Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

‘We are country. Country is us’

Posted on 27 March, 2012 by Connecting Country

Dr Dennis Saunders, Research Fellow CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences and Member Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists

There are 20,000 kilograms of micro organisms in a hectare of soil. What happens to them in the process of agricultural production?

The fact is, as Dr Denis Saunders pointed out in his Connecting Country talk on 21 March, that we don’t know.

To explain why this is important, he put a question to his audience: if you were getting on an aeroplane, and saw a mechanic take a few bits out of the wing to put on another plane, wouldn’t you want reassurance that those bits were going to be replaced?’

At the moment we tend to be playing a game with the environment: we are not sure what changes we are bringing about, especially in the area of micro organisms. There is no reliable way of finding out how farming practices are affecting them. Reducing their numbers simplifies the landscape and potentially makes it less resilient to crisis events like flood or drought. Sobering statistics on extinctions suggest that we’re not doing as well as we should in land management.

Dr Saunders began by drawing attention to Aboriginal philosophies founded on the interdependence of land and people: ‘we are country , country is us’. He emphasised that farmers, who work on the land and manage it, are keys to land health: and that they should be suitably rewarded for their efforts, both through schemes like BushTender and through a fair pricing system for products of the land.

Dr Saunders pointed out that we are not presently paying the full price for food and fibre products: production is subsidised to an unknown extent by environmental degradation. An accounting system integrating agricultural and biodiversity values might be a way of getting a grip on how things are changing. ‘Conservation’ has tended to be a matter confined to such areas as National Parks: in fact, private productive land is at least as important.

Interestingly, Dr Saunders expressed misgivings about the word ‘biodiversity’, a potentially confusing term which he preferred not to use. And he warned that we should be careful in our use of language in talking of environmental matters. The tendency of conservation workers to talk down to farmers, and for some farmers to be dismissive of environmental concerns, will not help get a practical consensus about how we can ensure landscape productivity long term.

Seventy-five people came along to the Newstead Community centre for this event. The gold coin donation from attendees for the evening’s food is being donated to Newstead Landcare Group.

The next in the evening series of talks is a Panel Discussion – Can I get paid to farm nature? on Wednesday 18th of April, 6:30pm to 9pm, Campbells Creek Community Centre. For more information about Connecting Country’s 2012 education program click here.

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