Published by the Sustainable Agriculture Programme of the
International Institute for Environment and Development
Landcare in Australia
GATEKEEPER SERIES No. 42
The Gatekeeper Series of the Sustainable Agriculture Programme is produced by the
International Institute for Environment and Development to highlight key topics in the field
of sustainable agriculture. The Series is aimed at policy makers, researchers, planners and
extension workers in government and non-government organizations worldwide. Each paper
reviews a selected issue of contemporary importance and draws preliminary conclusions of
relevance to development activities. References are provided to important sources and
background material. The Swedish International Development Authority and the Ford
Foundation fund the series.
Andrew Campbell recently completed a three year contract to the Australian Government as
National Landcare Facilitator, evaluating the Landcare program, providing a national
overview of the activities of landcare groups in all states and feedback on the thoughts and
aspirations of the people involved. He is presently undertaking post-graduate studies in the
Department of Innovation and Communication Studies at the Agricultural University,
Wageningen, focussing on the institutional implications of sustainability for agricultural
extension, education and research. His book describing Landcare through case studies of
individuals and landcare groups is entitled Landcare: Communities Shaping Their Land,
Their Future, and is published by Allen and Unwin, Sydney (1994).
An earlier version ofthispaperwaspresented at the thejoint IIED/IDS "Beyond Farmer First:
Rural People's Knowledge, Agricultural Research and Extension Practice" workshop,
Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, October 27-29, 1992.
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA42
COMMUNITY FIRST: LANDCARE IN
In Australia, a grass-roots revolution called 'landcare' has turned land conservation extension
on its head. Close to two thousand voluntary community landcare groups are working to
develop more sustainable systems of land use, supported by a national ten year funding
programme. This paper introduces landcare in Australia as a community-based approach to
the development of more sustainable ways of using the land. It is not easy to define landcare
or even to draw its boundaries. Landcare is not really an extension program at all in the sense
of a system of planned interventions with discrete objectives. Rather, landcare blends
elements of community and environmental education, action research and participatory
planning; to tackle a range of environmental and production issues; in a tremendous diversity
of bio-physical and administrative environments. Policy makers are reacting to on-ground
developments, rather than precipitating action in a strategic way.
Land Degradation in Australia
The impact of European man on the Australian environment, in the equivalent of a day and
a half out of a year compared with the known period of aboriginal occupation (Lefroy et al,
1992), has been astonishing in its scale. In that time, it is estimated (Australian Bureau of
Statistics, 1992) that:
* half of the forests and one-third of the woodlands have been cleared for agriculture;
* 97 species of vascular plants are extinct and about 3,329 plant species (17% of the total)
are either rare or threatened;
* 20 species of mammals and 10 species of birds are extinct and a further 111 vertebrate
species are considered endangered;
* more than 500 species of exotic plants, animals and invertebrates have been deliber-
ately introduced and many of them have been ecologically disastrous;
* various combinations of erosion, salinity, acidification, soil structure decline,
waterlogging and water repellency affect; roughly half the land used for agriculture;
* fresh water resources are threatened by eutrophication, sedimentation and salinity.
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In the wheatbelt of south-west Western Australia, the Department of Agriculture in 1991
estimated that subsoil compaction affects 54% of the cleared land in the agricultural area, with
an annual cost of $153 million in production losses alone; water repellence affects 32% of
cleared land ($150 m pa.); salinity affects 3% of cleared land ($105 m pa.); soil structure
decline affects 22% of cleared land ($70 m pa.); and waterlogging of crops and pastures affects
11% of cleared land ($90 m pa.). Erosion and acidification problems are relatively minor by
comparison, bringing the total annual cost to $615M million, or 17% of the Gross Value of
Agricultural Production (GVAP) for this region in 1988/89 (Lefroy et al 1992).
Note that these are only the costs in terms of annual losses in production, in one region of one
State. Losses in GVAP (17% in this case) are not recognized as a cost of agricultural
production in the national accounts. Rather, expenditure on land conservation, which is
directed at reducing this cost, is registered in Gross National Product as income (Eckersley,
1991). Depletion of natural capital such as soil, fresh water and biodiversity is not accounted
for at all.
Background to the Development of Landcare
Involvement of farmer groups in soil conservation is not new, but the breadth of issues being
tackled by landcare groups, the impetus for groups forming, the degree of group autonomy
and the momentum and ownership of the landcare program is quite distinct from past group
approaches, which were essentially driven by state government agencies and focused more
narrowly on reducing soil erosion (Campbell, 1989).
The earliest forms of the current landcare groups are probably the Land Conservation District
Committees which were constituted under the Western Australian Soil Conservation Act of
1983 (Robertson, 1989), and the Victorian Farm Tree Groups, established jointly by the
Victorian Farmers and Graziers Association and the Garden State Committee in 1981
(Campbell, 1990). In 1986, Victoria revised its group extension activities to take a broader
focussingg on soil, water flora and fauna, rather than just soil conservation) and a more bottom
up approach, registered under the new banner of 'LandCare'. These programs grew much
faster than expected with a minimum of resources, and were credited with enhancing the
extent and the quality of land user involvement in land conservation activities. Recognising
the potential of bottom up, community group based approaches to land conservation, the
National Soil Conservation Program (NSCP) was re-organised in 1988 to provide national
support for community landcare groups.
