Climate change adaptation in agriculture: Learning from an international labour mobility programme in Australia and the Pacific Islands region

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Environmental Science and Policy


Climate change is expected to seriously affect agricultural livelihoods and food security in all Pacific Island countries. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation contends that, to adapt, both ‘modern’ and Indigenous agricultural practices and knowledge are needed. A challenge lies in combining agricultural knowledge systems and enabling adaptive knowledge to be shared amongst Pacific Islanders. Opportunities to integrate different types of agricultural knowledge (including ‘modern’ and Indigenous) are needed. This paper argues that international labour mobility programmes provide an avenue for knowledge exchange that can support climate change adaptation in agriculture. It presents empirical evidence from research with 33 Pacific Islanders who grow crops in their home countries and were employed in Australia's Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP). We demonstrate how SWP participation opened new possibilities for climate change adaptation in agriculture in the Pacific Islands. Adaptive knowledge stems from SWP workers’ exposure to different agricultural skills and ideas in Australia, combined with their knowledge and experience of crop production in their countries of origin. SWP participation created opportunities for workers to draw on different agricultural skills and knowledge on return to the Pacific Islands. The ability for SWP workers to then exchange adaptive knowledge with other Pacific Islanders is enabled by their social relationships, the likes of which an official agricultural extension officer might not have to the same degree. So far, such adaptive agricultural knowledge and skills exchanges are serendipitous. There is scope to explicitly build climate change knowledge exchange into agriculture-focused international labour mobility schemes.

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Australian Government



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