Open conversations needed to build on resilient rural communities

Farmers, businesses and people living in rural communities will be urged to engage more openly and more often with city folk and policy makers, during a public event in Birchip next week.

Keynote speaker Gabrielle Chan, a political journalist and author, said open conversations about adapting to climate change were necessary to ensure decisions were based on accurate information.

“We hear a lot of people say ‘Politics has got nothing to do with me’, but it impacts on our decisions all the time and we have to have a say in that,” she said.
“People need to talk about what they’re facing, and how practices have changed over the last couple of decades. Only by talking about it will non-farming populations in Australia understand and hopefully support the policies agriculture needs to have.”

Ms Chan, whose book ‘Rusted Off: Why country Australia is fed up’ was last week named a finalist in the 2019 Walkley Book Awards, will address a breakfast from 7.30am as part of the Building Climate Resilience event at the Birchip Public Hall on October 29.

The city-born daughter of a Chinese migrant, Ms Chan moved to her husband’s sheep and cropping farm in country NSW in 1996. She identified climate change as an issue during the “noughties drought” and in the years since noted how climate change went from being a bipartisan issue in 2007 to a partisan one by 2010.

Ms Chan said farming culture was traditionally very insular and many people were loath to talk about their experience of climate change or how practices were changing, but having open respectful conversations was vital.

“We need to start talking about it more because the thing that worries me is the future of communities in the rural landscape,” she said.
“Food production is changing so much that in five or 10 years’ time food growers won’t look the same as they do now. If you can make meat in a petrie dish and it tastes the same – particularly if you can make it cheaper – people will pick it up and consume it. There’s only a certain sector of the market who will actively go looking for wholefood products.”

Ms Chan said the pace of change in food production meant it was time to focus on identifying what Australia wanted from its rural communities and how to manage the landscape.

“Do we want it managed in very large licks of country by particular people or companies?” she asked.
“Or do we want it managed by more diverse communities that might be smaller? Do we want a return to the squattocracy of the 1900s or a more diverse landscape with lots of different growers and businesses that create a safety net against the boom-bust cycle?”

The Building Climate Resilience event will continue from 9am to 5pm, with a keynote speech from Australian National University Climate Change Institute director Professor Mark Howden and updates on the climate outlook, risk, and regional responses to drought.

The afternoon program offers workshops on a wide range of topics, including diversification, farming and small business innovation, technology, improving connectivity, and opportunities in energy and environmental services.

Entry to all sessions is free, but registrations are essential for catering purposes.

More information is available at www.bcg.org.au/events

The Building Climate Resilience event is a joint initiative of the Buloke Shire Council, Birchip Cropping Group, North Central Catchment Management Authority and Mallee Catchment Management Authority, with funding through the Federal Government’s Drought Communities Program.

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