On the 21 March a meeting was held at Southern Cross University (SCU) which will have a large bearing on the future direction of the regenerative agricultural movement. Over 20 leaders of agricultural organisations met to discuss the formation of a Regenerative Alliance. SCU was the venue for the The Farming Together organisation that did such a lot of good work in setting up cooperatives around Australia. The CEO of Farming together is Lorraine Gordon and Lorraine is now the inspiration behind the movement to create an alliance.
The AIEA has a seat at the table and is strongly supportive of this initiative. One of the issues discussed is the need for a degree program in regenerative agriculture. The AIEA often receives emails from members asking where they can learn about regen’ agriculture. The answer at the moment is negative – there are no courses available other than a certificate or diploma in organics or conservation farming from TAFE. The intent, though, from many of thecorrespondents, is for a degree program.
Australia did have such a course from 2001 to around 2015 in the form of the Bachelor of Ecological Agricultural Systems (BEAS) which was offered through Charles Sturt University. This course was axed by CSU in 2015 due to low enrolments (the official explanation) although the talk in the corridors suggested it was axed because the holistic model that underpinned the degree was not supported by the reductionist oriented mentality of Wagga based academics. The fact that at the time of its axing the BEAS had greater numbers enrolling in the distance mode than its sister course – the Bachelor of Agricultural Business Management (BABM) – suggests it was more an excuse of convenience! The BABM still exists!
In 2015 another attempt was undertaken to create a degree program in agroecology. This time the initiative came from the Thurgoona Campus of TAFE (near Albury). A substantial sum of money was invested in the development of the program. A curriculum was developed and many units of study written. Because the proposed degree program was from TAFE it had to be approved by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) that appointed two university based academics to review the course, and to recommend whether it met TEQSA standards. TAFE (Thurgoona) failed on two occasions to get that approval. They then rewrote the course for a third attempt and were in the throes of submitting the application when the TAFE systems, itself, underwent a major reshuffle. As it stands, the degree proposal and written subject material lie on a shelf in TAFE agribusiness headquarters which is at Griffith. The AIEA understands that the proposal does not have priority and that other courses such as TAFE’s bread and butter diploma and certificate courses, do.
That is a thumbnail sketch of a change process, and how difficult it is to introduce such a process which challenges existing power structures whether it be the dominance of the university sector to regulate degree programs or whether it be the power within agricultural faculties to maintain the dominance of the existing reductionist curriculum.
There might be light at the end of the tunnel, however. The formation of the Alliance for Regenerative Agriculture has the creation of a degree in regenerative agriculture on their bucket list and given the absence of an existing agriculture degree program at SCU it stands a better than average chance of getting the tick of approval.
If it materialises then it will meet an important and growing need in the Australian agricultural education landscape. We will keep you informed.