Government can’t fudge food needs of booming population

Posted by Josette Dunn on 29th September 2010

“Food production must be paramount in any bid to sustainably manage water in the Murray-Darling Basin,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie declared today – just 9 days before the rationale underpinning the Basin Plan is released.

According to the facts on the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) website, the Basin:

* covers over 1 million square kilometres (14% of the total area of Australia);

* generates 39% of the national income derived from agricultural production in Australia;

* produces 53% of Australian cereals grown for grain, 95% of oranges and 54% of apples; and

* supports 28% of the nation’s cattle herd, 45% of sheep, and 62% of pigs.

“While bureaucrats sit on the measures they would impose on farmers and communities in the Basin until October 8, the Government should be in no doubt that the decisions it makes in response will affect food supply in Australia for generations to come,” Mr Crombie said.

“Former Water Minister Penny Wong foreshadowed ‘significant cuts’, perhaps as an exercise in managing expectations, but even a 10% cut will kill 6,000 jobs, cost $8.3 billion in lost productivity and slash food production.

“As the new Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke cannot afford a blinkered view of water reform. He must balance the needs of a growing population – still expected to top 36 million come 2050 – and future food supply, along with sound management of water resources and the communities that depend upon it.

“This requires looking beyond simply counting water we currently have and dividing it up, to investing in water-saving technologies and new infrastructure to better manage water efficiencies.

“All water in the Basin must be part of the equation in offsetting water cuts, thereby, reducing impacts to communities. However, we understand that significant amounts of water are being excluded from the MDBA’s calculations.

“While we face population pressures in Australia, today’s global population of 6.2 billion will explode to over 9 billion by 2050 – an increase of some 50%. It is staggering that in the face of a growing world food crisis we find ourselves having to justify food production.

“The United Nations calculates that to keep pace with population growth over the next 40 years food production must increase by 70%. To put that in perspective, that’s more food than has been produced in the entire course of human history. It’s mind-boggling to comprehend. But deal with it we must.

“Yet, inexplicably, there are those who would play food off against the environment. It’s a proposition most rational people reject, especially those who live in, and work with, our natural environment as Australia’s farmers do every day.

“Australia needs to be smarter than that and the new Minister will need to lead from the front, rather than simply endorse the approach of the MDBA.”