Australia agriculture

Australia agriculture has the opportunity to feed many more people than live on the continent.

Should I be lucky enough to reach the ripe old age of 89, the UN population projections estimate that I will be one of 9 billion souls alive on earth.

I will probably be frail and grumpy as an old goat but along with my many fellows I'll still need a daily ration of food. And thanks to dental implants my ration of choice would be steak, a burger maybe or even some biltong [the South African version of jerky that is simply delicious if your teeth still work — if you live in Sydney check out this great local supplier].

The same projections for our future suggest that along with greater numbers will go an increase in real per-capita food consumption of 79% by 2030 in developing countries and doubling in China and South Asia.

Most of us will eat more than we do now.

Put another way, in the foreseeable future world population growth will require that 70% more food will be needed than is currently grown on less arable land and with fewer water resources — this is a big challenge.

Australia agriculture has the potential to help solve this problem because at first glance it has

  • plenty of land
  • commercial and physical infrastructure
  • an established agricultural sector
  • stable governance 
  • expanding regional markets 

A recent DuPont commissioned report entitled Feeding Asia-Pacific says Australia’s role in regional food security has great potential but requires a major injection of foreign direct investment (FDI) capital before Australia can meet its own “future food security challenges and become a major food supplier to Asia in coming decades”.

The report suggests expanding market access for farm products will happen through individual trade agreements with countries like China and Japan or multi-country deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But currently less than 1% of investment into farming in Australia agriculture comes from abroad and “government decisions have prevented foreign acquisitions of Australian firms”.

And, more importantly, “Such actions discourage inward investment in the sector and encourage food self-sufficiency policies in food-importing countries”.

This means that the policy frame disables the opportunity before there is a chance to consider the technical and logistical challenges of drought, ancient soils, low soil carbon levels and limited irrigation opportunity.

vegetable production in a glasshouse hydroponics facility

Pragmatology for Australia agriculture

Some would argue that Australia has a moral obligation to pursue an agricultural opportunity as big as feeding Asia protein — it is simply too big an economic boon.

Digging minerals out of the ground to sell to China has been the backbone of Australian balance of payments and investment for decades but government cannot rely on natural resources forever. It knows deep down that Australia must diversify income to help match balance of payments in an economy increasingly dominated by the service sectors — it would be good to shift some product as part of the future mix.

So the obligation is to its citizens and their kids, to do what can be done to create future wealth. And some of that can come from agricultural production.

Equally there is security in trade.

If your neighbours are your friends this is good. If they are not but they rely on you for significant amounts of their food or natural resources, then they are less likely to let differences get out of hand.

Australia has just signed new free trade deals with Japan and South Korea and is talking with China — three countries that account for over 50% of Australia’s total exports. Negotiations are also renewed with the Gulf States where trade would be sweetened by investment opportunities into Australia agriculture.

These are interesting developments.

They are expected of a government keen on markets. And such pragmatism makes sense. The real question is will it be enough? 

2030 is not far away.

orchard in NSW with netting to protect the crop from flying foxes

› Australia agriculture

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Confused Confucius spurned the monastic life for the world of work, moral conundrums and mobile devices. His sayings, questions and incongruous idioms on the environment and modern life bring delight and bafflement in equal measure...  check out more Confused Confucius sayings.

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