DESPITE the enormous challenge of skyrocketing global population growth and declining arable farmland and rural water resources, farmers worldwide – particularly in Australia – could be far more productive food producers.
Speakers and delegates attending last week’s Rabobank-sponsored F20 Summit in Sydney made it clear agriculture can deliver much more production to meet the global food security challenge, but it’s time global leaders started talking with farmers to find out what’s actually needed.
Visitors at the Rabobank F20 Summit share their thoughts on food security.
The summit attracted about 660 farmers, farm industry and government delegates from across the world in a strategically staged event designed to draw international leadership attention to food security solutions before last weekend’s G20 meeting of world leaders in Australia.
The world will require double its current food output within 40 years, but already inadequate production, supply networks and infrastructure mean about 2.5 million children die of hunger or nutrition-related illnesses each year.
Professor Peter Warr, director of the Poverty Research Centre spoke on the dilemma: ‘Why Ending Hunger is So Hard’.
Rabobank executive board member Berry Marttin told the summit the challenge was far more complicated than just finding more food to feed a planet which each month adds the equivalent of the entire population of Hong Kong to its number.
He said food had to be more nutritious and delivered safely and efficiently, and western world consumers must stop discarding as much as 40 per cent of what they buy at the supermarket.
While Australia had the largest amount of available farmland per capita (but a third less than 40 years ago), Mr Marttin said the world did not necessarily need vast extra areas of arable land, or even particularly high quality farmland.
Global Youth Ag-Summit ambassador Corbin Schuster discussed sustainability and reusing nutrient waste.
Agricultural productivity in many parts of Western Europe was far higher than the US Midwest, Argentina or the Ukraine where the soils were the best on the planet and the climate generally more conducive to higher yields.
Africa had some of the world’s best soils, yet very low productivity – largely due to poor farming systems and supply chains.
The Netherlands, with a land area of just 41,000 square kilometres, was the world’s second biggest agricultural exporter earning 10pc of its gross domestic product from farming.
In stark contrast Japan, with the same population density and 378,000 square kilometres of land, was the world’s biggest food importer.
Not only was the Dutch farm economy built on land mostly reclaimed from the sea, but deputy director general of agriculture and food in the Netherlands, Roald Lapperre, said leading Dutch farmers were producing greenhouse yields using 15 times less water than equivalent crops grow in fields in other parts of Europe.
Tomato plants in modern greenhouses were producing 80 kilograms of fruit without using anywhere near the energy or the pesticides required to grow just four kilograms from field grown plants.
Remarkably, only 20pc of modern generation energy-neutral greenhouses existed outside Holland.
“I hope today serves as a call to action for farmers and world leaders. Let’s get to work,” Mr Lapperre said.
“There’s no reason why we cannot sustainably end hunger by 2050.”
Youth Food Movement founder Alexandra Iljadica discussed the youth perspective and promoting social engagement.
However, the conference also highlighted a host of key concerns shared by farmers and agribusiness players worldwide, notably about the shrinking number of farmers taking on the challenge of producing crops and livestock.
Despite everybody needing food every day, and hunger prevalent in Africa, Asia, and South America, speakers noted how the global economy generally discouraged potential farmers from agricultural careers, offering better paid rewards elsewhere.
Former National Farmers’ Federation president, now chairman of Nufarm and Australian Agricultural Company Don McGauchie said governments also had to wake up to the cost of an alarming decline in public spending on agricultural research.
He said farm productivity had been sliding because Australia had “dropped the ball on R&D”.
“Let me tell you this is a great concern,” he said, pointing out Australia’s farm productivity had to grow 2.5 per cent annually if we were to double our farm sector output by 2050.
Chilean dairy farmer Ricardo Rios Pohl spoke on how he had successfully transformed his farming operation using knowledge learned from the New Zealand dairy industry.