Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Community crucial for catchment groups

Farmers need to drive catchment groups from the bottom up but it’s those groups’ relationships with their wider communities that will ensure partnerships are inter-generational in improving water quality, while at the same time maintain vibrant rural communities.

Founding member of the Pomahaka Water Care Group Lloyd McCall says catchment groups need to have plenty of people involved as it makes it harder to lose momentum because there’s always someone with the next idea.

Farmers need to drive catchment groups from the bottom up but it’s those groups’ relationships with their wider communities that will ensure partnerships are inter-generational in improving water quality, while at the same time maintain vibrant rural communities.

That was one of the messages from Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s recent final catchment group e-forum, which featured catchment leaders Emma Crutchley, Lloyd McCall and Roger Dalrymple.

Dalrymple, who chairs the Rangitīkei Rivers Catchment Collective (RRCC), says for catchment groups to be successful they need to be led by farmers who understand why such groups are necessary.

But he says what’s also needed is a vision for the whole community, with those people closely involved helping to share stories about work being done.

Being farmer-led means change will come from the bottom up, which will help educate farmers on what can be done rather than force things on them, the latter more likely to chase them away, while enabling the wider community to tell others of ongoing work will help regain public confidence in what farmers and landowners are doing.

Crutchley, who is on the governance committee for the Tiaki Maniototo, Upper Taieri Wai Catchment Restoration Project in Central Otago, agrees.

“For us, it’s all about community,” she says, with her group’s stakeholders not only farmers or others involved in the primary sector.

“They might be cribbies (batch owners), or they might be visitors to the area. It’s about allowing space for everyone to take a bit of ownership and for everyone to feel included in working on something collaboratively.”

She says for that to work, groups need to welcome a range of ideas from those who want to take part.

“If someone has got a cool idea, just get behind them.

“When you’ve got that positive vibe you’re building an environment where other people want to be part of that and when you bring people together collectively, they are really effective at solving some of these challenges.”

McCall, a founding member of the Pomahaka Water Care Group in south-west Otago, says a range of ideas is important because one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to catchment groups.

“If you have plenty of people involved it makes it harder to lose momentum because there’s always someone with the next idea.

“You’ll never lose momentum because there is always somebody who has got the next idea if you have plenty of people involved.”

The presenters were united in saying that for catchment groups to be successful and involve the whole community, they need to extend beyond their core focus, although that cannot be forgotten.

Dalrymple says RRCC members look at other issues, including organising farm planning and greenhouse gas workshops, weed control, while one sub catchment group is looking at the need for a cell phone tower.

“We’re (also) getting a preliminary assessment done on what we can grow and do in our area by planting food.” 

Crutchley agrees.

“One of the things that’s been (talked about) around here is a recycling station, how do we solve on-farm waste collectively?

“Those are types of things that bring people together.”

Dalrymple and McCall say there is also a need to focus on the social achievements that catchments can make.

The RRCC includes a barbecue and drink catch-up part of all events it organises, while the Pomahaka group has a similar approach.

“You’ve got to be prepared to do stuff over a cup of tea. If you’re trying to do hard core planting project-based stuff all the time people get sick of that,” McCall says.

All three presenters agreed that although government funding is important to catchment groups, the current funding model needs to change.

“We have to learn to survive without the support of the government,” Dalrymple says. 

“This is a learning curve for government as well, for MPI and MfE.

“I don’t think we’ve got it 100% right the way we’re doing it but some financial support is definitely appreciated, it’s just how it’s being provided at the moment.

“We don’t want it to go away tomorrow but if we end up depending on it solely we’re in trouble.”

Crutchley, speaking from a perspective of a catchment group that went from having nothing to being a $6m project, says dealing with that funding creates its own issues.

“Be careful what you bite off to chew because it’s a hell of a beast in terms of reporting and that is money that actually takes away from outcomes.

“That’s a hard pill to swallow.”

McCall says sometimes external funding is very helpful but there is a need for a new funding model.

“If all the funding was pulled tomorrow we’d all be pretty flat for quite a while.

“(But) we need to work out ways to get consistency of funding, rather than just going on a three-year lolly scramble.”

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