Emerging opportunities for developing a diversified land sector economy in Australia's northern savannas

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Abstract

We explore sustainable land sector opportunities for Australia's 1.2 million km2 northern savanna rangelands where extensive beef cattle pastoralism is the predominant contemporary land use. Our focal region is characterised by mean annual rainfall exceeding 600 mm, ecologically bountiful wet season water availability followed by 6-8 months of surface water deficit, mostly nutrient-poor soils, internationally significant biodiversity and carbon stock values, very extensive dry season fires in pastorally unproductive settings, a sparse rural population (0.14 persons km-2) comprising a high proportion of Indigenous people, and associated limited infrastructure. Despite relatively high beef cattle prices in recent seasons and property values escalating at a spectacular ∼6% p.a. over the past two decades, long-Term economics data show that, for most northern regions, typical pastoral enterprises are unprofitable and carry significant debt. Pastoral activities can also incur very significant environmental impacts on soil and scarce dry season water resources, and greenhouse gas emissions, which currently are not accounted for in economic sustainability assessments. Over the same period, the conservation sector (including National Parks, Indigenous Protected Areas) has been expanding rapidly and now occupies 25% of the region. Since 2012, market-based savanna burning projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions occur over a further 25%. Returns from nature-based tourism focussed particularly on maintaining intact freshwater systems and associated recreational fishing opportunities dwarf returns from pastoralism. The growth of these latter industries illustrates the potential for further development of profitable 'ecosystem services' markets as part of a more environmentally and socially sustainable diversified regional land sector economy. We outline some of the imminent challenges involved with, and opportunities for developing, this new industry sector.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-330
Number of pages16
JournalRangeland Journal
Volume40
Issue number4
Early online date8 Jun 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2018

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