Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority (GHCMA) and the Beyond Bolac Catchment Action Group (BBCAG) want to improve their engagement with farmers on wetland protection in south-west Victoria.
Around 44% of Victoria’s wetlands (swamps) are located in this region, many of which are located on private land.
To assist their future engagement efforts, GHCMA and the BBCAG collaborated on a project with BehaviourWorks Australia to capture the opinions and experiences of farmers on how wetland protection can co-exist with cropping practices.
Complemented by insights from the behavioural sciences, the research aimed to assist in the development of future relationships, resources and approaches that respond to the daily decision-making of farmers and the practicalities of implementation.
What did we do?
The project involved three phases of research:
- A workshop (and follow-up site visits) with farmers and key stakeholders to identify farm practices that impact on wetland protection.
- A series of interviews with farmers to explore the different influences on decision-making and practice, as well as how wetland protection can co-exist with cropping (supplemented by a brief evidence review of effective farmer engagement approaches)
- A workshop where the results from the interviews and the evidence review were presented, along with options for future engagement and support strategies to assist farmers in wetland protection.
What did we learn?
From the interviews, we identified a number of tensions between cropping and wetland protection. These included the need for greater clarity around defining what a wetland is, why they should be protected, alternating opinions around whether wetlands are an asset or a liability to farming and the weighing up of different drivers and barriers when it comes to the decision to crop (or not) wetlands.
Furthermore, we collated insights on the merits of using GPS coordinates to program machinery to avoid wetlands.
We also asked farmers what approaches or strategies would need to be established to promote wetland protection. In addition to addressing the question of what needs to be protected, why and how, other considerations included addressing the distrust between farmers and non-farmer groups, and the need for incentives to support farmers to protect, manage and create value from these wetlands, so not to be financially penalised for having them on their land.
These suggested approaches can be further supplemented by insights from the behavioural sciences that recognise some of the unconscious influences that impact on decision-making.
Such insights include considerations related to personalising messages, harnessing the influence of social norms, loss aversion and anticipated regret, designing more compelling incentives (e.g. group incentives), and taking account of moments where farmers have greater cognitive bandwidth to engage on matters outside their daily decision-making processes.