Australian agricultural multi-pronged approach for tackling global food crisis

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 17th May 2012

As global food demand is poised for unprecedented growth, Australian agriculture can and will play a significant role in meeting demands, according to an Australian expert in international agriculture and economics.

Chris Barrett is Professor of Applied Economics and Management and International Professor of Agriculture, and Professor of Economics, at Cornell University.

Speaking at a public lecture at the University of Sydney yesterday, Professor Barrett said he believes that, as a surplus producer and a source of innovation and investible capital, Australia will play a significant role in meeting increasing global food demands over the next decade.

Professor Barrett said, “Despite Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s recent call for Australia to become the food bowl of Asia, the predominantly local nature of food supply chains means the answer is not as simple as simply shipping food from major food surplus economies, such as Australia and the United States, to the deficit regions of Africa and Asia.”

Instead, Professor Barrett said a multi-pronged strategy is required.

Emphasis on targeted productivity growth

According to Professor Barrett, governments and the private sector need to substantially expand investment in agricultural productivity, with an eye toward producing the full range of nutrients needed for healthy living – not just maximising yields and calorie supplies.

“Because food is perishable and expensive to transport, 85 to 90 per cent of food is consumed within the country in which it is produced,” Professor Barrett said. “So we must emphasise productivity growth in Africa and Asia, where most demand growth will happen, and where agricultural yields are only one-third those of the highest-income nations.”

Adapt agriculture to climate change

Secondly, Professor Barrett said efforts to adapt agriculture to climate change must be accelerated.

Professor Barrett said, “If food demand outstrips supply, higher food price rises will only add to the pressure to convert carbon-rich forests, wetlands and grasslands to crop and livestock production – accelerating greenhouse gas emissions, aggravating climate change, and putting further pressure on agriculture.”

Reduce food loss and waste

Thirdly, Professor Barrett said that as much as half of global food production is lost between the farmer’s field and the dinner plate.

“Consumer food waste in developed countries equals the entire food production of sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.

“Reducing food waste, while simultaneously ending policies that divert agricultural output into biofuels production, will help alleviate the pressure to bring more land and water into food and feed production.”

Improve management of natural resources

Fourthly, Professor Barrett said efforts need to be made to conserve scarce soil nutrients and water.

“Managing natural resources in agriculture has taken a back seat compared to making genetic improvements in crops and livestock,” Professor Barrett said.

“Increasing natural resource scarcity will mean that natural resources management-based approaches will become increasingly important to stimulating productivity growth and resilience.”

Support demand among poor communities

Fifthly, Professor Barrett said systems must be put in place to ensure that the poor can afford a healthy diet.

Professor Barrett said, “Jobs programs and cash transfer programs that keep children in school directly increase the poor’s productivity and thereby their incomes and food security.

“Supply-side stimuli cannot meet the coming food security challenge alone without complementary support of effective demand among poor consumers worldwide.”