Suddenly the level of attention to landcare increased dramatically. In mid-1988, an historic
partnership was forged between the National Farmers Federation (NFF) and the Australian
Conservation Foundation (ACF), or more particularly, between their respective Directors,
Rick Farley and Phillip Toyne. The NFF and ACF jointly developed a National Land
Management program in spring 1988, which proposed a ten year program, the key elements
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of which were funding for landcare groups and property planning (Farley and Toyne, 1989). The
joint thrust of two powerful lobby groups, unlikely bedfellows from opposite ends of the political
spectrum, presented a fascinating image to the media. The potent political ingredients of timing,
a discrete package with broad voter appeal, against a background of exponential growth in
community awareness of environmental issues, ensured that landcare became 'flavour of the
Prime Minister Hawke presented a major environment statement in July 1989, which announced
that the 1990s would be the Decade of Landcare and outlined a $A340 million funding program
based to a large degree on the NFF-ACF document. With the Commonwealth signalling its
endorsement of the concept of community landcare groups in such a tangible way, the stage was
set for accelerated growth of the group programs in Victoria and Western Australia, and for
extremely rapid establishment, growth and resourcing of group programs in other states.
By October 1989, the total number of landcare groups in Australia was about 350, a number which
doubled by July 1990. Despite tough economic conditions in rural communities, the explosive
growth of the landcare movement has continued, with some 2000 groups by early 1994,
comprising more than a quarter of the farming community.
What do Landcare Groups Do?
One of the features of the Australian landcare movement is its extraordinary diversity. It is
impossible to describe a 'typical' landcare group, except in broad terms as a group of (usually rural)
people who have come together voluntarily to cooperatively tackle environmental issues and
develop more sustainable systems of land management. Despite the diversity in group activities,
there are stages of development which are generally applicable to landcare groups. This sequence
should not be construed to suggest that the life cycle of groups is linear it is not uncommon for
groups to become dormant or much more active with the departure or addition of a key member
or a change in the type and level of external support.
A farmer, local activist or department person (or any combination of these), are concerned about
a land management issue, feel that a landcare group is the way to go, talk it over with friends/
neighbours/extension staff and call a meeting. The meeting elects a steering committee, which
investigates local problems, interest, resources and assistance available, then calls another
meeting to form a group and elect a committee (although sometimes this happens at the first
meeting), which may comprise the entire group, or be an executive subset of the group.
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The group is formed, it usually defines its land degradation problems and what it knows about
solutions. Boundaries, goals and membership are determined. The group identifies sources
of assistance, usually becomes legally incorporated and maybe puts in a submission for
government funding, often depending on the level and type of input from local extension staff.
The local community becomes aware of the group, which grows quickly and develops
relationships with local and state government agencies and other sources of assistance.
The group develops a plan of action to progress towards its goals, or proceeds on a bright ideas
basis from meeting to meeting, or essentially responds to extension inputs. The first scenario
is obviously preferable, but the majority of groups in Australia usually have elements of all
three. The group may have a part-time coordinator and usually develops a reasonably clear
understanding of its relationship with government agencies. Some of the people involved with
the early development of the group and some people on the fringes of group activity may
become less active, but membership continues to grow.
Early activities in the establishment and consolidation phases often include:
* field days/farm walks/bus tours;
* meetings, some with guest speakerss;
* production of a simple brochure about the group, or an occasional newsletter;
* development of funding submissions;
* demonstration projects usually land degradation rehabilitation works on a prominent
site in the local area;
* flights over the group area and/or a bus trip to landcare groups in other regions;
* identification of land management issues at a district/catchment scale.
The group has settled down, with easy identification of leaders and future leaders, talkers,
workers, followers, sleepers and hangers-on. Some turnover of members occurs, with
membership numbers fairly constant. The group has a clear understanding of its role and goals
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and is well known within the local community. The group has developed on-going
relationships with state and local government, with local businesses, community groups
(including neighboring landcare groups), universities, researchers and consultants, schools
and other landholders. The interaction with government staff for technical advice may remain
high, but reliance on the State for stimulus and financial support dwindles.
Regular activities of the group include:
* development of a catchment or district plan which identifies land degradation
problems, discusses the challenges of achieving sustainability in the local context and
sets out a coordinated approach of implementation;
* facilitating the development of individual property plans within the context of the
catchment plan employing consultantss, running workshops, short courses, coordi-
nating incentives and resources such as aerial photos;
* active involvement in natural resource monitoring programs, often in conjunction with
schools, state agencies and scientists;
* developing local inventories of natural resources (eg. remnant vegetation, seed
sources) and documenting local knowledge about land and its management;
* demonstration projects and cooperative works organised and/or supported by the
* actively drawing from a wide range of support government and non-government;
* involvement with local schools in an extension role and in group projects;
* short courses or seminars, in which the group gathers expertise from a range of sources;
* development or purchase of equipment for hire to members and other land users;
* study tours to other regions;
* research and development trials with state agencies, universities, and agribusiness;
* involvement in state and local government planning processes;
* exhibits at local shows and field days;
* production of educational pamphlets, videos, manuals.
