Advisers as diverse as artists, activists and even poets may be invaluable sources of advice to help land users make sustainable land use changes.
Research by Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research on how farmers, foresters and orchardists will adopt sustainable land use methods has found these “agents of change” can be more diverse than conventional farm advisers, bankers and peers.
“We were looking to better understand the range of influencers that will lead to land managers making more sustainable land use decisions,” project lead Melissa Robson-Williams said.
The research is part of Landcare’s “moving the middle” research that aims to better understand how landowners can be given more agency and confidence to improve their environmental performance.
“It is about recognising farming is part of a system, it is complex and interconnected with points of constraint. The aim is to free up those points to allow managers to take more action on the land,” she said.
Their work has identified 80 examples of agents working on land use change in New Zealand. While identifying the diversity of agents, it has not told the researchers which are being recognised and which are not.
Survey work is identifying those agents and attaching a level of leverage they have in terms of their power to make changes to the land use systems, from “tweaking” to “medium” to “deep” changes.
Tweaked changes may involve relatively superficial adjustments, like installing a new irrigation system without changing the land management below it.
Moderate leverage can include overseeing changes to laws or policy, and deep leverage involves changing the entire system’s operation, goals and time horizons.
“The changes made at a shallow level can be quite expensive, versus a deep level where the costs can be lower. But deep leverage requires deep political investment to get the changes made, while values and mindsets are also hard to change.”
Some of the lessons learnt to date include encouraging landowners to think about who or what they may support when making changes to improve sustainability.
Agents are also likely to intervene at different depths, and owners need to consider if the agent’s depth is aligned to theirs.
“And often we think we are intervening at a different level than what we are.”
There are also different agents suited to whenua Māori property, compared to European land models.
The research has three years to run, with Landcare aiming to get results on agent types and their depth of leverage out as survey results continue to be completed.