35 Queensland councils are drought declared as of January this year. While December saw above average rainfall in some areas, many farmers are still struggling to make ends meet in what seems like a never-ending drought.
At any time in Australia, a farmer somewhere is likely coping with the consequences of drought. Fields that were once green are brown and dusty, with the grass coming away underfoot. In order to make ends meet, farmers often sell their less profitable livestock, and then, as times get harder, their breeding stock, or even farm equipment.
The mental toll of drought is harder to see. A 2009 study found one in six farmers living and working in drought-affected Australia have some kind of mental health issue. What’s more, the rate of suicide per 100,000 people is 20% higher in rural areas.
In farming towns in North Queensland, upwards of 80% of the town’s revenue can come directly from agriculture, so when drought hits farmers hard, everyone suffers.
While many charities work under the assumption “every little bit helps,” the intricacies of the situation for drought stricken towns can be a little more complex. For example, while donating hay bales may help feed the stock, farmers still won’t have enough money to pay for a haircut at the local salon, or buy a bar of chocolate from the corner store. These businesses, which rely on farmer patronage, suffer when everyone has to cut back on non-essentials. What’s more, those who previously sold hay will lose the business as a result of good will.
So how can you help farmers, and what is the best way to do it?
Not every farming town is entirely reliant on the rains to survive, and for those, donating hay, or essentials like toothpaste and shampoo, may be just the thing needed to keep soldiering on until the rain comes.
Some donate time to keep the charities doing their good work. Many appeals are quick to note they are always in need of volunteers. Others donate fuel vouchers to help volunteers reach the remote locations.
But for many, the best option is to donate money. The charity will often know better than you where the funds are needed most, whether they be electricity or water bills, cash cards, or funds for mental health support and face to face counselling.
By donating to a charity, which distributes money or cash cards, your donation is helping twice, sometimes three times. Farmers are able to keep their farm turning over, by buying food and goods in the local area. In turn, this keeps the local businesses earning money, so they can feed their families too. This money can keep circulating in small towns, as everyone buys from each other and keeps their community running.
Think of it like this: the farmer buys toiletries and bread from the corner store. The corner storeowner can now afford to buy new shoes, or get a haircut. Now the hairdresser, or the shoe storeowner can buy milk from the farmer, or a meal at the pub. The money circulates in the community, and they can hang on a little longer until the rain.
While the old mantra “every bit helps” still rings true, if you do your research, you can make sure the right kind of help reaches the people who need it most.