Looming food crisis showing on our shelves
April 3, 2011
FOOD security will be the greatest challenge to civilisation this century, with shortages leading to higher prices, political instability and mass migration, warn scientists, farmers and academics.
A policy summit in Melbourne this week will be told that that while Australian farms are capable of feeding the nation until it more than doubles in population, agricultural productivity is in decline and the effects of a looming food crisis overseas are already being felt in rising grocery costs.
The National Sustainable Food Summit will explore ways to boost productivity in the changing environment, including subsidising farmers to employ environmentally sound practices, turning hobby farms into working properties, and buying up farming land in Mozambique.
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Sharp rises in food prices in 2008 and 2010 demonstrated that supplies were no longer keeping up with demand, said Julian Cribb, author of The Coming Famine, who will address the summit on food challenges.
But the ramifications of the problem were even starker overseas. The governments of Tunisia and Egypt had fallen as a result of riots propelled by food protests.
Those type of upheavals would inevitably affect Australia through increased immigration and regional instability unless it invested in research and innovation to increase global food production.
”We’re not training our young farmers,” Mr Cribb said. ”We’re not training agricultural scientists. This is probably the most critical issue civilisation will face this century. [Food security] doesn’t just mean ‘do we have enough to eat?’, it means ‘are we secure in our region?”’
If global food production was to be increased, new methods of farming would need to be developed, and that required a greater investment in agricultural science research, Mr Cribb said.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has estimated food requirements will double by 2050 as a result of population increases and a higher standard of living at a time of greater urbanisation, land and water degradation and rising energy prices.
Australian farms now produce enough to feed 60 million people, but productivity has plateaued over the past few years.
The NSW Natural Resources Commissioner, John Williams, said the federal government should consider placing a GST on food that reflects the cost of its production. It could then pay farmers stewardship fees to take care of the environment.
Professor Robin Batterham says purchasing farms in Mozambique, a former African food bowl, should be investigated to shore up Australia’s food supply.