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The sequence above is potentially misleading in that it implies that landcare groups move
sequentially through a process of evolution. In reality it is usually more disjointed and
What has Landcare Achieved?
It is still too early to measure many of the impacts of landcare. But it is not too soon to be
asking who is involved in landcare and what they are getting out of their involvement.
Research carried out in the last three years (Campbell, 1992; ABARE, 1992; Black and Reeve,
1992), suggests that roughly one in four farmers are involved in landcare or rely on landcare
groups for information. This is a significant penetration of landcare into rural communities
over a period when many people could have been expected to be pre-occupied with pressing
short-term financial difficulties.
The farmers who are in landcare groups or receive advice from landcare groups, on average,
are younger (ie, in their mid-fifties), earn higher levels of cash income, have higher levels of
debt, are more active seekers of information from a wider range of sources, they are more
concerned about the future, more positive about and receptive to government and importantly,
they undertake more land conservation practices than other farmers.
Many people involved in landcare are learning a lot about their own property, about the land
in their district and about issues they may have rarely considered in the past. Group leaders
in particular have gained great satisfaction from seeing other people get involved, from
influencing others through their interaction in the group and occasionally from group projects.
But the learning and satisfaction is often tempered by growing frustration: about the level of
knowledge and resources available to seriously tackle problems; about the few people who
really understand what needs to be done and the amount of poor land management still
occurring; and about the bureaucracy, paperwork and politics of landcare, particularly project
Some groups have already created a climate of opinion more favourable to the adoption of
improved land management practices in their districts and some groups have achieved notable
successes in land management improvements particularly suited to group action, such as
controlling rabbits and weeds.
Landcare, by involving committed people closest to the land, has the potential to be the first
step in evolving new land use systems and new relationships between people and land, which
build upon human resources instead of discounting them or seeing them as part of the problem.
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Community First Approaches
Enlightened regulations fostering a 'cooperative adjustment' in land management standards
are only likely to be feasible if the condition of natural resources is well understood by the
people managing those resources and by anyone proposing to specify and enforce standards
of management. So land resource assessment and land condition monitoring are complemen-
tary to any improvement in regulatory instruments. They are also complementary to the
effectiveness of landcare groups in generating commitment to sustainability at an individual
and community level.
Land resource assessment and land condition monitoring does not have to mean highly
specialised survey teams using complex instruments with unpronounceable names producing
beautiful maps which then reside in map files, vertiplans and computers in government
offices, never to be seen by the people who actually live on and manage the land.
There are much more exciting and useful ways to generate and use information about the
condition of natural resources, ways which may even improve the management of those
Land Literacy refers to activities designed to help people 'read the land', to understand the
condition of and trends in the environment around them, and to make the invisible become
visible. Some of the land literacy activities (White, 1992) include:
* Farmerfly-overs: enabling farmers to see their catchments and farms from the air at
times when land degradation trends are most visible, often with a profound impact on
* Making the invisible, visible: activities and publications which better assist land users
to recognize emerging problems, for example soil salinity and soil structure assessment
kits and farm monitoring handbooks.
* Community action research: exemplified by Saltwatch, Drainwatch and Watertable
Watch. These land literacy programs democratise technology, putting scientific
techniques into the hands of the public. Students collect information, store it on
computers and send it by disk to government agencies for processing. In this way much
more data can be gathered from more sampling points than is conceivable for a
government agency, and a demand is generated for the analyses and interpretations of
this data. People involved in gathering information are more interested in finding what
it means and taking it seriously. For instance, Ribbons of Blue in Western Australia
involves school students in gathering and managing information on water turbidity,
pH, temperature, sediment, biological oxygen demand, nitrogen, phosphorous and
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* Organisms as indicators (the canary in a coal mine): the South Australian Wormwatch
program provides a kit with illustrations of worm species and information about their
life cycle and crucial role in soil structure and fertility, and asks rural and urban people
to find, identify, count and record the worms in their localities. This information is used
in a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Divi-
sion of Soils research project on earthworms and sustainable agriculture.
* Listening to the Land: just as art galleries supply audio tapes to enrich the experience
of people by giving them new insights as they move from painting to painting,
interpretive tapes in vehicles can assist people to understand the environments they are
travelling through. The first such tape, based on interviews with landcare members
from the Warrenbayne Boho area, will hopefully assist travellers along the Hume
highway from Melbourne to Sydney to gain much more from the trip than stress and
Land users are starting to collect and monitor information which was largely the province of
specialists five years ago. Landcare groups and some individual land users are now familiar
with technology such as piezometers, Geographic Information Systems, neutron moisture
probes, aerial magnetrometric surveys and electromagnetic detection of potentially saline
areas. The data from the land literacy programmes can of course be integrated with the
practical experience and intuition of land users in preparing farm and catchment plans,
ensuring that these plans recognize the ecological impact of farming practices.
