Australia’s female farmers are the ‘invisible women’ driving innovation in sustainable agriculture

48% of real farm income in Australia is produced by women, yet their work often goes unrecognised. However, this may be changing, as a recent article in The Guardian highlights the up-and-coming female farmers who are emerging as thought-leaders and innovators in sustainable agribusiness.

 

Anika Molesworth was named Young Farmer of the Year in 2015

 

When looking for examples of empowered female farmers, you need look no further than Anika Molesworth. She completed her undergraduate degree in agribusiness by correspondence after watching a ten year drought ravage her family’s farm in western NSW. She is now studying for a PhD in agriculture climate science and is experimenting with new technology on the farm.

“The younger generation are so much more aware of what is happening around the world. We do go travelling. We are studying with colleagues from all over the world and we are bringing those ideas to the farming landscape.”

 

Many women (50% of women on farms) support farming families through their work off-farm. As well as increasing farm income, this is one way that Molesworth hopes to have a greater impact on farming practices, by combining her farm work with being a consultant and educator in sustainable farming.

There are also those seeking to change how female farmers are viewed and understood at a societal level; Invisible Farmer, a new project funded by the Australian Research Council, aims to remedy the gender inequality which has been endemic in farming for centuries, and continues to be so, partly due to the fact that sons traditionally inherit the farm. The project aims to ‘create new histories of rural Australia [and] reveal the hidden stories of women on the land’. Katrina Sasse, a 29-year-old farmer from Morawa in Western Australia brings the encouraging news that around 10% of daughters are going back to work on family farms, and the number is growing.

 

“There are a lot of stories where women feel discontented because they feel ignored or they have been pushed away and they don’t have any influence in the decision-making on the future of the family farm.”

 

Sasse’s research looks at ways to get daughters more involved in family farms by examining what their strengths are, what they can bring to the business and how they can be included in the succession plan.

 

Read More ~ Women: the silent partners of agriculture by M. Alston of Charles Sturt University

Re-post ~ ‘Invisible farmers’: the young women injecting new ideas into agriculture by Fiona Smith in The Guardian

Let’s acknowledge Aboriginal success stories

Aboriginal writer and Indigenous Affairs editor for ABC News, Stan Grant, questions the ‘received wisdom’ that Aboriginal Australians are downtrodden in a recent article

 

Whilst acknowledging the history of ‘injustice and segregation’ and the accompanying disadvantage that Aboriginal Australians face on their way to success, Grant points out that ‘identity framed around misery can become a self-fulfilling prophecy’.

Instead, Grant encourages us all to wake up to the reality of the swathes of successful indigenous Australians who populate all aspects of Australian life.

Grant’s experience at the recent conference organised by Supply Nation highlighted this, as he found himself in a room full of highly successful Aboriginal people such as Kyle Vander Kuyp and Mark Ella, many of whom are millionaires and each of whom has earned their success through hard work and determination.

Grant would have us take notice of and celebrate the success of the vast number of Aboriginal people who have engaged with white Australia on their own terms, in order that we move away from the dominant stereotype of Aboriginal people as ‘demoralised, disadvantaged people’.

 

Aboriginal people are creating success in all areas of Australian life: Jim Wooding runs a thriving cabinet-making business on the Gold Coast

 

“The Indigenous middle class is growing. Indigenous people are on our television screens, on our stages and our sporting fields.

We don’t tell this story often enough. We don’t even yet have a language for Aboriginal success.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aboriginal lawyer Noel Pearson speaks of the double-edged sword of ‘soft racism’ from the white population, in the form of low expectations, and potential hostility from Aboriginal peers in the face of success. He counters this with examples of Aboriginal people who don’t pay attention to either narrative.

Grant also points out the importance of acknowledging the ‘alternate history’ of Aboriginals who engaged with white colonists, not as victims, but with dignity and success. He highlights the economic boom after World War II and the wave of ‘Aboriginal economic migrants’ who fought to find work and housing and schooling for their children, and their grandchildren, who are now graduating university in droves.

Re-post ~Don’t call them disadvantaged: Successful Australians redefining what it is to be Indigenous by Stan Grant for ABC News

Read more ~ Aboriginal success stories

Doughnut Economics: Finding the sweet spot between social justice and environmental sustainability

In her new book Doughnut Economics economist Kate Raworth presents an alternative economic model which takes into account both environmental sustainability and social justice.

Raworth’s theory describes a doughnut in which the outer ring represents the planetary boundary (the limits of the earth’s natural resources) and the inner ring delineates the social boundary (the basic needs of a human population).

She points out that these are two factors which have been left out of traditional economic models, which she believes have been massively oversimplified.

