Multiple benefits of Indigenous land and sea management programs

This research shows that well-designed ILSMPs can:

  • contribute to northern development and help close the (income) gap
  • promote Indigenous business development and economic independence
    promote Indigenous wellbeing
  • facilitate knowledge exchange, which is important to Indigenous wellbeing
    help Indigenous communities meet their wider aspirations.

It also highlights that we need better methods to measure and value goods and services which deliver benefits beyond face value, and which benefit communities rather than individuals.

Indigenous land and sea management programs (ILSMPs) are gaining a reputation for providing a core function in communities, with growing evidence of a variety of environmental, cultural, social and economic outcomes being delivered. This research provides quantified and comparable information about multiple, local to national scale socio-economic and wellbeing benefits associated with ILSMPs.

It is important that governments, Indigenous organisations, industry and others fully recognise these benefits and that appropriate data are collected to better measure them, otherwise ILSMPs may be undervalued and overlooked in investment and development decisions.

In addition to their well-known environmental outcomes, ILSMPs generate a range of socio-economic benefits, from those that flow to individuals to those that benefit society, and from simple benefits (e.g. jobs) to complex (e.g. maintenance of culture). Methods to economically value these benefits are still developing and different methods are suited to assessing different types of benefits. Current commonly used methods are adept at highlighting the value of simple individual goods, and there has been recent progress in tools to value complex individual goods. Better methods are however urgently needed to estimate the value of complex goods and services that benefit whole communities, such as those provided by ILSMPs, or we risk simply investing in those that are easy to measure rather than those providing the greatest benefits.1

This research has contributed to improving methods by elucidating these limitations (Figure 1) and by adapting the ‘life satisfaction’ approach – a method that measures the contribution of selected factors to an individual’s wellbeing – to assess the value to communities of complex goods related to ILSMPs.8 We are also investigating other methods such as the Participatory Project Selection Tool.6

Goods & benefits

ILSMPs can generate national benefits by stimulating regional economies and achieving the government policy objective of equitably closing the income gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. By providing greater economic benefits to Indigenous households than other investments, ILSMPs can support the creation of self-sustaining Indigenous economies (Figure 2).

These programs also improve Indigenous wellbeing by improving things that many Indigenous people feel are important – particularly caring for country, providing access to country, having positive role models in the community, and knowledge exchange. ILSMPs can also enable communities to meet wider aspirations by overcoming constraints and structural barriers to development. When ILSMPs empower communities they can also help close the ‘governance’ gap.

ILSMPs contribute to northern development and help close the gap2

  • ILMSPs provide greater economic ‘knock-on’ benefits than many other industries – so investing $100 in ILSMPs may enable regional economies to grow faster than investing $100 in agriculture or mining (Table 1).
  • ILMSPs can provide relatively greater income benefits to Indigenous households than non-Indigenous households.
  • Investing in ILSMPs results in regional economic growth, which enables both Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses to grow.
  • ILSMPs could contribute further to closing the income gap by increasing the proportion of Indigenous workers within their payroll and encouraging purchasing from local businesses that are Indigenous owned and/or employ Indigenous staff.

ILSMPs promote Indigenous business development and economic independence3

  • The remote Indigenous economy is different to the Western urban economy – growth in ‘standard’ western industries will not always create growth for Indigenous communities.
  • ILSMPs are able to grow Indigenous economies in a way that aligns with cultural values.
  • Expenditure on ILSMPs causes self-sustaining growth in Indigenous businesses, including businesses that are not themselves directly involved in land management.
  • It can take up to three years before significant business income growth occurs.

ILSMPs promote Indigenous wellbeing4

  • ILSMPs increase the overall life satisfaction (wellbeing) of Indigenous people.
  • Life satisfaction increases because ILSMPs improve things that many Indigenous people feel are important – particularly caring for country, providing access to country and having positive role models in the community. When planning and implementing ILSMPs, care should be taken to focus on the things that matter the most to the communities involved.
  • ‘Owning your own business’ was an important factor for a relatively small group of people (not surprising, since there are few Indigenous businesses) but this factor made a big contribution to overall life satisfaction for those people.

ILSMPs facilitate knowledge exchange, which is important to Indigenous wellbeing7

  • Knowledge exchange is an important part of people’s wellbeing and overall life satisfaction – often even more important than financial factors.
  • ILSMPs facilitate the exchange of both traditional and Western generated knowledge.
  • People who are involved in ILSMPs gain direct and indirect benefits from the knowledge exchanges ILSMPs facilitate such as improved training and education (including business skills), learning more about their country and culture, and opportunities for being a role model or to be mentored by a role model.

ILSMPs can help Indigenous communities meet their wider aspirations5

  • Governments often focus on things like employment and income when assessing ‘development’. Communities tend to view development more broadly – particularly important to communities is having the ‘freedom’ to choose which things they would like to develop (income, employment or something else).
  • Some communities stated that ILSMPs have contributed towards ‘freedom’ – their vision of development.
  • Communities (and government) are also able to use ILSMPs in a strategic way to overcome constraints to achieving community development.

