Western Australia Agricultural Region Example

The case of the Western Australia (WA) agricultural region is an example of a large-scale SES retrospective analysis trying to examine the region's resilience dynamics and capacity for change and renewal. The analysis framework was composed by coupling the description of the history of the WA region, with trends in landscape and natural resource degradation, political and demographic transitions, and their interpretation with reference to long-wave economic cycles and the adaptive cycle. The behavior of the system over time was depicted by a set of five indicators selected from the ecological, economic, and social systems. Two iterations of the adaptive cycle can be identified looking at system changes between 1900 and 2000, underlining that the WA agricultural region has experienced sequential periods of growth and accumulation followed by reorganization and renewal, and currently is in the back loop (reorganization to exploitation phases) of the adaptive cycle. The events or practices that characterized the different phases of the adaptive cycles are summarized in Figure 4.

The major land use in the WA agricultural region is broadacre agriculture, and this accounted for more than 70% of the area in the year 2000 (Figure 4). A land-cover-change analysis shows that landscapes have been irreversibly modified and transformed from heterogeneous and species-rich systems to specialized systems with low species richness and loss of system functions. The loss of important natural system components and the removal of extensive areas of native vegetation, primarily between 1900 and 1990, altered the region's microclimate

Land form shape, vegetation successions, livestock populations

Geomorphological and climatic processes ilia « .¿z c a>

Brachypodium e s

Direct human management (manuring and cutting)

Lowland hay meadows

Primary native vegetation

Crop, pasture, commercial forest and secondary native vegetation

Spatial scale (m2)

Figure 3 Retrospective analysis of resilience and fragility for two different types of grassland habitats typical of northern Italy mountain chains: lowland hay meadows directly managed by man and more natural Brachypodium grasslands. Grayed boxes describe ranges in systems properties evaluated for each grassland types within identified spatial-scale domains (i.e., scale intervals where certain processes sustain particular system's states). Black arrows show the interval of spatial scales where relevant processes take place in affecting grasslands' properties for different scale domains and habitat type.

and the hydrological cycle, causing water tables to rise, and contributing to the reduction in biodiversity and natural system's resilience.

The dynamics of land-use change between 1900 and 2000 were driven by macroeconomics and technological developments at the global scale and mediated by a command and control policy by institutions at the national and state scale. By treating the natural system as if it were independent of the socioeconomic system, a reactive policy and command and control management in response to crises has dominated the WA agricultural region until the 1990s, each new policy responding to the effects (side effects or unintended effects) of the past policy. The regulatory policies were then substituted first by voluntary participatory policy encouraging partnerships of institutions at catchment, regional, state, and national levels and then with a national-level market-based mechanism to manage natural resources in response to a perceived lack ofproperty rights. Agricultural intensification was a major feature of the second adaptive cycle (Figure 4) and helped to produce a false social perception of stability in the system while the region was experiencing resource depletion, environmental pollution, and social decline. The trend of increasing wheat yield while achieving productivity targets under conditions of command and control policy masked other social and ecosystem variables that indicated a system in a state of

Unproductive land

Primary native vegetation

Crop, pasture, commercial forest and secondary native vegetation

1900

1925

1950 Years

1975

2000

1900

1925

1950 Years

1975

2000

Figure 4 Retrospective analysis of the socioecological system of the Western Australian agricultural region. A time series of the percentage of three broad land-cover classes and of the number of farm establishments is presented along with identified adaptive cycle's phases and relative level of resilience expressed between 1900 and 2000. The seven periods can be labeled as (1) 'forward move' (1889-1929): land settlement and expansion of agricultural areas, high wheat and wool prices; (2) the 'depression and war' (1929-45): low wheat and wool prices, farms abandoned, drought; (3) the 'recovery' (1945-49): farm amalgamation, technological and scientific innovation; (4) the 'postwar boom' (1949-69): expansion of agricultural lands, favorable climatic conditions, cheap and abundant fuel, overproduction; (5) the 'Troubled Decade' (1969-79): market regulation (wheat quota introduced), widespread land degradation, including salinity, drought; (6) the 'environmental awareness' (1980-90): habitat protection (Conservation through Reserves), Australian Conservation Foundation, and National Farmers Federation alliance; (7) the 'decade of landcare' (1990-2000): institutional reorganization through partnership programs at national, state, and regional levels for natural resource management.

change. Significant areas of nonproductive land, due to inundation and soil salinity, appeared within 100 years of the first major phase of land clearing for agriculture. The number of farms rose to a maximum in 1968 then steadily declining to a minimum till 2000 (Figure 4), and the mean age of farmers increased from 48 to 52 years between 1990 and 2000, prompting for a major restructuring offarming enterprises caused by the unsustainable rise in farmer age as older farmers exit the industry. The increased level of production came at the cost of continuing and increasingly rapid erosion of the resilience of the natural system and degradation of the natural resources on which the industry itself depends and in which the true costs of production are not accounted for in either the natural or the social system. Novelty in technology effectively redefined the system and thus prevented the WA agricultural region from crossing critical thresholds and changing from one stable state to another.

The system's adaptive capacity has switched from primarily depending on regional natural factors to direct reliance on institutional intervention and sophisticated technology, often generated at the global scale. The system has become vulnerable because of mismatches of scale and decoupling of the slow-moving ecological variables (e.g., hydrological cycle and biodiversity) and the SES driving fast-moving variables (e.g., policy and food production). Sources of novelty have been eliminated within the system and functional diversity reduced. Even with the ability to redefine the system by creating novel futures through technological advances, the WA agricultural region will still rely on a continuous stream of new technologies, institutions, or social adaptations to cope with surprises and uncertainties and to support resilience.

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