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Leading for Climate Action

9 April 2019

From Young Farmer of the Year in 2015, to a participant on the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation’s Rice Growers’ Association – Emerging Leaders Program in 2018, Anika Molesworth has her sights unwaveringly set on leading the way for positive action on climate change.

When 12-year-old Anika moved to a farm near Broken Hill in New South Wales’ far west in 2000, she and her whole family fell in love with the stark landscape.

But the subtle signs of life that should have bloomed and ebbed each year in this remarkable arid landscape, shriveled away as the brutal millennium drought took hold.

In the grip of ten consecutive years of minimal-to-no rainfall, Anika came face-to-face with the reality of a changing climate.

“It reinforced for me how interconnected everything is. When the rain doesn’t fall, the vegetation doesn’t grow, we couldn’t stock the land, so we had to think of alternative income streams,” she says.

“I started reading more about climate change; projections that the region would become hotter and drier; that we would experience more frequent and intense drought and dust storms … I knew that I would have to equip myself to cope with climate change challenges and look at innovative ways to farm if I was going to succeed in my dream of taking on the family farm.”

This focus has been a key driver in her career.

After a Bachelor of Science, specialising in agribusiness, from Charles Sturt University, and a Masters in Sustainable Agriculture, Anika’s thirst for knowledge has led her to a nearly-completed PhD in agricultural science.

She’s also been involved with 3 overseas projects, working with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, in Laos and Cambodia.

She says “meeting a lot of really inspirational people already working in ag and surrounding myself with people that have a can-do attitude” is one of the main reasons she’s undaunted by the challenges that see many young people choose alternative careers to farming.

“The realities of climate change mean business as usual is no longer an option. We’re going to have to change our practices and we’re going to have to farm better than before,” she says.

“Overseas when I’m working with the older generation of farmers who have had no formal education and who don’t own computers or mobile phones, yet they can describe the new insects they had never seen before, which are now eating their crops. They can describe how many days longer the dry season extends each year… There is no debate at all in those countries that climate change is real. There is no debate that farmers have to change their practices to keep up. That’s part of why I’ve become a vocal advocate here in Australia, because we shouldn’t still be having those debates.”

After helping to found Farmers for Climate Action in 2016 – a movement of farmers, agricultural leaders and rural Australians working to ensure that farmers are a key part of the solution to climate change – Anika is now involved as a board director. As an alumna of the Young Farming Champions Program in 2014, Anika continues to be involved by way of the Youth Voices Leadership Team, which provides visible industry leadership and mentoring to current Young Farming Champions program participants.

But it was being awarded Young Farmer of the Year in 2015 that Anika says took her leadership to a new level.

“That award sparked media interest in what I was doing. Up until that point I’d never done radio, never written an article.”

Despite her initial hesitation at putting herself in the media spotlight, Anika knew that was firmly where she wanted her cause to be.

“So, it took a bit of getting over myself … I soon realised that I didn’t want to waste that opportunity. People, for a brief moment, were tuning in to what I had to say, so I made the most of it. I said yes to every media opportunity, and that has opened doors throughout my career.”

Carrying on that willingness to say “yes” saw Anika apply for the 2018 Rice Growers’ Association – Emerging Leaders Program, delivered by the Foundation in Deniliquin and Leeton.

“I’ve been living in Griffith in the Riverina undertaking my PhD with the Centre for Regional and Rural Futures, through Deakin University” she says.

Anika’s research into agricultural by-products and how they impact soil fertility includes a focus on the potential uses of rice straw.

“I went down to Deni and was just amazed by the diverse people who were part of that program. They all want vibrant rural communities well into the future, they want a sustainable rice industry, they want to empower young people to come and take up positions of leadership, and that was just fantastic.” Anika says.

“That’s what I love about those kinds of programs – it’s not just people with the same mindset, from the same workplace. It’s learning from diversity and broad experience. That’s where the best idea-generation and knowledge transfer comes from.”

As well as enabling Anika to work with others on a blueprint for a mentorship program, designed to ensure even smoother transfer of knowledge between developing and outgoing leaders in the rice industry, Anika says the program was an antidote to isolation.

“You can get trapped in that mentality that you’re doing it alone, but when you join a rural leadership program like this, you find there are these common threads… And we can all contribute unique skills and knowledge to achieving some great solutions.”

She says keeping things in perspective for “a greater common good is key” to strong leadership, as is having a clear message.

“Problems don’t just fix themselves and leaders don’t just happen. To be an effective problem solver and leader one must have a vision that extends beyond their own backyard, have the skills to communicate that vision, a collaborative network, the courage to engage in difficult conversations and the perseverance to see the vision transformed into action.”

Photo first published in The Guardian.