Message from the Director, Assoc. Prof. Ben Lyons
2019 will be a pivotal year for rural and regional Queensland. Or at least it should be.
Not just because of a federal election that closes one of the most challenging decades of leadership for the Australian federation, but potentially because a number of global research initiatives impacting rural economies in Australia also came to prominence.
In early May 2019 the United Nations published a comprehensive report on biodiversity with the “million plant and animal species extinction” headline and earlier in the year the medical journal Lancet published its EAT-Lancet report on healthy diets from sustainable food production systems.
And in investment space on the US Nasdaq tech exchange the IPO of Beyond Meat – a plant-based food company which within 24 hours of listing became valued at over USD $2.5 billion, all within days of Queensland’s AgForce, a body that represents livestock producers across the state, pulling the plug on the Grazing Best Management Program - a much lauded, producer-led voluntary sustainability programme owing to a conflict with the state government over privacy and data use.
Urban and rural views on what is best for rural Queensland and Australia are increasingly disparate.
Policy making takes place in a contested terrain of ideas, interests and power, woven in an intricate web of government, regional, industry and stakeholder relationships. As my colleagues Professors Hurriyet Babacan and Allan Dale from The Cairns Institute at James Cook University state early in their policy paper.
Rural/regional communities, industries and environments make a significant contribution to the vitality of Queensland. Regions are dynamic and diverse with their unique patterns of development and change. But they are also receding as a recent article from the New York Times echoes a narrative all too familiar for Australia.
The Rural Economies Centre of Excellence (RECoE) has been formed by four Queensland research institutions with funding from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries with the intention to have impact on how regions can survive and thrive into the future. Policy driven by rigorous economic analysis is a vital component in any successful community-led economic development.
Queensland is the most decentralised state in the country albeit with a strong south east corner that is home to one in seven Australians. For regional Queenslanders distance is an everyday tyranny that challenges the value chains our agricultural produce follow from origin to markets both domestic and increasingly overseas. Even the ability to digitally connect with an increasingly online but also highly urbanised population - 600 million Chinese consumers have come online in the past decade alone - is a challenge for many small and medium businesses that make up rural and regional Queensland.
Professor John Rolfe and his team at CQUniversity are leading a suite of value chain research projects for red meat, horticulture, and aquaculture that will be essential in our understanding of the future for these important Queensland value chains. Having had personal involvement with one of our regional “heroes” in the Wellcamp airport and its weekly freight link with Hong Kong understanding the challenges in creating value chains is one step further towards their long term success.
RECoE is a collaboration that embraces the diversity of its research locations from Cairns to St Lucia and research projects that run from the Diamantina to Atherton Tableland. Our RECoE colleagues at the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law University of Queensland led by Professor Brent Ritchie are looking to future opportunities for regions in tourism and the potential market mechanisms that work for environmental offsets for agricultural producing regions.
Regional innovation is a key theme for our rural research and now that the recent “start-up” craze has simmered down to the stark reality of customers and survival we have a portfolio of projects looking at innovation from a regional perspective and just how it can aid regional economic development. USQ doctoral candidate Chad Renando is leading world class research on the leadership of regional innovation initiatives where we look at the value of different regions to their local entrepreneurs and the economic development potential latent within a local “having a go”. What value do they contribute to their regions? How can we increase or nurture this value?
Policy decision making is increasingly complex and responds to a wide range of factors such as global economic impacts, technological change, environmental change and demands from regional communities for greater participation in decision making and accountability from governments. With this complexity in mind Professor Jim Cavaye at USQ is leading all of our researchers and their combined knowledge in delivering the impact component of our research work by curating a range of short courses primarily targeting regional economic development practitioners and leaders.
RECoE is an exciting research program for our state and its vast regions. I look forward to sharing our findings over the coming years.
Associate Professor Ben Lyons
Director of the Rural Economies Centre of Excellence
University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba