The current global food “crisis” is not so much a consequence of natural resource constraints as it is a consequence of poor food policy decisions by government. That’s the headline in an article by Mick Keogh, Executive Director of the Australian Farm Institute, published on Monday by On Line Opinion.
I tend to agree with Mick.
The bottom line is that governments in Europe and North America, as Mick explains, have very actively discouraged agricultural production over recent decades by converting arable land into conservation areas. According to Mick, the USA has 16 million hectares of crop land (almost two thirds of Australia’s total crop area) in Conservation Reserve.
In Australia, the bans on tree clearing, but in particular the purchase of water allocation from irrigators in the Murray Darling Basin, is going to significantly impact on our potential to produce food in the longer term. Indeed while the Murray Darling Basin has historically received only 6 percent of Australia’s annual rainfall, it has produced 40 percent of Australia’s food. This is where we have concentrated the national investment in water infrastructure.
Mick suggests that the imminent introduction of greenhouse emission mitigation policies in Australia and New Zealand also has the potential to adversely impact global agricultural capacity by converting agricultural land to permanent carbon sink forests.
I thought this had already occurred to some existent in Australia, with the bans on broad scale tree clearing in our rangelands? But Mick is perhaps referring to new Blue Gum and pine plantations. Does anyone have any figures on areas likely to be converted from agriculture to this type of forestry?
Mick also mentions the lack of investment in agricultural research and development, government policies mandating the use of food crops for fuel production and policies that restrict trade.