Can Australia transition to an agroecological future?

Authors: Alastair Iles*,
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Australia and New Zealand
Keywords: agroecology, Australia, transitions, sustainable agriculture, food systems
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Roosevelt 5, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Australia presents a challenging case for making agroecological transitions. The country has developed its own industrial agriculture economy, takes a free market approach to agriculture, and strongly emphasises trade and exports. The enduring legacies of colonial history include the imposition of a European-style agriculture onto a continent with a vastly different environment; the erasure of pre-existing Aboriginal agriculture practices; and strong faith in the wealth of wool, wheat, and beef. Facing extreme climate conditions projected for the future, many researchers and policy-makers are envisaging solutions like automation, glasshouse hydroponics, and farming in the tropical north (where it has almost never succeeded). Federal governments have been hostile toward the concept of ecological farming.

How can agroecology take root in Australia? What openings exist for instigating a transition? Drawing on Giménez Cacho et al. (2018), I consider possible openings such as: using drought to re-contextualize food; making already-existing experiments by farmers and pastoralists into legitimate forms of people’s knowledge; developing agroecological techniques that work in the specific conditions of Australia; reviving and finding alternative crops and livestock indigenous to the country; and leveraging policies favouring ‘regeneration’ over extraction. By considering a difficult case, we can gain insights into what conditions are required for a transition to an agroecology-based agricultural system. It is not just about massification or scaling across, but about remaking the cognitive and historical bases of the agriculture of a particular region to begin with. It is about rethinking of what agriculture is possible, given pre-colonial landscapes and future worlds.

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