ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

National Agricultural Productivity and Reconciliation Ecology Centre (NAPREC) Conference

NAPREC conference participantsThe inaugural National Agricultural Productivity and Reconciliation Ecology Centre (NAPREC) Conference held at Deniliquin, Oct 4-5 with nine members from the Institute keen participants.

The theme of the conference was 'Positive Partnerships for Pathways to Sustainable Agriculture and Biodiversity'. The conference introduced the concept of 'reconciliation ecology' and highlighted the value of the human side of natural resource management (NRM.)

"The international term 'reconciliation ecology' recognises that the best chance of ecological success is accepting this can happen in human dominated spaces, as opposed to the traditional conservation theory that suggests we must try to restore ecosystems to their pre-European state," says NAPREC chair Louise Burge.

"The National Agricultural and Reconciliation Ecology Centre (NAPREC) is looking at ways to encourage successful environmental outcomes alongside agricultural productivity, while accepting that human intervention means it is impossible to return them to an original state. Our aim is to develop the Murray Valley as a national centre of agricultural productivity and reconciliation ecology. The Murray Valley is ideally positioned as we have many natural and agricultural assets, and, through education, research and building relationships, the opportunities are abundant."

The inaugural conference was the first event of the recently formed NAPREC and attracted an engaged group of farmers, researchers, industry and government representatives.

It included a video presentation from international scientist Dr Michael Rosenzweig, who is the father of reconciliation ecology and author of Win:Win Ecology - How The Earth's Species Can Survive in the Midst of Human Enterprise as well as presentations and a field trip.

Institute Director Professor Max Finlayson gave a presentation on the need to meet social and ecological outcomes through a whole of system thinking and how this contributed to reconciliation ecology. The key points from his presentation were:

  • Globally, biodiversity is under a lot of pressure and is in decline, including in Australia
  • Wetlands are drastically affected with a greater rate of loss than tropical rainforests
  • While wetland ecosystem services are valued, further work is needed to develop processes to ensure we get their benefits including possible incentives for landholders to encourage them to maintain the benefits for themselves and other people

Other presenters were:

  • Louise Burge (NAPREC chair) – the history of NRM in the Murray Valley
  • Adam Wettenhall (Wettenhall Foundation) – the Wettenhall family's involvement in achieving environmental outcomes and the importance of positive relationships
  • Emma Wilson (OEH Environmental Water Management Officer) -  private wetlands watering programs highlighting how positive partnerships have enabled successful environmental outcomes
  • Prof Peter Gell (Federation University) –agricultural landscapes and their role in providing habitat to bird wildlife
  • Neil Bull (RGA Environmental Projects Manager) -  how we can achieve win:win outcomes for production and biodiversity in human dominated ecosystems i.e. the Bitterns in Rice Project

The conference's field trip (on the Tuesday afternoon) included tours of East Tolans and East Wandook. As Max says: "The field trip was very informative and interactive with local landholder explaining how they are trying to manage their farms for production purposes and biodiversity outcomes – both the successes and the difficulties they face."

The Institute's Dr Jennifer Bond then gave an evening presentation on the social elements of NRM, focussing on the importance of relationships in managing and making decisions about natural resources. Dr John Connalin (IHE Delft) then used examples of his international projects to discuss community engagement with NRM and environmental water around the world.

The presentations were followed by a panel discussion facilitated by Max on reconciliation ecology including constraints and opportunities.

Day two of the conference consisted of workshop sessions on policy, research needs and the future of NAPREC, concluding with findings from the inaugural conference and key activities for the coming year.

"Without the support and engagement of all the CSU participants the conference and workshop would not have been as successful as it was. We look forward to building on NAPREC's relationship with CSU and possible partnerships in the future," Mrs Burge said.


Impressions from the conference

Drs Jess Shoeman, Luisa Perez-Mujica, and Daniel Svozil are PhD graduates from the Institute who are interested in social-ecological approaches to face complex problems in multi-functional landscapes. They attended the conference and wrote a blog on it.

A video on the conference has also been produced and other outputs are being prepared.

NAPREC progress meeting in December 2017

Five ILWS members met with NAPREC leaders and interested stakeholders in Deniliquin to discuss how the centre can best forward its core values of understanding, trust, ownership and partnership to encourage sustainable agricultural production in southern Australia.

ILWS director Professor Max Finlayson was joined by CSU social researchers Dr Jen Bond, Dr Paul Amoetang and Dr Wes Ward and PhD student Michael Vanderzee for the one-day event on 19 December.

“At NAPREC’s invitation we were investigating how ILWS and CSU can work with local farmers and ecologists to simultaneously promote sustainable agriculture and species conservation around Deniliquin,” said Wes.

The meeting consisted of a morning workshop of key players and interested parties to further progress the formation of NAPREC, and an afternoon field trip and discussions around the Frogs in Rice project funded by Rice Growers Australia.

“NAPREC is showing the way through its engagement with agencies and research institutions in order to develop a change in the way that we view natural resource management and interaction with communities,” said Professor Finlayson.

“It is a well thought through and determined approach to ensure appropriate dialogue and knowledge is brought to the fore and used to forge shared outcomes and benefits.”

The morning meeting sought to further develop a model for bottom-up whole-of-system approach to NRM suited to agricultural pursuits around the Murray irrigation region to establish NAPREC as an advisory organisation that values the human side of NRM, led by community concerns.

“NAPREC is looking to establish community-led projects using principles of adaptive, evidence-based research with opportunities for education at multiple levels,” Dr Ward said.

A proposed reference group of social and NRM experts would provide technical support in implementing projects.

During the visit to the Frogs project outside Deniliquin, participants were treated to a barbeque before visiting to a frog and tadpole monitoring site in rice paddies with local ecologist and CSU graduate Mr Matt Herring.

ILWS is now assessing what it can offer to help implement possible future NAPREC projects such as re-introducing the endangered Southern bell frog into the area, establishing wetlands on private landholdings, ecological monitoring using ‘citizen scientists’ including farmers, and educational opportunities with local landholders.