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Fact or fiction? The distinction is yours to draw...
On Friday March 28 Julian Cribb, author and science communicator, delivered a keynote address at the Yorke & Mid North Regional Sustainability Forum in Port Pirie. He opened his address by declaring to those assembled that meeting the 21st Century food challenge is a ‘wicked problem’. “Be in no doubt” said Mr Cribb, “we are facing the greatest challenge in human history. "
That challenge you ask? Put simply, it is how to feed ten billion people through the peak in human population, without famine or disaster.
I believe it is time for a new 'crop' of politicians to consider a view far beyond the next political cycle and make decisions, many of which will be hugely unpopular and immensely difficult, in order to deliver food security for our state, our nation and our planet.
Sadly, I also believe that this issue will be far more difficult to even start to overcome, as I am yet to discover a Government or a world leader who has the answers and the political will to shift the course on which we are headed.
To meet the growing world demand to feed our rapidly expanding population we need to think differently about food; how we produce it and how we consume it.
Regrettably we missed an opportunity in September 2013 Federally, as it would appear that the current Federal Government has not demonstrated any traits of forward-thinking in terms of food security. Locally, South Australia has recently seen the Weatherill Labor Government returned to office, with the backing of regional Independent MP Geoff Brock, to form a minority government. Perhaps we can influence policy and effect change, in terms of climate change and food security, now that the regions are back in the limelight. The greater challenge will be how to make this important issue of food security popular.
Food security has become a significant geopolitical issue in recent years.
I have made reference to this in earlier blogs and again I will quote from an article written by student Alyce Johnston for the South Australian Globalist Magazine in 2012.
“According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, food security occurs when people have both physical and economic access to safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences.
“This definition is more relevant to people in the developed world, as opposed to those living in developing nations who are more concerned with survival, rather than nutrients or dietary preferences.”
Research shows, when people in developing countries are lifted out of poverty, their diets change. In China, meat consumption has tripled in the past 15 years, meaning more grain is needed in order to feed their livestock.
With increased production comes an increased cost of that production, including the cost of oil. When oil prices increase, the demand for biofuel grows and food prices also go up. According to the World Bank, five million hectares of cropland were used for biofuels rather than food production between 2005 and 2008.
Pressures on water resources and agricultural land have contributed to food security worries and high food prices. Climate change will continue to exacerbate this issue globally. Nations such as China and Saudi Arabia (who is particularly vulnerable in terms of food security) have found a way to secure their future food supplies through the use of foreign land.
Oxfam predicts as much as 227 million hectares of land in developing nations has already been sold or leased to foreign investors since 2001, with half of this land being in Africa. To put that figure into perspective 227 million hectares is about 90% of Western Australia.
We know that foreign agricultural purchases have occurred in Australia, but the exact details of these foreign land deals are widely unknown and that troubles me.
There is evidence of corruption by governments of developing nations. In 2008 the Cambodian Government leased rice fields to Kuwait and Qatar in return for $600 million dollars in loans, while the United Nations World Food Program delivered $35 million dollars’ worth of food aid to the impoverished Cambodian people.
Food security, or rather ‘insecurity’ is real.
Land acquisition in foreign nations, commonly referred to as ‘land grabbing’ has become a way for developed nations to secure their food supply. It is not unreasonable nor scaremongering to suggest that future conflicts will not be fought over the fossil fuel we need to run our economies but rather food ‘fuel’ we need to nourish our very being.
Mr Cribb said: “While food demand will double by 2060, scarcities are emerging of almost all resources to satisfy it. This challenges us to rethink food itself and how we produce it, and to create diets and foods for the future which are safe, healthy, and nutritious and tread less heavily on the planet.”
I cannot agree more. So how and where do we begin? Really, we should have begun many years ago but we have not taken past warnings seriously.
A case in point is the 1992 World Scientists' Warning to Humanity. Read more here: http://www.ucsusa.org/about/1992-world-scientists.html
For the record this significant warning hardly rated a mention in the mainstream media at the time and now 22 years on not much has changed.
What can you do you ask? If you weren’t able to make it to Mr Cribb’s Keynote address on Friday you can read his presentation here: http://www.yorkeandmidnorth.com.au/resources/publications/.
Along with this there is much other reading to do. If you do make time to read and reflect and you come away with a sense of urgency and you want to act, then do take action.
Act with conviction and in good faith. Act with passion and a desire to leave this planet in a better state that it is now. Start a conversation with your neighbour, your work colleague, your local MP.
A wise man once told me to stay on my soapbox! I can guarantee that I will.