The space in between, the substance of the doughnut as it were, is the ‘safe and just space for humanity’, the sweet spot of a regenerative and distributive economy.

For a more detailed explanation of the doughnut model, see Raworth’s TEDx Talk below:

The doughnut has been welcomed by many commentators as a basis for further debate and development of a new economic model which is more suited to the realities in which we live. Others have used it as an aid to consider the environmental and social impact of their lives or organisations; asking the question, for example, ‘Is our brand a doughnut?’

Co-founder of Yes! magazine, David Korten, is very impressed with the doughnut. He considers it ‘both the nail in the coffin of conventional economics and the real-world-based intellectual structure from which an authentic real-world economics for the 21st century can grow’ and he leaves his readers with this advice:

 

“For anyone contemplating signing up for a standard economics course or degree to help them solve real-world problems, I highly recommend buying and reading Doughnut Economics instead. You will save time and money and avoid the risk of serious brain damage.”

 

Read more:

Community saves itself from ruin with ‘give it a go’ attitude

Whilst the closure of a major employer in a small town can often be devastating for the community, a small town in northern Victoria has shown that it doesn’t have to be so. A recent ABC News article highlights the ‘can do’ attitude with which residents overcame the shock of 146 job losses and created the thriving farmer’s market and music scene which now define the town.

When the Heinz sauce factory in Girgarre closed down in 2012, residents were afraid it would mean the end of their small town. But instead of giving up, they knuckled down to come up with ways to generate funds for community projects themselves. Although many were dubious when Doug Gray, a member of the Girgarre Development Group (GDG), suggested the town should start its own farmers market, they decided to give it a go.

 

Starting with six stalls, the farmer’s market in Girgarre has gone from strength to strength and now has 150 stalls.

 

This has resulted in huge success for the community allowing them to self-fund maintenance for sport facilities, the local Country Fire Authority, the RSL and a community car for medical appointments.

Another heartening measure of their success is the fact that the local kindergarten, also saved by funds from the farmer’s market, will have a record intake this year.

Added to this, the town now has a thriving music scene thanks to the Girgarre Moosic Muster festival, which initially focused on people who had no musical experience but were keen to learn an instrument. Around 900 people have now gone through the workshop program and their monthly jam sessions attract musicians from all over northern Victoria. This has created a much wider community for the 190 people who actually live in the town.

Jan Winter, chair of the GDG, believes that this kind of solution is applicable to any small town.

 

“What they’ve got to do is search for the ideas that can help empower their own communities because nothing’s impossible, we’ve found that one out.”

 

Re-post ~ Tiny town of Girgarre in Victoria’s north shows ingenuity in the face of job losses by Peter Lusted for ABC News

Aussie solar company (em)powers rural farmers

An Aussie startup company, Village Infrastructure Angels (VIA), has launched a social enterprise project which leases solar set-ups to villagers in developing countries.

By providing rural communities with access to solar-powered lighting and phone charging capabilities, as well as shared agro-processing facilities, company founder and solar entrepreneur Stewart Craine hopes to cut dependence on fossil fuels, improve agricultural productivity and empower communities.

 

 

So far the project has proven to alleviate the time burden involved with food production, particularly for women, and open up possibilities for other paid employment. This has been achieved by leasing solar powered mills to communities to help them grind and de-hull grains. A mill shared between a group of families can turn what used to be a highly labour-intensive task into a five-minute doddle, improving agricultural productivity and freeing up time for other activities.

Introducing solar technology in these rural communities also decreases their reliance on fossil fuels as it provides an alternative to kerosene lamps and diesel-powered generators.

 

 

Craine, who also helped found the solar lighting group Barefoot Power,  has already attracted interest from investors for this new project.

 

“…pilot projects have so far proved that local teams could quickly generate sufficient revenue from a modest number of solar power projects in rural villages to cover their daily operating costs, and additional revenue which accumulates in the bank to repay investors.”

 

The company has achieved its pilot goal of reaching 1000 households and plans to reach 10,000 households by 2018 and a whopping 200,000 by 2020. This is in an effort to help more of the 1 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity.

Re-post ~ New Aussie solar start-up empowering rural farming villages by Sophie Vorrath in One Step Off the Grid

Fraser Island national park re-named in recognition of traditional ownership

The area of national park which takes up most of Queensland’s Fraser Island has been re-named K’gari (pronounced ‘gurri’) in honour of the local Butchulla creation story.

The Butchulla were granted native title over Fraser Island in 2014 and have incorporated their three laws into new signs which advertise the new name at the island’s three barge landings.

