Second-year results from the uniquely collaborative, sector-wide Community Trust in Rural Industries (CTiRI) project have been released and delve into the key drivers of community trust and acceptance for Australia’s farmers, fishers and foresters.
The results stem from a 2020 survey of 5358 Australians, ranging in age, gender and backgrounds, to gauge their attitudes toward rural industries.
It was pleasing to note that, of the community members surveyed, about 80 per cent identified their area of residence as the city, metropolitan or suburban regions.
And most strongly supported Australia’s rural industries.
It also appears that COVID-19 has heightened the largely city-based community’s appreciation for, and trust in, our rural industries.
Overall, the project found rural industries remain an essential part of our economic strength and national story.
Due to new measures added to the latest research, we noted a trend for community members wanting to build connections with farmers, fishers and foresters through the food and fibre they purchase and use.
These products have power well beyond material value, as they help to forge a genuine relationship between wider community members and rural industries.
In terms of environmental stewardship, the performance of rural industries in managing environmental impacts remained the strongest driver of community trust.
The metropolitan community also endorsed the view that environmental management is a shared responsibility across all rural industries.
Through the survey, we explored in more detail the role that city-based community members saw themselves playing in this shared environmental responsibility.
Almost two-thirds – or 62.4 per cent – of respondents agreed they had a role to play in managing the environmental impact of our rural industries.
More than half – or 52.2pc – agreed they were willing to shift their consumption habits to sustainably-produced products, even if these were more expensive.
Only 16pc disagreed with this, and 32pc were neutral.
One result that stood out to me was 82.6pc of the Australians surveyed stated they would support the government in providing extra financial support to our rural industries’ efforts to become more sustainable.
Australia’s agricultural and rural industries certainly need to be part of the solution.
But the Australian community understands our industries can’t be left alone to foot the bill.
People appear to recognise that environmental responsibility is something we all have a stake in.
This intersects with another discovery from the latest research – that Australians feel strongly about regional communities receiving a fair share of the benefits produced by the nation’s rural industries.
Overall, the survey found rural industries are perceived to be more responsive to community concerns now than they were 12 months ago.
This is a fundamental component of building trust.
To maintain the community’s trust and acceptance, we are being asked to speak up about the issues people care deeply about.
That is why it is time we talked seriously about shared responsibility for environmental management, across our rural industries, regional and city communities – and government.
NOTE: The CTiRI is a cross-sector initiative involving eleven Rural Research and Development Corporations, the National Farmers’ Federation and the NSW Department of Primary Industries to build the capacity of food and fibre industries to productively engage with the community.
– John Harvey is the managing director of AgriFutures Australia