However the major value of such programs is the speed and effectiveness with which they
transmit local environmental knowledge through communities, teach people to observe and
monitor the health of the land around them, and democratise technology, giving local
communities ownership of technical information and local responsibility for local issues, and
enabling them to formulate much more acute questions for scientists and regulators.
Farm and Catchment Planning
One of the most common activities for landcare groups is property and catchment planning.
Most land degradation problems which concern groups cross property boundaries and are thus
more suited to catchment-based approaches. As more landcare groups define their own needs
and approach the same task in their own way, the evolution of different approaches to farm
and catchment planning has accelerated. Some groups are using computer-based Geographic
Information Systems (GIS), others have developed very simple processes based around
enlarged aerial photographs.
Preparing a catchment plan as a framework for individual property plans is a valuable strategic
activity for landcare groups. Various planning processes are evolving in different circum-
stances, but common ingredients include the following:
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a base map of the district is prepared, often using an enlarged aerial photograph and
group members receive base maps for their own properties at a larger scale;
* the group, with the aid of a facilitator drives and/or walks around their district,
developing a common understanding of its characteristics, and agreeing on a common
local language for describing the different types of land the ecological land units;
* group members use their local knowledge and the information generated in the group
to analyse and map the land units on their own properties this information is
aggregated to compile a land unit map for the catchment;
* the group discusses land management issues and potential elements of more sustain-
able systems, both at the farm scale and at the catchment scale. Property and catchment
planning processes can assist individual land users at the paddock and farm scales, and
groups of land users at the catchment scale, to gather, analyse, synthesise and apply
information to move towards sustainability.
The context in which land users are seeking and applying information is critical for research
and extension. The congruence of the quest for sustainability, the emergence of property and
catchment planning and the explosion in community participation through landcare groups
represents a watershed in the development of an Australian agriculture.
Landcare groups have precipitated the emergence of new roles which are distinctly different
from the roles associated with the traditional labels of extensionist, researcher and farmer.
Four emerging roles, all working in participatory ways with rural communities at a district
or regional scale, can be identified facilitation, coordination, catchment planning consultan-
cy and environmental education. The latter two are still embryonic, with only a handful of
practitioners, so for the moment the discussion is confined to facilitation and coordination.
This can be a tricky stage of the process, and a skilled facilitator/consultant can be of great
assistance, speaking as 'the voice of the catchment', and stimulating farmers to look at their
own properties in the context of the wider landscape.
Essentially the aim of the facilitator is to foster community synergy. This means helping the
group to make best use of the human resources available, by acting as a link person within the
group and the local community, but also from outside. One farmer described it this way:
"without the link person it is like having a motor without a spark plug".
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Facilitation can also mean helping to develop a shared sense of direction among all the relevant
actors. This requires a sufficient insight into group processes to be able to assist groups to find
and set direction, to identify factors preventing the group from reaching its potential, and to
work through these issues with the group.
Facilitation is much more a matter of skilled listening, asking the right questions of the right
people at the right time, than it is delivery of technical information or packages. This can mean
challenging farmers to open their minds to new possibilities, to new ways of looking at their
situation, their resources and the options open to them. One facilitator, a former archaeologist,
described this aspect of her role to that of the piece of grit in the oyster, which hopefully leads
to the development of a pearl. The art of fostering group synergy is delicate. It involves
knowing when to lead and when to wait. It also requires empathy with farmers.
Facilitators are often involved with a number of groups at one time. While their main role
is in the early stages of group establishment, they may perform a short-term troubleshooting
role with mature groups from time to time, or be involved with rejuvenation of groups in
decline. Facilitators ideally have sufficient technical skills in land management to be able to
assist groups to set technically sound goals and access appropriate advice, but this is not
essential. More importantly, facilitators must be able to handle the fine balance between
intervention and strategic withdrawal in group activities. Good facilitators tend to work
themselves out of a job, withdrawing as groups become self-reliant.
When groups have a clear idea of what they want to do and how they are going to do it, the
amount of voluntary time which can be put in by the few people who do most of the work often
becomes a constraint. At this stage a coordinator becomes useful. The role of the coordinator
is to sustain the momentum of the group, to keep members involved and to ensure that group
plans are implemented. Coordinators assist voluntary group leaders to organise meetings,
they take an active role in planning and managing group projects, keep less active group
members interested, provide a link between group members and sources of technical advice
and do public relations and liaison work on behalf of the group.
