Bringing together a diverse group of people to discuss models of success in natural resource management opened up new opportunities for the Murray Valley at last week’s inaugural National Agricultural Productivity and Reconciliation Ecology (NAPREC) conference.
Held at the Deniliquin Golf Club on Wednesday and Thursday last week, more than 50 farmers, educators and doctorates from Charles Sturt University, scientists and government departments and industry worked collaboratively on issues and ideas.
The aim of the conference was to introduce the concept of reconciliation ecology by establishing Deniliquin as the central point for NAPREC.
NAPREC chair Louise Burge stressed innovative thinking can drive partnerships to achieve outcomes devoid of conflict and provide continuity of outcomes beyond political cycles and budgetary frameworks.
Edward River Council Mayor Norm Brennan led day one’s proceedings, beginning with an international video presentation from Dr Michael Rosenzweig, who is considered the ‘father of reconciliation ecology’.
Dr Rosenzweig’s book ‘Win-win Ecology’ identified how natural systems can co-exist in human dominated landscapes.
‘‘While NAPREC is still in its infancy, the support, commitment and enthusiasm from the conference and workshop identified common positions essential to achieving outcomes and this confirmed we are heading in the right direction,’’ Mrs Burge said.
Mrs Burge said the Deniliquin region has ‘‘incredible natural assets’’, and at the same time is a significant contributor to Australia’s agricultural sector.
‘‘It has a strong history of community projects and industry driven initiatives and benefits of university partnerships such as with the rice industry are widely recognised,’’ she said.
‘‘We can build on these opportunities if government increasingly values the benefits of working with local people to achieve environmental outcomes.’’
One of the guest speakers, CSU director of the institute for land, water and society Dr Max Finlayson said decision makers have been trying to link people and outcomes in the past 10 years.
‘‘However the role of communities are often under developed ... we do agree that involving people is the best way, and if we don’t it won’t work,” Dr Finlayson said.
‘‘It’s not top down processes but bottom up (that work).’’
Dr Finlayson described the benefits of incorporating science and diverse knowledge and explained they all have value in shaping natural resource management outcomes. This sentiment was echoed by many speakers during the conference.
CSU School of Environmental Science human geography lecturer Jen Bond highlighted the importance of relationships, trust and communications in process; what is legitimate, what isn’t and who decides.
Ms Bond described the value of diversity of knowledge and its importance to ecological and economic outcomes.
Mrs Burge said it was ‘‘fantastic’’ to have a number of university students studying environmental science and social science participating in the conference.
‘‘One goal of the conference was to encourage more farm visits by educational institutions,’’ she said.
‘‘By doing so, it allows more opportunities to exchange ideas and gives students and educators exposure into how agriculture in this region operates.
‘‘It was really rewarding to have so many people enthusiastic about the reconciliation ecology concept. It allowed workshopping on day two to progress ideas about NAPREC’s future.’’
The conference also included presentations from: Yarkuwa Indigenous Knowledge Centre senior project officer Karen Wilson, NAPREC founder Shelley Scoullar, Ricegrowers’ Association environmental projects manager Neil Bull, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage environmental water management officer Emma Wilson, Professor Peter Gell, Dr John Conallin and Wettenhall Foundation representative and farmer Adam Wettenhall.
There were also afternoon field trips, including to Mr Wettenhall’s property ‘East Tolans’ to learn more about landholder protection of the endangered Plains Wanderer bird and to Andrew Hermiston’s property ‘East Wandook’ to discuss establishing relationships and data collection and monitoring.
Mrs Burge thanked all the speakers and participants for the opportunity to have such positive discussions on aspects of the environment and its relationship with regional agriculture.