“As we celebrate twenty years of Landcare in Victoria, we need a more coherent and determined approach to supporting Landcare. The Country Fire Authority is a good model of what is needed.
“Following the tradition of Joan Kirner, the Brack’s government needs to make a strong commitment to take Landcare into the next decade. It needs to be more than just a few words at a conference or an awards ceremony. As Victoria heads towards the International Landcare Conference this year, Victoria could again provide the model for Australian Landcare by providing professional support to the volunteer Landcare movement.”