More people means more mouths to feed, and with as many as one in 10 suffering from food inadequacies, Australia must secure its own agricultural future to be able to offer aid to those in need.
Charles Sturt University Emeritus Professor Jim Pratley in the Gulbali Institute of Agriculture, Water and Environment explains why the focus needs to shift to water security in order to satiate world hunger.
The ‘lucky country’
We’re extremely fortunate in Australia. We have a secure food supply, it’s relatively affordable, and of the highest quality.
However, an alarming number of others worldwide aren’t so lucky. There’s the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, and for the latter, it’s food supply which plays a central role to their standard of living.
Australia exports roughly two thirds of the food we produce. These exports don’t necessarily go to those developing countries suffering from hunger, but overall, they contribute to world food security and quality.
We do our bit to offer aid, but this support relies on the need of our own agricultural network remaining secure.
Evolution of Australian Agriculture
As a nation, we’ve evolved significantly in my lifetime from a relatively insular country to being a major player in the world economy.
This is, in part, due to the modern ability of connecting industries, companies and people around the globe with markets and supplies of goods being one ‘click’ away.
One factor beyond our control in this sense, though, is the ramifications of poor leadership.
There’s dead-spots around the world, other countries distorting the whole operation of food supply where they either can’t produce their own or export for others.
Take the tensions in Ukraine, for example. Ukraine is a huge producer of grain, but its ability to harvest that is compromised by Russians putting mines in fields.
The ego of certain leaders far outstrips what is humanitarian.
The result is a major impact on world food trade, and unfortunately, it only seems to be getting worse.
Keeping up with demand
Australia copes well with its own demand for food, only consuming about one third of what is produced.
The biggest threat to this security is extreme weather events that continue to unfold.
We go from massive floods to severe drought in the space of months. Furthermore, it’s likely we can expect a drought within the next 12 to 18 months as La Nina switches to El Nino.
As the land dries out, which was witnessed only a few years ago, bushfires threaten to wipe out entire livelihoods, and there’s little to stop it in its tracks once that flame gets going.
But there’s one key weapon in Australia’s arsenal to fight back – it’s just being neglected.
Securing water supply is non-negotiable
Australia is within the top five or six countries in the world for life expectancy. This is due to the fact we have a great food supply.
Yet, this seems to be taken for granted. We are arrogant, complacent, even fool-hardy when it comes to continually ignoring the protection of a resource so fundamental to life – water.
Water security is often forgotten during times of floods, but by the time the next drought inevitably arrives, the impact on rural communities, in particular, is severe.
Australia seems to have somewhat of a blind spot to water, yet we’re surrounded by an unlimited quantity, with desalination plants all along the coastline.
If we could secure a water supply from this to irrigate and keep crops green in times of drought, not only does that sure up our food supply, but decreases the risk of bushfire damage.
Having green crops dotted across the landscape softens the blow of heat, spread of flames, and increases humidity.
By adding water to the system, not taking it away, Australia’s farmers will receive the ‘thanks’ they deserve for the work they do to keep us, and the world, fed with highly nutritious food.