EXCELLENT ARTICLE ON FOOD SECURITY BY SENATOR MILNE
"This country needs a food security plan and it needs it now."
As TV programs from Masterchef to Food Safari show, we Australians
love our food. But many of us, including our governments, are
complacent about where it is grown and who produces it.
While people discuss the threat of obesity in the suburbs and in the
seat of power, nobody talks about the threat of global food scarcity.
No one in Government seems worried about where the world will source
its food or the consequences of shortages. Few are concerned about
land being bought by overseas interests, about farmers being driven
from the land by low farm gate prices and trade rules which
discriminate against Australian growers. In fact, the Labor government
in its 2010-11 budget cut programmes for natural resource management
and land stewardship in the face of climate change and peak oil.
The reality should be very different. The world has embarked on a
dangerous era of food insecurity and imperialism which will fuel
conflict and famine if it is ignored. Australia is not immune. Land
and water should be treated as strategic resources by us as they are
by many in the world. The Greens want Australia’s food producing land
secured in terms of ecological sustainability and ownership, and the
men and women on the land appropriately rewarded for producing food.
This country needs a food security plan and it needs it now.
We must produce food for ourselves and export to help meet global
demand or risk having others take from us our capacity to do so
because we were too slow to realise what was happening.
It is not enough for the Australian government to keep on talking up
free trade and WTO rules. That era effectively ended with the food
riots in 2007-2008 as a result of climate change, peak oil, the rush
to biofuels and global population growth. Importing countries lost
faith in trade rules when food exporting countries like Russia,
Argentina and Vietnam limited or banned the export of wheat and rice
so as to feed their own people. That left importers with food
shortages and riots. At that point realising that the market could not
be relied upon to supply food, countries which have outgrown their own
land and water resources like China, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea,
Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Qatar embraced a global land and
water acquisition plan. They intend to buy land and water in other
countries from which to feed their own people. They will also send
their own workers to those countries to produce the food – and if
necessary employ security forces to protect it.
Pakistan has offered 400,000 hectares of agricultural land for sale
with an agreement to provide a security force to guard the food crops.
A Chinese firm has secured rights to 2.8 million hectares of the Congo
on which to produce palm oil for cooking and fuel. South Korea has
690,000 hectares in the Sudan for growing wheat which will take water
from the Nile and threaten Egypt’s food security downstream. Hunger
and conflict can only be the result.
Globally it is impossible to find out just how many land acquisition
agreements have been signed, how much land has been taken over and in
which countries, except that Africa is the biggest target. The World
Bank was supposed to release a report in December 2009 but has not
done so yet. What is known is that Australia is third on the list of
countries being approached for their land in the Asia Pacific. In
international fora new rules need to be set to underpin food security.
Any foreign investment in food production needs to be a win-win for
both the importer and exporter to avoid exploitation that is currently
In Australia, Chinese interests are looking at buying dairy farms in
Tasmania and controlling interests in sugar mills in Queensland. It is
impossible to find out how many hectares of Australian farm land has
already been bought because the Foreign Investment Review Board does
not keep track. How can we plan for food security if we do not even
collect relevant information?
In a desert nation like Australia, it is madness to sell off the farm
and its water or to undervalue the skills of our food growers and
researchers. Our children will never forgive us if we become tenant
farmers in our own country. But what recourse do farmers have when
they are not valued and cannot make a living and need to sell to exit
the farm with dignity?
Government policies like free trade agreements which take no account
of environmental laws or wage differences make it impossible for
farmers to compete with foreign-grown products no matter how efficient
Australian farmers are.
Freeing up previously farmed land on the edge of cities for land
developments, 100% tax deductions for managed Investment schemes and
carbon sink forests, and competition between farmers and coal miners
are driving up land prices and driving out food producers.
The failure of the ACCC to properly assess the impacts of food
processor mergers and the failure of national competition policy to
increase competition are treated with a shrug of the shoulders. They
need to be held to account and an inquiry into National Competition
Policy is long overdue.
The supermarket duopoly and the removal of anti price discrimination
provisions in the Trade Practices Act drive farm gate prices
permanently downwards yet the Productivity Commission cannot find a
Climate change is increasing seasonal rainfall uncertainty and peak
oil is driving up fertiliser and transport prices whilst governments
reduce support for sustainable agricultural practices and agricultural
research and development. Land and Water Australia was abolished at a
time when we need it most.
The world needs a whole new trade regime that maximises food
production where it can be grown best and which guarantees fair trade
in food products and equitable access for all countries. We must not
keep going down the road of land grabs to feed those who can afford it
at the expense of those billions who cannot.
forwarded by Bob Vinnicombe