J16.3
Building an integrated evidence-base to support drought policy in Australia

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Thursday, 27 January 2011: 11:30 AM
Building an integrated evidence-base to support drought policy in Australia
618-620 (Washington State Convention Center)
John Gray, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics-Bureau of Rural Sciences, Canberra, ACT , Australia; and M. Nicholson, D. Platzen, S. Bruce, J. Walcott, and J. Sims

Drought policy in Australia is continually evolving. Early last century the focus was on “drought proofing” farms through the construction of irrigation infrastructure. Subsequent approaches saw droughts treated as natural disasters requiring government relief. More recently, it was recognized that droughts are a recurring feature of the environment as a consequence of regional climate drivers, especially El Niño Southern Oscillation. This recognition led to the establishment of a National Drought Policy in 1992 in which farmers were expected to assume responsibility for managing drought risks and the role of government was to foster self-reliance. In addition, the government would provide short-term assistance in exceptional circumstances where rare and severe drought events were beyond the ability of even the most prudent farm managers. This period saw the development and application of a suite of decision-support tools to support farmers' self-reliance and assist in streamlining the policy implementation process.

The National Drought Policy has been reviewed several times since its inception, often in the aftermath of a major drought event. All of these reviews found that the drought assistance programs implemented by governments have inadequately promoted the objective of self-reliance. A key driver of the most recent review was the likely impact of climate change on the agricultural sector. Projected increases in the frequency and severity of future droughts have rendered the existing definition of a one in twenty-five year event an inappropriate trigger for drought assistance. The review recommended shifting the existing policy away from crisis management towards on-going risk management by focusing on self-reliance, preparedness and the adoption of climate change management practices.

Possible measures to assist farmers to manage climate change and climate variability include investment in research and development; preparedness measures; adjustment measures; and extension and provision of information. Disparate policy areas—including water, natural resource management and climate change—all impact on the agricultural sector, so drought policy is ideally developed and managed within the context of an economy-wide policy framework. This level of complexity marks drought as a “wicked problem”. Finding a solution to this problem will inevitably require building an integrated evidence-base across the biophysical, economic and social domains.