Climate change, rising fuel costs, water shortage -- now experts are warning Australia's food producers have a new crisis to consider: Food Insecurity.
By
Chiara Pazzano

18 Mar 2010 - 10:09 AM  UPDATED 3 Sep 2013 - 6:20 PM

Climate change, rising fuel costs, water shortages: now experts are warning Australia's food producers have a new crisis to consider: Food Insecurity.

When the FAO Cereal Price Index doubled in the year to April 2008, food security became a global crisis, sparking riots in 30 countries, including many tottering on the brink of severe shortages or widespread hunger.

The World Bank estimates that food inflation during that period pushed an additional 100 million people into deep poverty, on top of a billion that were already scraping by on less than a dollar a day.

The episode of 'soaring food prices' was followed by the most severe global financial crisis and deepest economic recession witnessed in the last 70 years.
Despite the global economy relatively stabilising, international food prices remain high by historical standards, the United Nations warns, and a growing global population and climate change are making the future of food look even more uncertain.
Population growth
The world's 6.5 billion population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050.
This, combined with growing consumption as poverty is alleviated, will put huge pressure on food supplies, experts warn.
Climate change
Climate change is expected to worsen the problem, reducing rainfall and affecting crop growth.
Added to this, efforts to tackle climate change - by using biofuels instead of fossil fuels - are taking more land away from food production.
Oil prices
And there's more reasons why some people living in developed countries are worried food scarcity may one day affect them.
Oil prices remain at historical high levels, the UN warned in its “The State of Food and Agriculture 2009” report and as cities expand, new agricultural land is becoming less available.
Land shortage
The panic of 2008 saw national interests dominating the response to a crisis which required coordinated global action.
Many countries resorted to stockpiling food and blocking exports in order to keep down domestic prices.
As a result, some major food importers, such as the Gulf States and South Korea, have lost confidence in the market and are negotiating the purchase of extensive farmland in developing countries in order to secure food supplies.
This disconcerting trend has been condemned as “neo-colonialism”.
Loss of biodiversity
The great advances in crop yields since the 1970s, described as the “green revolution”, have to be weighed against their ecological consequences.
The FAO says that 75% of food biodiversity was lost in the 20th century whilst 80% of the world's dietary energy is now supplied by just 12 industrial crops.
The green revolution has also been responsible for significant soil erosion, salinity and depletion of water resources.
Calls for a national food policy

In Australia, community organisations are calling for a national food policy, saying the country will face food shortages unless there's better planning to cope with the effects of climate change and population growth.
By 2050, Australia will be faced with feeding 36 million people.
"If we increase our population and we don't protect our agricultural land and think of ways to grow food to feed our growing population, we will experience serious food shortages," the President of the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance Lynne Saville told SBS.
For the first time, Australia is now importing more fruit and vegetables than it exports.

Last year, $826 million worth of food came into the country while $749 million worth went out.

Most comes from New Zealand, but increasingly garlic, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, beans and corn are being sourced from China.

Sustainable agricultural expert at the University of Sydney Bill Billotti has also been advocating for a food policy.

"We don't currently have a national food policy in Australia and so our approach is fragmented. We stick food in agriculture, we stick food in health, we deal with food in environment but we're not getting that across-discipline view, wholistic view of food," he told SBS.

Rising food prices in recent years have made it more difficult for Australians to access fresh food, which is often more expensive than fast food alternatives.

"There's absolutely no doubt that food, some food, is becoming more expensive, some food is going to become more rare and some almost extinct if we carry on the way we do," OzHarvest's Ronni Khan told SBS.

The Director of the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab Professor Chris Ryan says we need to look for alternative and innovative approaches to dealing with resource scarcity and environmental change.

"Over the next few decades the way people obtain their food, water and energy will undergo a major evolution," he said.

“One pathway we can see is people no longer relying on industrial production units hundreds or thousands of kilometres, or even continents, away. Instead they will source a greater proportion of essential resources, goods and services from within their 'neighbourhood',” Professor Chris Ryan said.

“This evolution means a significant switch in people's role within the economy and in their identity as citizens, moving from one of passive consumption to a more active engagement in production and exchange of economic and social capital,” he added.