Environmental governance is a concept often used in the political ecology and environmental policy as an advocation for sustainability (Bodin, 2017). The primary difference between environmental governance and the environmental government is based on the authority to undertake and drive the changes associated with sustainability. Environmental governance emerges as an advocacy whereas, the environmental government is the source of action and policy drafting through elected representatives in a functional democracy (Li et al., 2018). Climate change, pollution, and the rise of toxic chemical dumping in the environment have been a prime concern that has established the need to acknowledge the importance of sustainability and make responsible decisions for the development (Bodin, 2017).
As the population is becoming more aware of the need of sustainable measures in the society, it becomes important to underpin the significance of environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) in driving the change in the society towards a sustainable future (Na, 2016). Use of toxic chemicals in the agricultural industry are of the major environmental problems in Australia (France et al., 2019). Even with several regulation guidelines about the kind of fertilizers that can be used on the agricultural land in Australia and the promotion of organic agriculture practices (Singh, 2017). This essay will discuss the role of environmental NGOs in environmental governance and see the shift in the regimes based on how the participation of public institutions like NGOs impacts the decision making and regulation by the government. This essay will also highlight the importance of environmental NGOs in driving a positive change in the agricultural industry in Australia. The dichotomy of the opinions about their impact and action will also be discussed for a holistic perspective.
Use of heavy chemicals present in insecticides, pesticides, and fertilizers has a major impact on the environment (Sharma & Singhvi, 2017). Use of excess chemicals in agriculture not only harms the natural state of land and soil impacting the natural fertility but also severely impacts the water table and water resources that are polluted by leaching of these chemicals from the agricultural land. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) underpins agriculture as both, a cause and victim of water pollution (Lundqvist & Unver, 2018). This becomes a crucial consideration in terms of Australia where water scarcity is a persistent issue. The agricultural runoff impacts the water bodies and directly contributes to eutrophication. The process of eutrophication is defined as the presence of excess nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen in the water body to promote plant life and dense growth resulting in algal blooms, and depleting the water oxygen severely impacting the aquatic life (Boyd, 2020). The process is directly associated with agricultural runoff. This also affects the drinking supplies and results in hypoxia for aquatic life. Algal blooms in Australia are largely present in the freshwaters (Sharma & Singhvi, 2017).
Several management strategies have been adopted by the Government of Australia to mediate this through commonwealth and state schemes like Murray darling Basing algal management scheme. The coastal pollution through agriculture has also been a major menace for the Australian Great Barrier Reef (Parris, 2011). The barrier reef ecosystem is stressed with farming nutrients, pathogens, and pesticides. Parris (2011) also argue that the water entering the reef through poor agricultural practices and urban sewage is impacting about 25% of the area. The Government of Australia has taken several steps to limit the agricultural sun off and promote organic agricultural practices in the country. This includes the establishment of Environment protection legislation and promotion of organic farming. “Organic Producers Advisory Committee” has been established by the Commonwealth Minister of Agriculture (Government of Australia, 2020). Further, certification agencies like Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) and National Sustainable agriculture, Australia have also been developed (Government of Australia, 2020).
The Organic Federation of Australia has been designated as the regulatory body for the same. The international code of conduct for the suitable use of fertilizers has also been developed by FAO that have also formed the basis to the fertilizer use regulation in Australia (Anisimova, 2016). The focus of the government is to develop sustainable agriculture practices to minimize the damage that is caused by land use. This has a special focus on the conservation of the water bodies and water quality improvement by the management of the runoffs (Government of Australia, 2020). Even when the government has played a significant role in the establishment of the policies and determining the quality and quantity of fertilizer use permitted in the Australian land, the role of the environmental NGOs has been inevitable in driving this action. The action against toxic runoffs by the government and the participatory body as becoming a priority for Australia for several reasons. These include water scarcity, poor management of agriculture, and a threat to aquatic life including the great barrier reef (Government of Australia, 2018). The “environmental government” of Australia has taken the essential steps that are required for the management but have also been assisted by the non-governmental bodies to a large extent.
