Food insecurity – The next regional threat?
Almost one billion people will go to bed hungry tonight.
With the global population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050, how will we feed the world’s inhabitants?
Australia is in a region growing increasingly food-insecure.
And experts say a global food crisis could be the next major security crisis.
World Vision Australia’s Tim Costello says food insecurity is a huge problem. “Global populations are growing while food prices are skyrocketing.”
“Populations that once were sustainable, empowered, independent, because of weather patterns that have changed and trees cut down, are suddenly poor, marginalised, and desperate. It is a huge problem,” he says.
A report by Future Directions International says that nearly 300 million people in the South Asia region don’t have enough food.
Plant geneticist, Professor Peter Langridge, of the University of Adelaide, believes food shortages will result in greater conflict and lead to mass migrations of people.
“There is a good reason why there are lots of refugees wishing to come to Australia.” “If you look at where many of the refugees are coming from, they are coming from part of the world where [insufficient] food is probably one of the key drivers turning people into refugees.’ he says.
Farmers will have to produce more but according to Mick Keogh of the Australian Farm Institute, the world is rapidly reaching the boundaries of its arable land.
“Every year farmers have to produce 1.2 per cent more from the same amount of inputs: the same amount of land, the same amount of water etc, And that is a pretty big call.” Says Mr Keogh.
Australia is producing food on the driest inhabited continent, on low-quality soils and with climate variability.
Ertharin Cousin, of the World Food Program, says overcoming those conditions has created strengths that can be used to address regional food security.
“The reality is it will take large investors, as well as the empowerment and increasing economic opportunities for smallholders” she goes on “but we must do that in a way that does not detrimentally impact the communities where the most vulnerable people are often the hungriest and the poorest.”
Peter Langridge agrees. “The opportunities for significant improvement – and by significant I mean close to doubling productivity – is there. It could be done, from a technology perspective it is possible but do we have the capabilities, do we have the political will to make that happen? That is, I think, the biggest challenge we are facing.”
Australia is among a minority of countries that export a significant amount of the food they grow.
Department of Agriculture figures show about 70 per cent of Australian production heads overseas, contributing to the diets of more than 40 million people.