 

The three laws of the Butchulla people are included on the new signs: “What is good for the land comes first; If you have plenty, you must share; Do not touch or take anything which does not belong to you.”

 

The rest of the the Great Sandy National Park on the mainland south of the island, will not have a name change.

Elder and Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation director Ms Bird emphasises the importance of this first step in the name change and the new signage:

 

“It’s important because everyone, especially the Butchulla people, when they go over there and they step onto K’gari, Fraser Island, and see our signs, they will know that this is our country.”

 

In the Butchulla people’s creation story, K’gari was a spirit princess who helped to create what is now known as Hervey Bay. Believing that land to be the most beautiful place ever created, K’gari asked to stay there and was transformed into the island, where she remains to this day.

 

K’gari/Fraser Island is famous for its miles of white-sand beaches and freshwater perched lakes.

 

Ms Bird continues her 30 year campaign to re-name the island as a whole. Although the Government designated K’gari as an ‘alternative name’ in 2011, many of the area’s traditional landowners would like to see the name given equal status with Fraser island, as has happened at Uluru/Ayer’s Rock.

Re-post ~ Fraser Island’s national park renamed K’gari, meaning paradise by Jess Lodge on ABC NEWS

Turnaround as Tamworth welcomes diversity

A recent photo essay in the Guardian tells the stories of several families who are newcomers to Tamworth. The article notes the turnaround in the community’s attitude towards outsiders. It also celebrates the work of Multicultural Tamworth, an organisation which has been instrumental in creating greater understanding and appreciation of diversity through ‘open and honest discussion’.

In 2006 Tamworth attracted national criticism by voting down a proposal to re-settle five Sudanese families who were fleeing from war and persecution. However, the Guardian’s photo essay tells a different and very refreshing story. What’s more, Eddie Whitham, the founder of Multicultural Tamworth ~ an organisation with the ethos of being good “neighbours to newcomers” ~ says the region is now welcoming and celebrating diversity.

“Tamworth is very much home, a great community.” Says third-generation Fijian Indian, Shalini Pratap who moved to Tamworth in 2003.

 

Nicole Li, an engineering surveyor, arrived with her husband and 9-year-old son in 2014 on a skilled migrants visa. ““Coming from Beijing, we love the quiet and less-stressful lifestyle. We feel very free.”

 

Deborah Manyang moved to Tamworth in 2015 after spending time in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. “It’s safe here,” she says. “We can’t hear guns or see soldiers. We’re happy. It’s a new future for our children, they are adapting well and the local people have been very helpful.”

 

Tamworth cavalcade

Multicultural Tamworth and immigrant families took part in Tamworth’s country music festival for the first time this year, reflecting the change in attitudes.

 

This year’s Australia Day marked the changing attitude to multiculturalism in Tamworth when 37 Tamworth residents became Australian citizens.

Eddie Witham is working to see this trend continue.

 

“We need to find a common ground. It’s not going to work if we have isolated people. We want to make our town work. The hope is that this will become a natural thing ~ that there will be no us and them.”

 

Re-post ~ ‘Neighbours to newcomers’ ~ portraits from Tamworth by Lisa Maree Williams in The Guardian Australia

Healthy soil, not large scale agriculture, is key to feeding the world

In a recent article in The Conversation, a professor from the University of Washington busts some myths about industrialised agriculture and presents his findings on worldwide regenerative farming practices, which suggest that ‘the key to sustaining highly productive agriculture lies in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil’.

 

Soil building practices, like no-till and composting, can build soil organic matter and improve soil fertility. Photo: David Montgomery,

A recent United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation report shows that, contrary to popular belief, over three-quarters of the world’s food production happens on small family farms. This is opposed to the large-scale industrialised ones which feed most of the developed world. Linked to this, Montgomery points out that large farms are not, in fact, likely to be more efficient than small ones:

 

“According to a 1992 agricultural census report, small, diversified farms produce more than twice as much food per acre than large farms do.”

 

Add in a 2015 meta-analysis which showed less than a 10% gap in food production between conventional industrialised farms and organic farms where cover crops were planted and crops were rotated to increase soil fertility. Combine it all with the fact that about a quarter of all food produced worldwide is never eaten, and it begins to seem like industrialised farming really isn’t necessary to meet food production needs after all.

Rapid and effective soil regeneration is possible and it is the key to ‘a stable and resilient agriculture’. The adoption of regenerative farming practices such as no-till methods, cover cropping and complex rotations, along with the deep understanding of the particular qualities of the land and socioeconomic environment made possible by small-scale farming, leads to the ability to use fewer inputs to produce higher yields.

