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By  James Chesters 17 June 2024 4 min read

Key points

  • Our Drought Resilience Mission’s partnerships aim to reduce drought impact, investigate how to build resilience, and enable faster recovery.
  • We’re collaborating with government, industry, community, and Traditional Custodians to proactively prepare for, and combat, drought.
  • We're seeking cultural perspectives on drought, developing drought-resistant livestock food, and giving farmers a future climate view.

Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world. Based on measured drying trends across southern and eastern Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology (the Bureau) expects increasing drought frequency and severity.

Western Australia (WA)'s Water Corporation says rainfall in the south-west has reduced by around 20 per cent since the 1970s. The trend is predicted to continue. In 2024, WA’s centuries-old Marri and Karri forests are at risk of ecosystem collapse.

When the water ran out in some regional communities in 2020, towns like Stanthorpe in Queensland started trucking in water for residents.

This is why our scientists are collaborating on research, independent policy advice, and co-designing evidence-based actions to combat drought through our Drought Resilience Mission.

The Australian Government recently announced $519.1 million over eight years to deliver the second phase of the Future Drought Fund (FDF). It takes collective effort to realise significant change, and this funding will help us work with farmers and regional communities to build capacity and resilience in different areas. Let's dig into three of our Mission’s diverse projects.

Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world. We’re collaborating with government, industry, community, and Traditional Owners to proactively prepare for, and combat, drought.

Seeking cultural perspectives on drought

It’s increasingly recognised that Indigenous cultural knowledge and environmental insight is fundamental in managing Australia's environment.

Max Fabila is a Jabirr Jabirr man, connected to Country in coastal west Kimberley, WA, and an Indigenous research officer with us. Max is working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia, co-designing new Indigenous-led research approaches.

The Cultural Indicators for Drought Resilience project helps bring Indigenous knowledge and perspectives into our ongoing stewardship of Country. The project’s shared benefits include giving Traditional Owners a greater voice in drought and regional water decision making and planning. It is using local knowledge to tackle Australia's major challenges.

Max says knowledge of Country is found in oral culture and is shared in everyday conversations.

"Our mob are very knowledgeable, resourceful, and creative people who know what causes problems on their lands, waters and in their community, and what's needed to fix them," Max says.

“Our culture has the power to reshape science and research in Australia, underpinned by 60,000-plus years of this continent's stories and knowledge."

Cultural knowledge may tell us about potential indicators of drought and what we can do to improve resilience. The project also aims to preserve and help pass on cultural knowledge to future generations. Together, this will help build a baseline for understanding cultural indicators for drought resilience in these regions.

Drought-resilient forage for livestock

Working with farmers to combat livestock feed shortages in dry periods is an important part of our mission. In this work, we developed the forage shrub Anameka Saltbush as part of a multi-organisational research and industry collaboration.

Anameka is more nutritious than the wild Oldman Saltbush, more appetising, and it can help regenerate the land. In turn, this helps build capacity and drought resilience in communities.

Our senior principal research scientist Hayley Norman leads the Anameka Saltbush project. Hayley says experimental outcomes, modelling, and farmer feedback shows that Anameka is most beneficial during dry seasons.

"Livestock producers in southern Australia face annual feed gaps over summer and autumn when there is low rainfall,” Hayley says.

This period can be extended or exacerbated during a drought.

"Farmers give animals feed supplements to meet their energy, protein, vitamin and mineral requirements during this time," she says. 

"Anameka offers a long-term solution to feed gaps, as it grows for over 20 years if managed well."

Anameka Saltbush is suited to dry, saline and nutrient poor conditions, and helps improve ecosystem health. By using water in summer, the shrub helps manage the water table and reduce salt near the soil surface. Plants that are more sensitive to salt can then regenerate and, together with saltbush, prevent soil erosion and desertification.

Together with the Future Drought Fund and Meat & Livestock Australia, we're demonstrating Anameka systems in new areas. Since 2015, more than 325 producers across the country have purchased and planted more than six million Anameka shrubs.

Senior Principal research scientist Hayley Norman says experimental outcomes, modelling, and farmer feedback shows that Anameka saltbush is most beneficial during dry seasons.

Future view of our climate

In 2023, wineries across Australia had one of the hottest, wettest summers known. They recorded their lowest harvest in over 20 years.

We're working with partners including the Bureau, through the Climate Services for Agriculture project, to develop My Climate View. It’s a free online tool that provides commodity and location-specific climate predictions for the next 50 years. It's funded by the Australian Government's Future Drought Fund.

My Climate View projects higher temperatures year-round for grape growers, with autumns up to 1.4 degrees warmer by 2050. If you're a farmer, what might you do differently if you could combine your expert knowledge with climate projections? You might shore up on-farm water security, diversify your farming, or adapt future investment decisions.

We led a study published in Nature Climate Change, which assessed how climate projection tools help farmers perceive future climate risks. Researchers introduced 24 farmers to My Climate View and asked them to identify and discuss long-term risks considering its projections.

Our research scientist Yuwan Malakar is the lead author.

"Our research showed that farmers have been using weather and seasonal forecasts to make on-farm decisions. Using multi-decadal climate projections, however, needs new skillsets, motivation, and technology," Yuwan says. 

“In my interviews with farmers, I found that My Climate View helped them better understand their future climate risks and work out how to manage them.”

My Climate View can be applied to more than agriculture. It reduces the psychological distance of a changing climate by clarifying its opportunities and risks.

Making climate change more relevant can help us all, collectively, make informed choices about drier conditions. With this information, we can collaborate to work towards and build greater drought resilience.

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