Higher yields are the answer

27 Jul, 2005 08:45 PM
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AN environmental agenda to prevent the development of remaining biodiversity areas and new farming technologies would be self-defeating, according to a GrainsWest Expo guest speaker.

US-based Hudson Institute researcher Alex Avery said high yield farming would reduce the need to plough in areas of biodiversity to cater for an expected doubling in food demand from developing nations in the next 50 years.

Mr Avery said the predicted increase in food demand, mostly from Asia, would provide an environmental and ecological challenge that could not be met by organic farming, which needed extensive areas of land.

"Nobody wants to eat a subsistence diet and that means we are going to double or triple global food demand, and yet we already farm the best land area," he said.

"How much wildlife habitat do you want to plough down to grow more food? How much habitat do you want to plough down to go organic?

"It goes back to how you are going to meet demand of a more affluent population without taking away more of the world's biodiverse habitats for farmland."

Mr Avery said the world's population reached six billion people in 1999 and was growing at 85 million people or consumers a year, equivalent to the population of Mexico.

The world population was expected to peak at 8.5-9b, he said.

Mr Avery said while population growth had peaked in 1997, the increased affluence in developing countries was the reason for the expected increase in global food demand.

"We are in the midst of the largest increase in global food demand in human history," he said.

"We are going to have more people and they are going to be eating and demanding a lot better diet.

"Asia will not be able to feed itself in the next 20-30 years."

Mr Avery said it was bad when farmers in developed countries were prevented from using new technologies, but worse when developing countries were prevented from using them to help feed their people.

He said Australia was caught between two competing views of the future - one from the perspective of those who look for solutions and the other which said mistakes had been made in the past and new technologies should not be allowed.

"Australia is a perfect example of being stuck in the middle but has some of the most hi-tech and innovative farmers and yet they been prevented from using current technology, with biotech beans a notable example," Mr Avery said.

"How are we going to come through this and come out the other side, and what is the best way to move forward?

"I believe the pessimistic self-defeating view will in fact result in the very crisis that the environmentalists profess to want to avoid.

"There is only two ways to do this - produce more per acre and have more for nature."

Mr Avery said his proposal was for a palace model instead of a mud hut model and farmers had to be proactive and write letters to newspaper editors explaining why high yield farming was better for the environment than organic farming.

He said environmentalists' argument for people to eat less or improve food distribution was a pipedream when China and India consumed only half the animal protein of the developed world.

He said when people got richer, the first thing they did was eat more and better food. A survey had shown 68pc of Indians would eat meat, except beef, if they could afford it.

"Indians are eating mutton burgers with a special sauce," he said.

Mr Avery said if each adult male in China drank another beer, the country would need another 3.25b gallons of beer, which would have a big impact on grain demand.

The pet food industry would also increase in developing nations, contributing to the big demand for food in the next 50 years.

Mr Avery said about half the land on the planet - excluding land under ice - was being farmed, with the other half holding many of the world's diverse plant species that were valuable in agricultural plant research.

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