Coordination of resources is central to this role. For example, organising farmer contributions
to projects, seeking assistance from outside groups and organising cooperative efforts
between a number of farmers or with other groups. The coordinator demystifies the technical
side of land management and provides ready access to straightforward, practical advice at the
In many instances, particularly in southern States, the coordination role is played by a former
group leader, who is paid on a part-time basis to put more time into landcare group activities
than would otherwise be possible. This is a great arrangement where it works well. As Kate
Walsh (in Oates and Campbell, 1992) puts it:
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"A local coordinator can say 'we' (eg 'we are responsiblefor our roadsides') instead
of 'you.' This brings ownership ofproblems and solutions back to the community. We
have local knowledge and perhaps some intuition for what is needed."
The coordinator is seen as an independent person with an important liaison role between the
group and government. Because they are local, their expertise tends to stay in the area for
much longer than departmental advisory officers, who tend to be much younger and very
mobile, as the promotion and reward systems within most state agencies make it very difficult
for people to pursue a career within extension without having to re-locate regularly or move
to a desk job. The on-going role of local group coordinators can relieve the administrative
burden from the government agency, giving the local community ownership and a degree of
what Rl6ing (1991) refers to as 'countervailing power'.
Implications for Extension and Research
So the ultimate goal of landcare is sustainable land use how do we get there? There are three
key ingredients required in order for land use and management to become more sustainable:
Land users must want it, they must know what to do and how to go about it, and they must
have technically feasible options which are economically profitable (Campbell, 1991; Cary,
1992) and socially acceptable (Rl6ing, 1991).
Comparing most Australian farming systems with the parameters of sustainability discussed
above, it seems clear that there is also a fourth equally important ingredient the processes
required to change from existing systems in a coordinated way, particularly at the landscape
scale, to anticipate and plan for change, rather than reacting to it.
This is not to suggest that sustainability is something which can be ordered in a prescriptive
way, that there is a blueprint to implement. More sustainable systems of land use are much
more likely to occur through a diversity of approaches as land users and communities evolve
new systems of land use according to their own circumstances.
If the critical ingredients are missing, the possibility of developing sustainable systems of land
use is remote. Without commitment, other priorities will always be more urgent than
developing sustainable farming systems. Without resources, people will become burnt out
by anxiety and frustration. Without a knowledge of where we are going and how to get there,
the fast start fired by initial enthusiasm will lose momentum. Without a process for planning
for change, involving the relevant players and determining actionable first steps, adhocery and
false starts will result. Equally, where innovations are complex, where costs and returns may
be hard to identify or apportion, where there is no immediate return, or where the innovation
challenges community norms (all common attributes of more sustainable farming systems);
then linear communication from researcher to extension agent to farmer will rarely influence
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What might a research and extension system appropriate for the 1990s and beyond might look
like? Figure 1 below (after van Beek and Coutts, 1992) neatly captures the extension spectrum
- from technology transfer (in which paternalism and the 'expert syndrome' thrive) to human
Figure 1 The extension spectrum
0 ^ Developmen
h o n Education
know-how Increasing Complexity of Situations
Different approaches to extension, requiring different types of skills, are appropriate in
different situations. This should not be construed to suggest that technical know-how and
technology transfer are displaced as situations become more complex, rather they are built
upon as the spectrum moves towards empowerment.
However the social and economic aspirations of many landcare groups, and their focus on the
community and catchment level, necessarily limit the applicability of technology transfer
approaches to a narrow portion of their spectrum of concerns.
Extension and research is being required to change to mission-centred, rather than problem-
focused approaches; it is having to learn new skills to work effectively at a community, rather
than a paddock level; and it is having to concentrate far more on process who is involved
at what level, who asks the questions and who listens, and who owns the process, rather than
on its traditional concerns of tasks and outputs.
The Empires Strike Back the Resilience
of the Dominant Paradigm
The deficiencies of the linear model of information flow from research to extension to transfer
to diffusion have been researched and exposed for many years, yet institutional structures,
government policies and programme funding are still largely based on this model. There are
clearly strong interests supporting this model, investing it with a certain stature and resilience.
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This section discusses, in the context of landcare, some of the less tangible issues which
conspire to prevent the emergence of participatory models for improving land use and
The Fuzziness and 'Threat' of Empowerment
The most effective landcare groups always enjoy a constructive relationship with state land
conservation agencies. Where this is the case, it is usually because the group has found
individuals within departments who are responsive and helpful, without having any desire to
control the direction of the group either for their own benefit, or according to their own
perception of the group's best interests. In short, people who have developed what Bradby
(1992) calls "the art of public listening".
While the landcare movement is both a reflection of and a catalyst for changes in the way
government agencies interact with community groups, there remain some pervasive attitudes
and institutional cultures which are a formidable constraint to landcare groups taking the step
from raising awareness of problems to being key players in developing solutions. This is not
a criticism of the individuals within state agencies, especially not of those closest to landcare
groups, most of whom are dedicated people working long hours for no additional reward.
Rather, it is directed at the organizations and cultures within which these people work.
Land degradation will not be solved by traditional extension approaches. Further, land
degradation will not be solved by government. Landcare is not a new extension program, but
a fundamental change in philosophy, reaching beyond agriculture, into the wider community.
