Keys to engaging farmers in environmental change: Part 1

The iconic Rere Falls and Rockslide near Gisborne have been the focus of a two-year environmental project that attracted local and national interest after being finalists in the Government’s 2017 Green Ribbon Awards. This five-part series takes a closer look at the key points identified as being vital for this project’s success that will be relevant to similar projects around New Zealand.
Monday, 7 August 2017

Rere project overview

The Rere Falls and Rockslide are a popular swimming and recreational spot on the Wharekopae River. However, E coli contamination is compromising water quality to the extent that permanent signage warns people of the health risks and not to swim there.

Two years ago, Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ), the Gisborne District Council, Ministry for the Environment and Rere farmers formed a collaboration to bring water quality up to a swimmable standard. There was strong farmer engagement in the project and social researcher Rachael Trotman was asked to explore the reasons for this.

Rachael’s work revealed five factors that were critical for success:

  1. A shared emotional connection and a clear goal
  2. Building good relationships between agencies and farmers
  3. Involving farmers from the start and asking them for solutions
  4. Providing farmer incentives, such as funding and access to free expertise
  5. Making clear gains and measuring progress.

Exploring #1: An emotional connection and a clear goal

Build the project focus around a place that people feel strongly about.

Rachael says the Rere Falls and Rockslide are much loved places in Gisborne and people are highly motivated to make them places they can feel proud of again.

“A swimmable river was a goal that everyone in Rere could get behind.

“Identifying a clear goal – ideally with communities – like bringing tui, eels, blue duck or trout back, or being able to harvest food – motivates people to engage.”

Council Resources Officer Alice Trevelyan says the common goal of a swimmable river has driven the project from the get-go. “All parties have worked together to improve the water quality, so the permanent signage can be removed.

“Everyone has a strong connection to the river and want it to be a place where their children – and all future generations – can swim.”

A Southland perspective

There are many farmer and community groups around the country, aiming to emulate the success of the Rere project and other projects like it.

Southland farmer Dave Diprose is involved in the Pourakino catchment group project, which aims to improve water quality in the Pourakino Arm of Jacobs Estuary.

Dave echoes the message that a clear goal at the outset helps galvanize farmer support, but he says a clear goal alone is not the only path to success.

“It’s better to make a start with the information and experience that you have, than be overly concerned about the destination, the perceived result and how that looks.

“It’s like whenever you start a tramp. You come across another tramper along the way and learn more about the track ahead and adjust your decision accordingly to the information that is most relevant. That’s what this process is like. Farmers are not unused to this way of thinking.”

Stay tuned for Part 2

Part 2 of this 5 part series will explore 'Building good relationships between agencies and farmers'.