Community landcare, the National Landcare Program and the landcare movement: the social dimensions of landcare

Community landcare, the National Landcare Program and the landcare movement: the social dimensions of landcare Report

Bureau of Rural Sciences

  • Author(s): Cary, John, Webb, Trevor
  • Published: 2000

Abstract: This paper describes the social attributes of the landcare movement, how community landcare works and the implications for the continued growth of community landcare. Landcare has become a pervasive term among farming communities interested in dealing with land degradation. Despite this it is not coherently defined and consequently it is interpreted in a range of manners by a range of stakeholders. Accordingly we consciously differentiate between three elements of landcare; namely: the National Landcare Program, community landcare and the landcare movement. The National Landcare Program (NLP) represents governmental or bureaucratically defined landcare. Since the mid 1980s the NLP has evolved from four small community pilot projects, based on voluntary groups, to a national program funded under the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT). Community landcare represents the second element of landcare. We use the term to refer to the network of voluntary community groups that have been established across the landscape. Community landcare represents the most publicly visible manifestation of landcare. The third element of landcare is the broader landcare movement. The landcare movement encompasses community landcare and parts of the NLP. It is a less cohesive collection of individuals, groups and organisations generally concerned about land degradation. A defining feature of the landcare movement is the subscription of its members to a broad landcare ethic. Importantly the landcare movement will include individuals and organisations outside of community landcare as well as those that receive funding through other government funding programs such as Coastcare. There is significant evidence to suggest that community landcare has contributed to changing social norms about land conservation in rural areas. There are now over 4,000 community landcare groups across Australia. These provide a well of information that those in the broader landcare movement can draw upon, while not themselves a part of community landcare. Approximately 37% of broadacre and dairy farmers had a property representative who was a member of a community landcare group in 1998-99 with the highest level of membership reported in the wheat-sheep and pastoral zones. However, non-members attended training activities and accessed relevant land management information, highlighting the importance and influence of community landcare on the broader landcare movement. In the three years to June 1996, 59% of broadacre and dairy farmers participated in at least one community landcare training activity. While community landcare and the wider landcare movement have raised awareness of resource management issues among the rural community, adoption of more sustainable farming practices has been slow. Motivation, financial incentives, financial and skill capacity and appropriate technology are necessary before behavioural change can be expected. The operation of community landcare recognises the effectiveness of groups in promoting self-reliance, developing social capital and social norms that encourage the adoption of sustainable farming practices addressing on-site degradation. This participatory approach has become the dominant policy paradigm in Australia. Community landcare has contributed to this community development and social capital building by increasing awareness, extending skills and knowledge and developing networks that are conducive to the acceptance of sustainable farming practices. However, the direct causal relationship between the transformation of this social capital into the adoption of sustainable farming practices is less clear. In particular the links between pro-environmental values and attitudes, as furthered through community landcare and the landcare movement, and pro-environmental behaviour is tenuous. The continuing growth of community landcare will be dependent on the strength of community support for community landcare and for the landcare movement. This will depend on government support, general community support (including non-rural support) and the maintenance of rural enthusiasm for the landcare movement. The latter is likely to require the availability of realistic technical options and financial incentives. The critical element of continuing government support, and therefore the growth of community landcare, will be the ability to maintain wider community support in non-rural areas. Community landcare has been successful in achieving change, although this change has been incremental. It has been constrained by two major factors: managing common property issues on an individual property rights basis, and structural limitations including limited capital and human resources in rural areas, and a lack of feasible technical solutions to degradation issues which can be easily and profitably implemented on farms.

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Suggested Citation
Cary, John, Webb, Trevor, 2000, Community landcare, the National Landcare Program and the landcare movement: the social dimensions of landcare, Report, viewed 09 August 2022,

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