The Australian environmental NGOs have played a pivotal role in the agricultural and environmental schemes in Australia. These NGOs have been foundational and have acted at local, state, and national levels to drive sustainable agricultural practices (Cullen-Knox et al., 2020). Several Australian environmental NGOs that have been significant in the environmental and agricultural governance of Australia include “Landcare Australia, Greening Australia, Bush Heritage Australia, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, The Wilderness Society, and The Nature Conservancy” (Freudenberger, 2018). These NGOs have also worked at ground levels for local implementation of the policies in association with the catchment management authorities and natural resource management authorities. The need and impact of these organizations van be understood by articulating the importance of a participatory approach for environmental management and sustainability (McDonald, 2016). The environment is a complex system that is developed by various components that interact and provide feedback to each other in a complex reaction system.
When the fertilizers are poured down the water bodies, the chemical content, properties like pH, salinity, and toxicity are directly altered. This affects the local niche and the biodiversity in this region. As the land use increases to enhance the productivity in agriculture, more and more fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides are often loaded on to the land (France et al., 2019). Productivity enhancement is one reason for excessive fertilizer use in agriculture. The second cause can be identified with the consequent degradation of the soil fertility that compels the farmer to use a high concentration of chemicals in the agricultural practice (Singh, 2017). Since the soil mineral needs are subjective to the crop cultivated in large number cases, the use of chemical fertilizers becomes more prevalent. The NGOs play a crucial role at this intersection where they convince the farmers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices like organic farming to minimize the soil degradation and water toxicity produced by the chemical fertilizers (France et al., 2019). It is intriguing to understand how the role of NGOs is different from that of the government in promoting practices towards sustainability.
The government purchases the environmental outcomes largely through the direct and indirect benefits to the farmers. This sure ensures a leaning towards the practices, however, the advocacy for the need remains poorly understood for successful implementation. The environmental NGOs are therefore essential as they not only connect with the workers on the ground but also ensures their well being through facilitation, education, and guiding to the sue of sustainability practices (Murphey-Gregory, 2018). The success of the environmental NGOs is based on several reasons, these include, direct reach with the people and scope of taking risks and ability to innovate. Since people working in NGOs are directly in contact with the people in the community providing them direct access to their needs and the problems which can be addressed through suitable action driven by participatory approach and advocacy (Fordham & Robinson, 2018).
Freudenberger (2018) uses the term “environmental brokers” for the environmental NGOs as they can address the local, regional, and national environmental challenges. It has also been identified that engaging farmers, at times is not enough, application of the established policies on the ground is largely supported by the NGOs in several forms. The environmental NGOs undertake an entrepreneurial approach where they get the opportunity to work at several scales is established. This is not always true for government as their regulation and mode of implementation may have an approach specific to the region of governance (Allan & Hadden, 2017). By the action of the environmental NGOs, the public estate of natural action is established through a participatory approach and advocacy. This allows these organizations to possess a varied and flexible approach for the funding, resource allocation, and management, that is not possible for the government agencies.
The environmental NGOs also act by playing a significant role in the process of lobbying the governments to direct funding for the environment through various agriculture and environment schemes. For instance, the “National Landcare Program” was initiated by a proposal arising from the collaboration between the “Australian Conservation Foundation and the National Farmers Federation in Australia” (Keith, 2017). Since the NGOs are in direct contact with the masses, they are also able to get the most suitable feedback for policy and suggest amendments, changes, revisions, or even need of new policies based on the population needs. The environmental NGOs in Australia have also been successful in highlighting the importance of the Great western woodlands of south-west western Australia dominated by agricultural practices (Freudenberger, 2018). The environmental NGOs serve as a progressive voice for the organic or green farmers that may not be otherwise well represented in the state and national organizations driven with political benefit. It is often argued that productivity often forms the premise in the agricultural sectors rather than a form of practice and natural conservation (Gulliver et al., 2019).