In order to speed along the uptake of farming practices which focus on soil health, David Montgomery calls for system-scale research, demonstration farms and, perhaps most importantly, changes in agricultural policy and subsidies, to encourage farmers to adopt regenerative practices.

Read about Starfish’s work in this area:

Biochar For Sustainable Soils is a project which seeks to share knowledge and build capacity around using biochar-based organic amendments to improve soil quality.
The Living Classroom in Bingara is a visionary project working to turn the Town Common into a visually beautiful, working regenerative farm  as a centrepiece for education, research, tourist activities and functions.

Re-post ~ Healthy soil is the real key to feeding the world by David R Montgomery in The Conversation

Rapid glacier melt changes course of major river in only four days

In a strikingly visual demonstration of the effects of global warming, the Slims River in the Yukon area of Canada has almost disappeared overnight. Analysis of data collected by a team of scientists who documented the change shows that there is a 99.5% likelihood that this event was caused by post-industrial climate change due to human activities.

 

The Kaskawulsh River has a dramatically increased flow due to the extra water which has been diverted from the Slims River

The Kaskawulsh River, seen here near its headwaters, is running higher now thanks to the addition of water that used to flow into the Slims River. Photograph: Jim Best/University of Illinois

 

The Slims, which was previously around 3 metres deep and up to 150 metres wide, has been re-directed into the Kaskawulsh River by a period of intense glacier melting which caused an alternate channel to be carved into the ice and re-directed the river’s flow. This has resulted in a huge increase in water being carried to the Gulf of Alaska rather than into the Bering Sea. It has also left the Slims as a dried out dust bowl.

Although evidence of similar events has been detected in the distant past, this is the first instance of ‘river piracy’ to be documented in the modern era.

There have been knock-on effects for local ecosystems including Alsek River, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage region and is now receiving significantly increased flow from the glacier. Although the area is sparsely populated and the impact on human settlements has so far been limited, the analysis points out that this kind of instant and massive restructuring of a river system could be devestating in an area where people rely on a watercourse.

 

Prof Lonnie Thompson, a paleoclimatologist at Ohio State University, said the observations highlight how incremental temperature increases can produce sudden and drastic environmental impacts. “There are definitely thresholds which, once passed in nature, everything abruptly changes,” he said.

 

Read more ~ River piracy and drainage basin reorganization led by climate-driven glacier retreat in Nature Geoscience

Read more ~ Receding glacier causes immense Canadian river to vanish in four days in The Guardian Online

Read more ~ Abrupt glacier melt causes Canadian river to vanish in four days in ABC News

Investors snapping up community energy projects… which are selling out in hours!

solar panels bakers maison

Within six hours of it opening, investors had pitched in to invest in one of the newest community funded renewable energy  projects,  a huge 230 kilowatt solar system on the roof of Bakers Maison in western Sydney.

The public appetite for community-funded renewable energy appears to be limitless, with projects proving so popular they are selling out within minutes of being offered to investors.

This latest initiative, saw 20 investors pitch in almost $400,000 in total in just six hours.

The project has been set up by volunteer-run ClearSky Solar Investments. The company will pay investors for the solar energy it uses over a period of between seven to 10 years. The investors get a 7% return on the money they put in. After that time, the business owns the panels and will use its energy for free.

“There’s a huge appetite out there for people to invest in renewable energy, we just need more projects,” ClearSky Director Warren Yates said.

Bakers Maison employs 120 people and runs every day of the year, baking and freezing French-inspired products that are sold to all corners of Australia. “We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility bills,” General Manager Pascal Chaneliere said.

The bakery already had a 100 kilowatt solar power system, which will now be bolstered by this new, much larger community project. Mr Chaneliere said getting investors involved to help out with the costs of the new solar panels would help further reduce their bills.

“We signed a contract for the cost of electricity for the next coming years, so it makes a lot of sense. We know exactly what will be the expenditure for the next five years.”

David Blowers from the Grattan Institute said community projects had potential to save the electricity grid from expensive upgrades that are passed on as costs to consumers. He said network businesses should look to get involved in some community projects.

“You want to see a framework which encourages the right sort of solution for the right sort of problem,” Mr Blowers said. “At the moment it’s a one solution fits all, which is you build more poles and wires.” He added his view that Government needed to look at the way the grid costs were regulated to make sure costs were spread fairly.

More than 50 community solar projects are up and running across the nation, with individuals investing almost $24 million in total.

But Australia remains well behind Denmark, which has 5,500 projects up and running, many of those wind farms.

Scotland has more than 500 community energy projects, while Germany has 880 energy cooperatives.

 

Re-post ~ Investors snapping up community-energy projects | ABC News
Read more ~ The surprising asset ordinary Aussies are investing in | News.com.au