Investing in sustainable agriculture in Queensland, Australia

 

Client: World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Australia | April - May 2019

Challenge

The Australian federal government, through the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund has committed funds to a number of Queensland dam projects for feasibility studies and, in one case, construction. These investments are politically popular in regional electorates, but do not represent good value for money.

The push to construct new dams for subsidised irrigation water will likely lead to an expansion of agricultural activities in catchments that flow in the Great Barrier Reef.

The reef is already under existential threat from poor water quality and climate change. Though targets are in place for reductions in pollution, agricultural expansion is likely to incompatible with government reef policy and is likely to increase rather than decrease the levels of nutrient and sediment pollution entering the reef lagoon and causing damage to coral.

Construction of new dams also has broader environmental impacts, such as interrupting environmental flow regimes, which can affect breeding habits of aquatic animals, blocking fish migration routes, loss of habitat from inundation and greenhouse gas emissions from rotting vegetation in the flooded area.

Alternatively, similar levels of government investments in schemes to help farmers invest in improved agricultural practices, particularly for sugar can farming, grazing and banana production, could meet the entire projected costs of meeting the pollution reduction targets in the Reef 2050 Plan. Plus, this would put many agricultural producers on a path to greater efficiency and profitability, with less pollution.

WWF engaged Altus Impact to undertake a cost effectiveness analysis to assess outcomes for investments into new dams when compared to investments in sustainable agriculture.

Actions

Altus Impact undertook an economic assessment of the business cases for a new of bulk water projects planned for Queensland, in Australia. It also interrogated a number of key policy documents and infrastructure investment frameworks and data sources for the costs and benefits associated with investments in sustainable agriculture, particularly for sugarcane farming, grazing and banana production.

The research was topped and tailed with a forceful executive summary and a compelling case for WWF to make to policy makers, in the middle of the 2019 federal election.

Impact

The report was concluded at the start of the 2019 Australian federal election for maximum impact. It enabled WWF to engage potential future government members (from both sides) on how welcome investments in rural Australia could be better spent to achieved a broader set of objectives, including reducing pressure on the Great Barrier Reef.

The project helped WWF strengthen its work on its Great Barrier Reef water quality improvement programme.