Food security aids global peace: UWA

26 Mar, 2016 01:00 AM
University of Western Australia vice-chancellor Professor Paul Johnson (left), Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston and UWA Institute Of Agriculture chairman and director Professor Kadambot Siddique, at the launch of university's strategic plan.
University of Western Australia vice-chancellor Professor Paul Johnson (left), Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston and UWA Institute Of Agriculture chairman and director Professor Kadambot Siddique, at the launch of university's strategic plan.

GREATER global stability was an expected benefit of agricultural science meeting the challenges of feeding the world in a warming and drying climate.

That was a point made by University of Western Australia Institute of Agriculture (UWA IOA) chairman and director Professor Kadambot Siddique last Thursday in outlining the institute's strategic plan 2015-2019.

Professor Siddique postulated that while politics and religion appeared to be the cause of instability in Syria and other parts of the world, the root cause could often be traced back to food security.

"If you look at global insecurity at the moment, in many of those places it is not so much Muslims fighting against each other, it is basically non-availability of high quality food at an affordable price," he told an audience of about 70 academics, scientists and agriculture industry representatives.

"If people are well fed they won't get hungry and they won't get angry.

"It is clearly the case in Syria and other places where oppression is disrupting the production and distribution of food.

"If you do have good food security then many of those countries will become stabilised and they will continue to do other things rather than disturbing all of us," he claimed.

Professor Siddique said 2.5 billion people globally now depended on dryland farming for food.

"Australia and particularly WA are comparatively well placed as a hub of dryland agriculture research, innovation and technology because of the tremendous advances made in the past 50 years in particular," he said.

"We are helping some other countries to adapt the technologies we are developing and we have an increasing role to play."

But a warming and drying climate presented particular challenges.

He pointed out 2010 was the driest year on record in South West WA with a lack of very wet years and a decrease in rainfall variability since the mid 1970s, while the last four years were the hottest on record.

"In dryland (farming) systems if you don't get rain you don't have anything," Professor Siddique said.

"We have to make use of every drop of rain and make dollars off every drop.

"A lot of science is around conservation, particularly of water and the UWA has made some significant contributions in this area.

"The next generation of farming has to be environmentally-friendly to look after places like the South West of WA.

"We need to have strategies to combat greenhouse gas, particularly methane from animals in food production systems, to mitigate the climate change element.

"Agriculture is also intrinsically related to energy so food production and food distribution is energy dependent and the next generation of agriculture has to be energy efficient.

"These aspects of global and local agriculture have helped define the future of undergraduate and post-graduate agricultural science research by UWA IOA."

Its strategic objectives were to enhance UWA's contribution to agriculture and resource management, with its vision to provide research-based solutions to food and nutritional security, environmental sustainability and agribusiness.

Professor Siddique outlined some of the research work the IOA would continue.

This included investigating genotypic variation in root branching, density and depth of lupins, greenhouse gas emissions from cropping systems, methane emissions from livestock and plant energy biology in wheat and barley.

New research themes included crop roots and rhizosphere, sustainable grazing systems, water for food production, food quality and human health and agribusiness ecosystems.

Increased canola production through drought-tolerant varieties was one of the IOA's "success stories" as was the Seeds of Life food security project in Timor-Leste.

UWA's 1600 hectare farm, Ridegfield at Pingelly, would continue to be a focus for some of the major research projects.

Guest speaker, Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston, acknowledged WA "looks to the scientific community, including UWA's Institute of Agriculture, to play a vital role in advancing agriculture".

"We have set an ambitious goal to double the value of agricultural production in this State between 2013 and 2025," he said.

"Your strategic plan provides an important framework and creates the appropriate direction to achieve this goal."

Mal Gill

Mal Gill

is wool and dairy writer for Farm Weekly


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