Pay farmers to maintain ecosystem services (Sept)
Farmers should not only be paid for agricultural produce but also recompensed for managing natural ecosystems and preserving downstream water, according to Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas AO.
Ecosystems such as forests, streams and wetlands provide humanity with various services such as clean water and air and maintain a liveable climate.
“The ability of natural systems to purify air and water has been severely weakened as human demand for food, fresh water, fibre and energy has grown,” says Professor Douglas. “As a result, a massive wave of species extinctions is underway and will continue unless human attitudes change profoundly.”
Professor Douglas says the services provided by natural ecosystems to protect against land salinisation, absorb carbon dioxide and purify water must be recognised urgently as both precious and limited.
“Significant areas of our agricultural land are either unprofitable or marginal economically,” he says. “We need to consider adopting schemes such as the US Conservation Reserve Program whereby farmers are paid not to farm some of their land and to devote it to other things such as preserving wetlands, establishing wildlife refuges and tree plantation.”
Professor Douglas said we should also consider such proposals such as “Greenleasing” whereby farmers could sublease sections of their land to be managed by consortia including urban investors. These consortia would optimise the use of the land for ecosystem services. Such green-leased properties could employ some of the rural unemployed.
“Green-leasing would lead to significant expansion of land set aside for preservation of biodiversity and provision of ecosystem services,” he says.
“And we also need to look at combining conservation with conventional agriculture through management and harvesting of native flora and fauna,” he says. “We need to develop new partnerships between landholders and indigenous groups, and to explore niche food markets based on Australia’s native food and vegetables.”
Professor Douglas will address a free public meeting in Canberra on Saturday 17 September at Havelock House, 85 Northbourne Avenue, Turner, at 3.30pm. All welcome.
Bob Douglas 0409 233 138