Protecting agriculture through better biosecurity

Plant biosecurity needs strong collaborative management, based on shared responsibility between government, industry, natural resource managers and the community. Our research is helping to build effective partnerships, and overcome knowledge management barriers.

The Challenge

Agriculture at risk

Plant biosecurity – measures to prevent the introduction of new pests or diseases – is vital to safeguard Australia's agriculture and environment. Changes to northern agricultural systems and increased trade through northern ports is increasing the risks to agricultural and environmental systems in both northern and southern Australia.

Plant biosecurity is a shared responsibility between government, industry, natural resource managers and the community, and relies on strong partnerships. Strengthening partnerships for plant biosecurity surveillance and management activities presents unique issues in northern Australia. Engaging northern stakeholders relies on the capacity of community, industry and government partnerships to use knowledge from different sources (for example, scientists, growers, indigenous groups and policy makers) to make decisions about possible courses of action.

Our Response

Research to build partnerships

Research under the Adaptive Social and Economic Systems program is investigating ways to design and build successful partnerships for managing plant biosecurity. The research is focusing specifically on the formal partnerships that convene during an emergency plant pest incursion event, and the informal partnerships used by stakeholders at the local scale during emergency and day to day management of plant biosecurity risks. This social research investigates how stakeholder groups source and evaluate information; how they manage and use different kinds of information; and if and how the partnerships they use could be improved.

The Results

Collaborative partnerships with shared responsibility for plant biosecurity

The ultimate goal is effective collaborative partnerships, where partners have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, the necessary skills and capacities to fill their role, and access to appropriate information from all relevant sources.

Key findings on the partnerships

Partnerships for emergency responses require:

  • Clearly defined roles, responsibilities, reporting and decision making requirements.
  • An adaptive approach to reach consensus to enable the initial stages of an emergency response to begin while committee and management group members wait on technical and political issues to be resolved.
  • Cost-sharing arrangements that acknowledge that uncertainty about knowledge and possible risks may delay the response.
  • Improved decision making and debriefing processes that critically integrate available knowledge from scientists, industry, local land managers (including indigenous groups) and local communities.
  • Decision-making processes that are transparent, accountable and trusted by all stakeholders.
  • Institutional capacity to develop collaborative partnerships between policy makers and land managers (vertical coordination), as well as partnerships between agencies responsible for plant biosecurity in neighbouring jurisdictions (horizontal coordination).
  • Information sharing and feedback that builds the capacity of local land managers to respond to plant biosecurity risks.

Partnerships for day to day management require:

  • Strong diagnostic skills and capacity of local, industry and government stakeholder groups.
  • Trusted government, industry and/or local advisers who can translate relevant scientific, local, technical and indigenous knowledge into a form that is easily understood by other stakeholders.
  • Partnerships that can respond to the plant biosecurity risks faced by local stakeholder groups.
  • Feedback loops through debriefing processes that provide partners with information about the impact and effectiveness of their advice and activities.

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