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Research organisations: Hassall & Associates Pty Ltd, GPO Box 4625, Sydney, NSW 2001; ASIT Consulting, PO Box 328, Hawker ACT 2614
Sponsors: Department of Primary Industries (DPIE, now AFFA); Environment Australia (EA)
Collaborators: State Departments of Agriculture/Primary Industries
The objectives of the Drought Landcare Program (DLP) were to stimulate on-ground activity at a time when resources and environmental values were vulnerable to degradation from widespread and severe drought, and the capacity of the farm sector to respond was limited, and also to mobilise long-term unemployed people in these activities.
The purpose of the evaluation of the DLP was to determine the effectiveness of the DLP against its objectives, including those sub-components dealing with control of invasive species and assistance to Cultural Heritage projects.
The evaluation covered the overall effectiveness of the Program and individual project results, and also 'catalytic' effects and negative environmental impacts. The evaluation also examined the effectiveness of linkages between the DLP and Commonwealth labour market programs, the efficiency of program delivery, including the use of State government agencies and the potential wider implications of the DLP model.
The methodology was designed to obtain objective information to help assess whether project and program objectives had been met. Oral interviews were used to cover the full range of issues with individual project organisers, farmers, and departmental officers.
The project team looked at success criteria for projects and the program, factors within and not within the control of the program, program activities used to influence those factors (feedback), and information about performance.
Land management activities, funded through DPIE, included landcare activities, such as fencing off stream and river banks and providing water supplies to protect the riverine environment by preventing livestock from eroding banks and polluting river systems. Nature conservation activities, funded through Environment Australia included establishing and fencing vegetation corridors to provide protection of native flora and fauna
Results from the evaluation indicated that, although success has been mixed, the DLP had, in general, been effective in meeting its objectives. There was a major increase in resources spent (including by farmers) on landcare activities, and useful progress was made also on employment.
Farmers had their morale boosted significantly by the evidence that 'people were interested in their problems', particularly during drought. More resources were contributed by landholders than envisaged when the projects were first put forward.
Based on general analysis of the effect of landcare activities in reducing land degradation, the benefit/public cost ratios achieved in the DLP were quite high in the land management component of the program (funded through DPIE). Public/private benefit ratios achieved were high in the nature conservation component of the program, funded through EA.
Reporting and monitoring of land and water management was in some cases well below that required in Commonwealth/State agreements. The rate of submission of final reports for projects under the land and water management component of the DLP was very low (25 per cent - 40 per cent), and financial acquittal reporting was only at about the 70 per cent level for the latter year of the program. This was considered unsatisfactory in terms of public accountability, reflecting a number of factors. Landholders and others associated with the projects saw their main responsibility as getting the work on the projects done and completed. Reporting after the event on the effectiveness of the projects was often seen as of low priority. In contrast, the quality of reporting on many of the environmental projects was often very high.
Several hundred long-term unemployed people obtained employment under the DLP. The unemployed mostly came from local districts. Re-employment rates after the conclusion of projects varied from zero in some cases to 80 per cent or more in others. There was general agreement that most people employed under the labour market programs had benefited from the experience, both in the training they received and in the experience of work discipline. Little paid employment was provided under the program for farmers, members of their families, or farm workers.
The impact of the labour market programs on the DLP itself was rather mixed. Some of the labour market components were believed to be highly successful. The quality of supervision of work teams was found to be of fundamental importance to the success of those teams. Landholders need to have more realistic expectations of what can be achieved in practice from these programs, yet be advised of the considerable potential benefits.
The Cultural Heritage component of the DLP has been effective in giving a worthwhile return for the Commonwealth funds expended, in terms of the quality of the work done, its usefulness in drought-affected areas, and the financial contributions made by other parties. In the three States examined, about 70 per cent of projects have at this stage been satisfactorily completed and reports lodged, about 23 per cent are still in progress or stalled, and 7 per cent did not proceed. The sample of projects physically inspected as part of the evaluation indicated that the work on projects has, in general, been done to a high standard.
Period: starting date1997-08; completion date 1998-07
Keywords: drought, landcare, rural employment, vegetation corridors, riverbank protection, evaluation.
Hassall & Associates Pty Ltd (1998). Evaluation of the Drought Landcare Program, Report for the Department of Primary Industries & Energy.
Hassall & Associates Pty Ltd (1998). Evaluation of the Drought Landcare Program, Report for Environment Australia.