This is a difficult concept for many government advisers to grapple with. They have spent
many years working away from the public gaze, implementing government programs, in
contact mainly with the top 15-20% of the 5-6% of the workforce who are farmers. Suddenly,
the mass media has discovered land degradation, powerful lobby groups such as the Australian
Conservation Foundation and the National Farmers' Federation have united forces to
stimulate the government into providing unprecedented financial support, and the entire
community seems to want to be involved. The involvement of other sectors of the community
in land conservation is highly desirable, but for state soil conservation agencies, this means
'letting go', being less proprietorial about land conservation.
Terms such as 'empowerment', 'community-based' and 'bottom-up' are becoming hack-
neyed in the literature accompanying new government initiatives. Yet the rhetoric is rarely
followed through (or even acknowledged by) all layers and sections within government
agencies. The trouble with empowerment is that in the landcare context it is seen to mean
(Woodhill et al, 1992):
"transferring powerfor decision making and the allocation offinancial resources from
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government bureaucracies to community groups and joint community/government
decision making forums. Such a change can be threatening to existing institutions and
power structures... The risk is that those with the power and resources attempt to use
community participation for their own ends and organisational goals (even if those
ends may be directed towards their view of what is 'good 'for a particular community)
and hence are not genuine about empowerment."
A few examples will illustrate government agency attitudes and cultures constraining the
effectiveness of landcare groups:
* the number of managers who still appear to think that 'community consultation' means
holding a public meeting to inform people what the department is doing in their area;
* the expression 'my landcare groups', often used in the context of 'anyone wanting to
talk to my groups has to go through me', or 'why wasn't informed that you were talking
to so and so?'
* empire building, the securing of extra resources for the department, the focus on means
rather than ends 'never hand any money back, we must spend it or commit it before
June 30 or we won't get it next year- its better that we spend it than the other mob';
hierarchical lines of command preclude 'bottom-up' decision-making within agen-
cies, making it extremely difficult for agencies to act corporately in a way which gives
meaning to 'bottom-up';
the expert syndrome 'we'll do the inventory/ monitoring/planning/set up the trial
and we'll let you know the results/provide you with a map or plan we know what's
paternalism 'we'll look after the funds/employ the person/buy the vehicle for you -
don't you worry about that!'
Many professionals within agriculture and natural resources departments have little training
in 'people skills' or participatory processes, or even ecology, because traditionally their
departments have had a production-oriented, reductionist orientation. Among the hundred or
so NSCP-funded landcare facilitators, project officers and coordinators there are journalists,
archaeologists, teachers, engineers, foresters, horticulturalists, small business people, farm-
ers and agricultural scientists, and almost half are women. Yet most of the state agency staff
they are working with are male agricultural science graduates (Reeve et al, 1988).
Involving the community can be time-consuming and frustrating and it is scary for people who
are not naturally disposed to dealing with people and/or have not had relevant training. Seen
through the prism of existing institutional cultures, community participation is tedious, its
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outcomes are often intangible and its cost/benefits debatable. But the complexities of
developing new ways of using the land which meet environmental, social and economic
objectives mean that genuine community participation in decision making and resource
allocation cannot be side-stepped.
Engel (1990) identifies two constraints to effective participatory strategies in extension:
a dominant bias in favour of research-based knowledge frustrates the input of other
types of knowledge (eg., farmers' practical nous) which are equally necessary for
sustainable solutions at the farm level;
institutional difficulties in coping with the dynamics of and type of solutions developed
if agencies aim at an effective "fusion of horizons" at the farm level.
Fostering new institutional cultures that encourage listening and learning will require
leadership from senior managers to demonstrate that the rhetoric about bottom-up is not
merely bluster. This will mean giving the community real say in allocating resources.
A key constraint to landcare group effectiveness is that government agencies supporting
landcare groups lack staff who are skilled in dealing with voluntary community groups, and
have yet to develop institutional cultures and participatory processes which foster genuine
community involvement and self-reliance.
The challenge of developing more sustainable systems of land use and management is
fundamentally different from the task of increasing the adoption of an agricultural innovation.
The time frames, geographical scale and technical uncertainties implicit in ecological
sustainability; and the political, economic and social complexities of changing land use
systems, mean that new social and institutional competencies and modes of action need to be
Agricultural research and extension organizations, if they are to remain relevant in the
sustainability era, must adjust their focus beyond the plot, the paddock, the farm and the
farmer, to consider the community, the catchment and consumers.
Landcare in Australia is an example of a community-based response to the challenge of
sustainability during a period of severe resource constraints. The key ingredients of landcare
are its lack of structure, the primacy of land users in determining group directions and
activities, the integration of conservation and production issues, the involvement of people
other than farmers in groups and the extent to which groups assume responsibility for their
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA42
own problems and resources. Landcare group activity often involves and is complemented
by innovative approaches to monitoring land status (land literacy) and by participatory
approaches to planning better systems of land management at farm and catchment scales.
