Ensure food security now and in the future

| August 26, 2013

Food productivity in Australia has consistently increased since the early days of agricultural production. Weed scientist Professor Deirdre Lemerle says there is still potential for sustainable growth.

In Australia, we produce enough food to feed our population. But is this sustainable and can the quality of food be improved? There is growing community demand for locally produced, high quality, clean, green and healthy food. The Murray Darling Basin produces 40 per cent of our food and is referred to as the ‘Food Bowl’ of Australia. Can this be maintained with the increasing costs of resources, including water, and the declining political support for rural industries and communities?

Food security means having enough food to enable a healthy diet. Australia has food security, but some of our neighbours in south-east Asia do not. We do not have the resources in Australia to feed our neighbours. However, the Australian government does have the capacity to help, and this is a very important aspect of regional security. CSU researchers are currently working in countries like Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam with local scientists to support them in adopting technologies to produce their own food more efficiently and sustainably.

Australian food productivity (food produced per unit area of land) has consistently increased since the late 1800s and the early days of agricultural production. This is because of improvements in crop and animal genotypes and better management techniques, underpinned by strong investment in research. During the last 30 years ‘conservation agriculture’ has made enormous progress in protecting the environment and our natural resource base.

Contrary to popular belief, sustainable production levels have not plateaued and there is still considerable potential to maintain and even increase this upward trend. Improvements will be based on new smart technologies and genotypes, better collaboration and systems integration.

There is enormous potential to improve the human health benefits of the food we produce, such as anti-cancer properties and nutritional attributes. Enhanced food quality is a real opportunity to value-add to the supply chain for Australian food producers, especially with the emerging markets of India and China and the growth of their middle classes.

Security of Australian food for Australian consumption requires a much stronger communication between producers and consumers, and it is our job to make sure that this happens now. Australians must recognise the need to pay the true cost of producing high quality food to ensure food security now and in the future.