The environmental NGOs, therefore, serve to be the voice to and promote organic and naturally healthy services. The Australian Centre for international agriculture research (ACIAR) identifies that the role of NGOs in establishing sustainable agriculture in Australia is fundamental. It has been recognized that NGOs help in the spread of sustainable research practices of ACIAR to the local and marginal communities. For instance, NGO engagement in the soil fertility program by the ACIAR provided global success (Marslen, 2014). The environmental NGOs, therefore, promise regional leadership and help in the adoption of more sustainable practices and promoting healthy agriculture by reaching out to a larger audience. Since climate action and environmental degradation are not individualistic problems, they demand participatory action through learning and incentivization, NGOs working towards sustainability and organic agriculture play a monumental role by working as “broker” between the masses and the government.
It is often argued that the “environmentalism” of the NGOs can be maligned by the financial benefits that are provided to the NGOs for action in terms of philanthropy that can make the actions and advocacy biased (Gulliver et al., 2019). The Government actions are controlled and monitored with findings that are regulated by the budget allocations ensuring a zero-sum accounting for actions. Whereas, Most environmental NGOs function with the charities. This can make them act as a business with the ability to carry over the funds to the next annual year and earn in surplus and maintaining financial reserves. The action could be directed based on the funding received generating biased approach taking action. This often results in large funding driven to the NGOs by private organizations like the Potter Foundation Farmland Plan have invested in the various donations to the environmental NGOs of Australia (Freudenberger, 2018). The conservation and environmentalism have been associated with agriculture with the co-option of environmental conservation as international law. The environmental NGOs played a crucial role in this process that was finally succeeded with Rio Earth Summit, 1992.
This has led to the emergence of terms like “Extremists” to be used for environmental activists associated with NGOs in several countries including Australia (Matejova et al., 2018). In Australia, another challenge that has emerged between the environmental NGOs and the indigenous population where the study by Pickerill (2018) asserts how the action of environmental NGOs have been more focused on the political benefits than environmental advocacy. However, the debate with action-driven through NGOs has often been also rebated with arguments that assert that the action of the NGOs presents a dichotomy between “reform” and “radicalism”, “contention versus expertise”, and “resistance versus cooperation” (Berney & Rootes, 2018). It is often discussed that the environmental NGOs are trapped in actions and may participate in compensatory tradeoffs. Since the vigilantism and action of the NGOs are often based on community perception and action, the scientific validity, rationality of action, and practical feasibility of the demand raised by the environmental NGOs are also often debated.
Another problem that is associated with the action of environmental NGOs is a debate of their mode of action to be seen as long-term advocacy or a contemporary action for the growth of the NGOs by gaining public support and attention. Berney and Rootes (2018) argue that environmental NGOs often establish their demand and set an agenda to shape and dictate their needs in a political scenario for personal gains as well. This affects the defiance of mutual trust towards the environmental NGOs. The focus has shifted from the green action and sustainability-driven changes for the environmental NGOs and has been occupied with the recognition of individualistic concerns and compromising on the advocacy. This makes the action of NGOs in driving a positive change towards sustainability ambiguous and debatable.
As the awareness of about the environmental advocacy and action rises pushing individuals to adopt sustainable activities, the role of government and need of environmental governance have played an essential role. Leaching of toxic chemicals from agricultural land to the water sources has been a major problem in Australia for several reasons, first, the land is dry and often faces water scarcity. This leaching further makes the water polluted and increases the burden. Secondly, the use of excessive toxins and chemicals in agriculture results in water pollution with its impacts seen on the aquatic biodiversity in the form of algal blooms, erosion of the great barrier reef, et Cetra. To address the same, the government has launched several policies and schemes to ensure limitation on the number and concentration of chemical additives used in agriculture and promotion of organic agriculture.
The role of environmental NGOs has been pivotal in the implementation of these decisions on ground levels through the direct action and development of a participatory approach. However, the action of environmental NGOs has also been often debated to be highly extremist in certain instances and focused on business perspectives through tradeoffs and minimal focus on sustainability and environmental advocacy. It can be debated how impactful the environmental NGOs are and how their modus operandi can be improved for maximized efficiency and beneficence for the environment. Yet, their role as a broker or a connecting link between the government and masses and ability to drive cumulative action for sustainability remains their primary strengths asserting their importance and need in environmental advocacy.
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