'Community First' thinking means a change in focus: from transferring information to asking
the right questions; from presenting to skilled listening and interpretation of feedback; from
starting with research outputs to building upon the diverse knowledge and inputs of many
Community First thinking breaks away from limiting notions such as 'top-down' and 'bottom
up'. Facilitating community synergy, assisting communities to work together to assume
responsibilities for defining and tackling their own problems, can inform research and
extension approaches at both the individual farm level and at the institutional level.
Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE). 1992. Land manage-
ment and financial conditions on Australian farms. Paper presented to the National Agricul-
tural and Resources Outlook Conference 1992, ABARE, Canberra.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. 1992. Australia's Environment issues and facts. Common-
wealth of Australia, Canberra.
Black, A.W., and Reeve, I.J. 1992. Participation in Landcare Groups: The Relative
Importance of Attitudinal and Situational Factors. Department of Sociology and the Rural
Development Centre, University of New England, Armidale paper presented at the Third
National Social Research Conference, University of Western Sydney Hawkesbury.
Bradby, K. 1992. The Art of Public Listening stories from the Peel-Harvey. Proceedings,
Catchments of Green Conference, Greening Australia Canberra
Campbell, C.A. 1989. Landcare in Australia an overview. Australian Journal of Soil &
Water Conservation 11(4), 18-20.
Campbell, C.A. 1990. Landcare progress across the nation. National Landcare Facilitator
First Annual Report. national Soil Conservation Program, Canberra.
Campbell, C.A. 1991. Planning for Sustainable Farming the Potter Farmland Plan Story.
Lothian Books, Melbourne.
Campbell, C.A. 1992. Taking the long view in tough times Landcare in Australia. National
Landcare Facilitator Final Report. Department of Primary Industries and Energy, Canberra.
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA42
Cary, J.W. 1992. Belief and Behaviour Related to Improved Land Management. Proceedings,
International Soil Conservation Organisation Conference, Sydney September 1992.
Eckersley, R. 1991. Green economics: overcoming the credibility gap. Habitat Australia,
December 1991, 29-32.
Engel, P.G.H. 1990. Two ears, one mouth...Participatory extension or why people have two
ears and only one mouth. AT (Appropriate Technology) Source 18(4), 2-5
Farley, R. and Toyne, P. 1989. A National Land Management Program. Australian Journal
of Soil & Water Conservation 11(2)
Lefroy, E.C.B., Bicknell, D., Hobbs, R.J., Scheltema, M. and Bartle, J. 1992. Towards a
Revegetation Strategy for the Western Australian Wheatbelt. Proceedings, Catchments of
Green Conference, Greening Australia Canberra.
Oates, N. and Campbell, C.A. 1992. Working with Landcare Groups a handbookfor landcare
facilitators and coordinators. National Soil Conservation Program, Canberra.
Reeve, I.J., Patterson, R.A. and Lees, J.W. 1988. Land Resources: Training Towards 2000.
Rural Development Centre, University of New England, Armidale.
Robertson, G. 1989. Community Involvement in Land Conservation the Western Australian
Experience. Australian Journal of Soil & Water Conservation 11(3), 19-24.
Ruling, N.G. 1991. Farm Knowledge; politics permitting. Workshop on Agricultural Knowl-
edge Systems and the Role of Extension, Universitat Hohenheim, Stuttgart, May 1991.
van Beek, P., and Coutts, J. 1992. Extension in a knowledge systems framework. Discussion
notes Number 2, Queensland Department of Primary Industries Systems Study Group.
White, T. 1992. Land Literacy. Proceedings, Catchments of Green Conference, Greening
Woodhill, J., Wilson, A., and McKenzie, J. 1992. Land Conservation and Social Change:
Extension to Community Development a Necessary Shift in Thinking. Proceedings,
International Soil Conservation Organisation Conference, Sydney.
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA42
1. Pesticide Hazards in the Third World: New Evidence from the Philippines. 1987. J.A. McCracken and G.R.
2. Cash Crops, Food Crops and Agricultural Sustainability. 1987. E.B. Barbier.
3. Trees as Savings and Security for the Rural Poor. 1992. Robert Chambers, Czech Conroy and Melissa Leach.
(1st edition, 1988)
4. Cancer Risk and Nitrogen Fertilisers: Evidence from Developing Countries. 1988. J.N. Pretty and G.R.
5. The Blue-Baby Syndrome and Nitrogen Fertilisers: A High Risk in the Tropics? 1988. J.N. Pretty and G.R.
6. Glossary of Selected Terms in Sustainable Agriculture. 1988. J.A. McCracken and J.N. Pretty.
7. Glossary of Selected Terms in Sustainable Economic Development. 1988. E.B. Barbier and J.A.
8. Internal Resources for Sustainable Agriculture. 1988. C.A. Francis.
9. Wildlife Working for Sustainable Development. 1988. B. Dalal-Clayton.
10. Indigenous Knowledge for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development. 1988. D.M. Warren and K.
11. Agriculture as a Global Polluter. 1989. Jules N. Pretty and G.R. Conway.
12. Evolution of Agricultural Research and Development Since 1950: Toward an Integrated Framework. 1989.
Robert E. Rhoades.
