World Food Day reminds us that farmers need water

Posted by Josette Dunn on 18th October 2010

Saturday October 16 marks World Food Day – a day when the world recognises the vital contribution that farmers make to our society and the multiple challenges they face in maintaining our current food security over the next 40 years. If farmers are to overcome those challenges, then they are going to need an array of scientifically developed tools. However, some groups in Australia seem determined to make accessing these tools a difficult feat. For several decades farmers have been subject to a range of activist claims, including many with no factual basis – claims that GM crops are going to destroy the world, claims that pesticides cannot be used safely and now claims that it’s possible to produce food without water.

The recently released Murray Darling Basin Authority’s guide calls for the environment’s share of basin’s inflows to rise from 58 per cent to almost 70 per cent of 32,800 gigalitres in inflows. The proposal would effectively leave the basin’s 65,000 farmers with less than a third of the inflows. Under the plan, water inputs would be slashed by at least 30% in all areas and would be much higher for some farmers. It is clear that the basin plan will affect more than just food production – it will have a domino effect on the entire rural and regional area. Farmers fear that the reduction in water will devastate their local communities, decimate future generation’s ability to produce food and force them off the land.

Glen Andreazza, a third generation farmer from Griffith who has been on the land for over 30 years, believes that if the proposed plans go ahead, he will be out of business, and like much of the community will be seeking a change in profession.

“If the proposed plans go ahead, there is no doubt I will be out of business. But it’s not just the farmer who is affected, it’s all of Griffith and all our livelihoods and our children’s future. The economic viability of our town will suffer, the ability to attract more health professionals and businesses will also suffer”.

For many farmers, growing food is what they do, it’s what they know and it’s their passion. According to Mr. Andreazza, the uncertainty and worry is a real concern in Griffith. “At the moment our lives are political footballs being kicked around by the government. In a way, a lot of the damage has already been done, and it’s irreparable. I am proud to be a food producer and proud that my crops feed thousands of people”.

The passionate and hostile meeting in Griffith last Thursday demonstrated that farmers won’t allow the government or anybody for that matter to strip them of their resilience. “(Last week’s) meeting was about sending a message that this can’t happen. We need a balanced approach to the basin that looks after social, economic and environmental concerns”, Mr. Andreazza said.

Farmers are also disappointed that the government and public have failed to acknowledge the vast ways in which rural Australians have embraced environmental concerns. “It’s disappointing that with all the inroads we have made with caring for our environment over the last 20 years, with various stewardship programs we have implemented that there is still no credit being given” said Hayden Cudmore, also a Griffith farmer and food producer.

Farmers say that there must be a balance between the environment and cropping needs. Nick Morona, a farmer and food producer from Deniliquin said that the basin plan should be about creating a sustainable balance between farms and environmental regions. “I think we can come up with a system that can be win – win for both irrigators and the environment, but they need to be targeted, efficient and effective. We can give some water back to the environment so long as it is done efficiently and sustainably”.

Similarly, Mr. Andreazza believed that for farmers, protecting the environment is just as important, if not more important than their own farm. “As farmers, we look after the environment as much as we do our own farm. For us, we aren’t just looking out for our own crop, but it’s our livelihood”. For Mr. Andreazza, and every farmer, the environmental concerns of their farm are a high priority. “I want a sustainable farming system that I can pass on to my kids, so for me, protecting the biodiversity of my farm is essential”.

The community meetings that have taken place so far have left farmers feeling frustrated, flat and hopeless. Mr. Morona attended the meeting in Deniliquin and said the feeling in the region was a sense of desperation. “Psychologically, people left the meeting thinking, what are we going to do, and that nobody cares. We don’t want the community and Australian public to feel sorry for us, we just want to continue producing food and doing what we do and do it fairly”.

“After finally having a good season after suffering for years in drought, to be told that we would be getting a 30% cut is just psychologically and emotionally devastating. If the plans were to go ahead, there would be really little point in farming here, and this is something the community has already started to think about. The basin plan cuts would have a flow on effect to those on and off the farm in Deniliquin and other areas. I mean, when you start losing services from your own community, you know you are heading towards the end”, Mr. Morona said.

There is similar feeling in Griffith, where the community is starting to see the ‘writing on the wall’. But according to Mr. Cudmore, it’s not just the long term future of Griffith that is of concern, it’s the present. “At the moment, the whole town feels devastated. The immediate impact of the plans is that the confidence of the people is shot. The longer the discussions drag on, it just brings about a feeling of intense uncertainty and doubt”.

For most farmers, water cuts mean breaking an entire system of crop rotation. This means that farmers are being forced to rethink the ways in which they approach cropping. Water reductions don’t just put doubt in the minds of Australian farmers; it puts their entire farming life in jeopardy.

The Australian government and our politicians, much like the public need to trust our farmers and their ability to care for the environment, produce food and keep our nation’s food bowl sustainable. How will we attract more city people to rural areas if there is no water? Water is the backbone of life, it is essential to stay alive. For Australian farmers, water is what makes or breaks their livelihood.