GROWING interest in regenerative agriculture and land restoration in Western Australia is nothing new.
However, what might come as a surprise is many of the State's recent projects in that space have been supported by an unlikely source - a not-for-profit organisation from the Netherlands.
Commonland first became involved in restoring landscapes and regenerating communities in WA in 2015 after being a cornerstone shareholder in Wide Open Agriculture (WOA), which runs the Dirty Clean Food platform.
Since then, the organisation has become involved in a further six well-known and well-regarded land and future-focused businesses and projects.
Commonland director - landscape development and support Jim Mackintosh was in Australia for the first time in three years and recently met with Farm Weekly to discuss why an organisation from the Netherlands was so invested in WA.
"We believe there is a different way in which we can manage land, do that much more holistically and in a way that creates '4 returns'," Dr Mackintosh said.
"That includes a return of financial capital, social capital, natural capital and most importantly inspirational capital or a sense of meaning and purpose in the way in which we manage our land."
Prior to entering into WA, Commonland had taken different approaches to different countries and landscapes.
In South Africa, where it first started, it partnered with an existing non-government organisation, while in Spain it started working with an association of farmers.
"When we encountered the founders of Wide Open Agriculture - Ben Cole and Anthony Maslin - our interest was to see what we could do in WA through a business lens, particularly where that business would be supporting farmers on their regenerative journeys," Dr Mackintosh said.
"Our role was to listen, understand and support building upon what is already there, not to come in with a recipe or a template for landscape restoration."
With that in mind, Commonland supported WOA through to listing on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2018 and later that year pivoted its approach.
While the not-for-profit entity remained a key shareholder and supporter, Dr Mackintosh stepped away from the board as they wanted to give WOA the space to become the '4 returns' business it could be.
After that, Commonland started working with other organisations in WA and one of the first to come on board was the Noongar Land Enterprise Group (NLE) - an Aboriginal-owned company that is focused on creating viable land-based businesses developed in such a way that paid respect to and in accordance with Noongar wisdom and culture.
"With NLE, we were excited by the fact that it was land based, involved a true business element and was done in a way that was so appropriate and specific to this place," Dr Mackintosh said.
Other projects supported by Commonland include:
For Commonland, its investment in the organisations and projects is not so much about the dollar figure itself, but about how the money can be used.
Dr Mackintosh said they tried to support initiatives which were hard to get funding for, particularly around creating capacity.
"We're very flexible with our funding and it's not to produce outcomes that Commonland needs, but to support organisations to achieve their goals and in turn they deliver on the '4 returns' which we believe in," he said.
"We don't have a vested interest in this landscape, other than to see the landscape and the communities regenerated and restored.
"We only have a small amount of financial capital available each year to support our partners and what we're able to do is fill the gaps and step into places where others are unable to."
The decision for a Netherlands-based organsation to get involved in land restoration in WA, and around the world, may seem like an unusual goal, but Commonland believes its location doesn't diminish its responsibility at a global level.
It is on a mission to prove its partnership-based model and realise that in order to do so, it needs to have representative examples in different ecological biomes from all over the globe, as well as in countries with different land tenure, economic, legal, political and cultural structures.
"We're trying to show the '4 returns' framework, when applied in a place based and culturally appropriate way, can help us to restore landscapes and regenerate communities anywhere," Dr Mackintosh said.
"We want to provide the examples and the inspiration and if we can do that by having a broad geographic spread, then hopefully others will feel inspired to step up and take the opportunities themselves."
When entering the landscape in WA, Commonland made a 20-year commitment to its improvement, which is the same promise it makes to every place it ventures.
That sense of responsibility is not organisational specific, but instead sits with all of the stakeholders of a landscape which includes the people, flora, fauna and everything else that makes up those special places.
"We talk about it taking a generation to restore a landscape and 20 years is an estimation of that period, but for us it's a minimum and we really want to be thinking what it will be in 500 or 1000 years," Dr Mackintosh said.
"We have a responsibility to future generations, not just of people, but to future generations of all species on earth, to start thinking in a more sustainable way."
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