13. Crop-Livestock Interactions for Sustainable Agriculture. 1989. Wolfgang Bayer and Ann Waters-Bayer
14. Perspectives in Soil Erosion in Africa: Whose Problem? 1989. M. Fones-Sondell.
15. Sustainability in Agricultural Development Programmes: The Approach of USAID. 1989. Robert O. Blake.
16. Participation by Farmers, Researchers and Extension Workers in Soil Conservation. 1989. Sam Fujisaka.
17. Development Assistance and the Environment: Translating Intentions into Practice. 1989. Marianne Wenning.
18. Energy for Livelihoods: Putting People Back into Africa's Woodfuel Crisis. 1989. Robin Mears and Gerald
19. Crop Variety Mixtures in Marginal Environments. 1990. Janice Jiggins
20. Displaced Pastoralists and Transferred Wheat Technology in Tanzania. 1990. Charles Lane and Jules N. Pretty.
21. Teaching Threatens Sustainable Agriculture. 1990. Raymond I. Ison.
22. Microenvironments Unobserved. 1990. Robert Chambers.
23. Low Input Soil Restoration in Honduras: the Cantarranas Farmer-to-Farmer Extension Programme. 1990. Roland
24. Rural Common Property Resources: A Growing Crisis. 1991. N.S. Jodha
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA 42
25. Participatory Education and Grassroots Development: The Case of Rural Appalachia. 1991. John Gaventa and
26. Farmer Organisations in Ecuador: Contributions to Farmer First Research and Development. 1991. A.
27. Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation in Africa. 1991. Chris Reij
28. Tree Products in Agroecosystems: Economic and Policy Issues. 1991. J.E.M. Arnold
29. Designing Integrated Pest Management for Sustainable and Productive Futures. 1991. Michel P. Pimbert
30. Plants, Genes and People: Improving the Relevance of Plant Breeding. 1991. Angelique Haugerud and Michael
31. Local Institutions and Participation for Sustainable Development. 1992. Norman Uphoff.
32. The Information Drain: Obstacles to Research in Africa. 1992. Mamman Aminu Ibrahim.
33. Local Agro-Processing with Sustainable Technology: Sunflowerseed Oil in Tanzania. 1992. Eric Hyman.
34. Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation in India's Semi-Arid Tropics. 1992. John Kerr and N.K. Sanghi.
35. Prioritizing Institutional Development: A New Role for NGO Centres for Study and Development. 1992. Alan
36. Communities as Resource Management Institutions. 1993. Marshall W. Murphree.
37. Livestock, Nutrient Cycling and Sustainable Agriculture in the West African Sahel. 1993. J.M. Powell and T.O.
38. O.K., the Data's Lousy, But It's All We've Got (Being a Critique of Conventional Methods). 1993. Gerard G. Gill.
39. Homegarden Systems: Agricultural Characteristics and Challenges. 1993. Inge D. Hoogerbrugge and Louise O.
40. Opportunities for Expanding Water Harvesting in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Case of the Teras of Kassala. 1993.
Johan A. Van Dijk and Mohamed Hassan Ahmed.
41. Living in a Fragile Ecosystem: Indigenous Soil Management in the Hills of Nepal. 1993. Devika Tamang.
42. Community First: Landcare in Australia. 1994. Andrew Campbell.
43. From Research to Innovation: Getting the Most from Interaction with NGOs in Farming Systems Research and
Extension. 1994. John Farrington and Anthony Bebbington.
44. Will Farmer Participatory Research Survive in the International Agricultural Research Centres? 1994. Sam
Copies of these papers are available from the Sustainable Agriculture Programme, IIED, London
(3.00 each inc. p and p).
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA 42
The Sustainable Agriculture Programme
The Sustainable Agriculture Programme of IIED promotes
and supports the development of socially and environ-
mentally aware agriculture through research, training,
advocacy, networking and information dissemination.
The Programme emphasises close collaboration and con-
sultation with a wide range of institutions in the South.
Collaborative research projects are aimed at identifying
the constraints and potentials of the livelihood strategies
of the Third World poor who are affected by ecological,
economic and social change. These initiatives focus on
indigenous knowledge and resource management; par-
ticipatory planning and development; and agroecology
and resource conserving agriculture.
The refinement and application of Participatory Rural
Appraisal methods is an area of special emphasis. The
Programme is a leader in the training of individuals from
government and non-government organizations in the
application of these methods.
The Programme supports the exchange of field experi-
ences and research through a range of formal and informal
publications, including RRA Notes, aimed at practitioners
of Rapid and Participatory Rural Appraisal, and the Gate-
keeper Series, briefing papers aimed at policy makers. It
receives funding from the Swedish International Develop-
ment Authority, the Ford Foundation, and other diverse
International Institute for
Environment and Development
3 Endsleigh Street,
London WC1H ODD, UK
Telephone: 071-388 2117
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