Flow of benefits

Funding for ILSMPs generates improvements in many different forms of ‘capital’. These flow through to Indigenous households and businesses, stimulating Indigenous economies and contributing to prosperous Indigenous communities and multiple other benefits. A pdf version of this diagram is available here.


Industry Kimberley Northern Territory Far north Qld
Accommodation & food services 1.9 2.4 2.5
ILSMPs 1.8 2.4 2.5
Agriculture 1.6 1.5 2.1
Beef cattle 1.5 2.1 2.0
Mining 1.4 2.0 2.0

Table 1. Economic multipliers for ILSMPs are higher than those for some other major industries. The numbers show how much $1 of investment multiplies through the regional economies.

Proving the effectiveness of ILSMPs is crucial to secure continued funding, but current monitoring typically doesn’t adequately track progress towards ILSMP socio-economic objectives and related benefits. Data to measure progress is limited, with monitoring mostly focussing on activity rather than outcomes, and on individual benefits rather than community benefits. Monitoring and reporting also need to better account for the time lag between investment and some socio-economic outcomes.


1. Stoeckl N, Hicks C, Farr M, Grainger D, Esparon M & Larson S. 2018. The crowding out of complex social goods. Ecological Economics 144: 65-72.

2. Jarvis D, Stoeckl N, Hill R & Pert P. 2018a. Indigenous Land and Sea Management Programmes: Can they promote regional development and help ‘Close the (income) Gap’? Australian Journal of Social Issues

3. Jarvis D, Stoeckl N, Addison J, Larson S, Hill R, Pert P, & Watkin-Lui F. 2018b. Are Indigenous Land and Sea Management Programs a pathway to Indigenous economic independence? The Rangeland Journal

4. Larson S, Stoeckl N, Jarvis D, Addison J, Prior S & Esparon M. 2018. Using measures of wellbeing for impact evaluation: proof of concept developed with an Indigenous community undertaking land management programs in northern Australia. AMBIO

5. Addison J, Stoeckl N, Larson S, Jarvis D, Bidan Aboriginal Corporation, Bunuba Dawangarri Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC, Ewamian Aboriginal Corporation, Gooniyandi Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC, Yanunijarra Ngurrara Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC & Esparon M. 2019. The ability of community based natural resource management to contribute to development as freedom, and the role of access. World Development 120: 91-104

6. Grainger, D. & Stoeckl, N. 2019. The importance of social learning for non-market valuation. Ecological Economics 164: 106339.

In preparation

7. Jarvis, D., Stoeckl, N., Larson, S., Grainger, D., Addison, J. & Larson, A. 2020. The Learning Generated Through Indigenous Natural Resources Management Programs Increases Quality of Life for Indigenous People – Improving Numerous Contributors to Wellbeing. Ecological Economics. 2020. ISSN 0921-8009.

8. Grainger D, Jarvis D, Larson S & Stoeckl N. Can the life-satisfaction approach be used to ‘value’ Indigenous land and sea management programs?

August 2021

The Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub addressed key research questions to come up with practical, on-ground solutions to some of the north’s most complex environmental challenges. A transdisciplinary research approach has been at the heart of the hub. Integrating key research users – policy-makers and land managers including Traditional Owners and ranger groups – into the co-design of research projects has led to rapid uptake of research outcomes into land management practices and decision-making. The hub has produced this wrap-up video outlining these impacts from the perspectives of research users.

January 2019

Project leader Professor Natalie Stoeckl provides an update as the Multiple benefits of Indigenous land and sea management programs project nears its conclusion. This talk was presented at the TNRM conference, November 2018.

The project was by Professor Natalie Stoeckl from James Cook University (JCU) and University of Tasmania. Professor Stoeckl was assisted by JCU’s Jane Addison, Diane Jarvis, Michelle Esparon, Daniel Grainger,  Marina Farr and Silva Larson.

Representatives from the five communities where the research is being undertaken – Sharon Prior, Brendan Fox, Peter Murray, Steve Heggie, Melinda Sheppard, Damian Parriman, Vaughan Duncan, Lynette Shaw and Chantelle Murray – also provided assistance such as sourcing data and cultural brokering.

In WA, this project partnered with Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Yanunijarra and Nyikina-Mangala Traditional Owners. In Queensland, this project partners with Ewamian Traditional Owners.

This project was completed in 2019.

Professor Natalie Stoeckl, JCU/UTas: [email protected]
Dr Diane Jarvis, JCU: [email protected]
Dr Jane Addison, JCU: [email protected]

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  • Researchers conducting interviews in north Queensland, photo Ewamian Aboriginal Corporation.
  • Preparation for Aboriginal body painting ©
  • Bush Food ©
  • Arnhem Land Landscape © Mellyd-100
  • Arnhem Land Landscape © Mellyd-100 Aurelie1
  • Bush tucker. Credit: Michael Lawrence-Taylor