Rolling out AWM beyond commercial orchards
Hort Innovation is looking to social research to guide higher adoption of area wide management (AWM), especially among community members in districts close to commercial horticultural production.
By definition, area wide management (AWM) is a pest management approach that targets all pest habitats within a region, not just those where there may be economic damage. This is a sensible approach for mobile pests that can keep re-entering commercial properties. Queensland fruit fly (Qfly) is a good candidate for AWM; it is mobile, it can damage a number of different crops and it can be a problem for backyard gardeners.
Two social scientists working on the Adaptive area wide management of Qfly using SIT project, Drs Aditi Mankad and Barton Loechel of CSIRO, have undertaken a significant amount of research and found that there is high acceptance of AWM and interest in sterile insect technique (SIT) among both commercial producers and community members. This is great – but putting it into practice is not so easy.
Community participation in AWM
The good news is that the social research found strong community spirit in the regions examined, with many people saying they felt it was important to help their commercial fruit growing communities. In addition to this community spirit, people are more likely to participate if they feel confident in carrying out tasks required for AWM (what the researchers call ‘self-efficacy’).
Commercial growers have to deal with pests all the time and are adept at many pest management strategies so it makes sense that community members may have lower self-efficacy. However, they are motivated to help. This suggests that empowering a community by highlighting the positive impact individual members can have and providing education and support could be effective.
The next step is knowing how to best connect with a community; the means of communication are important. The research highlighted that local government has an important role to play. Councils were found to be the preferred and trusted source of information for the general public in some regions so involving local government in any AWM approach will help.
Residents indicated that the community often looked to local councils for leadership on issues of public significance and was therefore likely to welcome council initiatives around Qfly management. Transparency in the governance of fruit fly efforts was also an important factor, and identifying key community leaders or ‘champions’ would help to reinforce messages.
What the community needs to know
Messages around the benefits of AWM will underpin the willingness of community members to participate in AWM, but only if messaging is simple, clear and consistent. This could involve highlighting direct and indirect benefits of Qfly management for the individual, as well as local growers
and the region. Direct benefits could include reporting lower incidences of fruit fly breakouts in summer, and indirect benefits could be a reduction in overall pesticide use and more prosperous local industries. Clear messaging around specific tasks (such as hanging traps) is really important; the message is more likely to be successful if the benefits are understood.
And just as complexity in messaging is off-putting, so is complexity in activities. For successful adoption of AWM activities, those activities should ideally fit within any programs that already exist on the ground. The research showed that people were more receptive to simple instructions and more accepting of activities that were easy for them to carry out. However, keeping activities simple will require good co-ordination to ensure consistent efforts.
Everyone has to be involved
Most of all, the research showed that the likelihood of participation in AWM by growers and other community members was most affected by the concept of ‘fairness’. People were concerned about ‘free-riders’ (those who benefitted from AWM without making any substantial input) and wanted to know that everyone was putting in an effort towards AWM.
The research showed growers felt it was important that participation be monitored to ensure compliance but, at the same time, they indicated a punitive or enforceable approach may not be helpful. The key would be to take a positive approach to participation (supporting the points made above about highlighting benefits and empowering communities). Fairness was also relevant for equal representation in fruit fly efforts (such as involving councils) and equitable access to information and communication (keeping everyone on the same page).
So, all in all, acknowledging the need to work together in a structure that promotes fairness, positivity and simplicity seems to sum it up nicely.
The Adaptive area wide management of Qfly using SIT project is being delivered by Hort Innovation with support from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program, and CSIRO.