“Give and Take”: Food Security and the Federal Election

In an era of sporadic climate activity, the issue of food security needs to become a priority for any government, particularly in the Asia-Pacific. For Australia, the upcoming federal election constitutes the perfect ground for either political party to enter into a serious policy debate on how best to secure the nation’s food supply into the next century. As recent as 2008, Australia emerged as a net importer of grain as a result of a prolonged drought that damaged wheat yields across the country (Butler, 2009). The loss of crops is problematic for the state, particularly given that rising middle class populations across the Asia-Pacific increasingly demand high quality food products that are available in developed countries such as Australia (McKay, 2009).

The focus of this paper is to reiterate the need for federal parties to prioritise food security in their campaigns for the upcoming 2013 election. Firstly, the response will provide an overview of the food security dilemma in consultation with an essay released by Julian Cribb (2013) titled Food and fuel security: huge challenges but promising solutions. After reviewing the proposals of the essay, the paper will then focus on closely analysing the federal government’s National Food Plan in order to outline key policy considerations both parties should contemplate during their election campaigns and beyond.

Food security represents a fundamental social and political issue for states across the world in the twenty-first century. Whilst food self-sufficiency has been a local priority throughout time, the securitization of food has links to a series of studies undertaken in the late twentieth century. In contrast to realism, “securitization” seeks to evoke the symbolic power and logic of war to encourage international stakeholders to enact preventative frameworks for environmental concerns (Trombetta, 2008). In Australia, whilst evidence indicates that the state can provide food for its own population, it is highly unlikely that it will have the capacity to feed surrounding populations amidst new natural disasters (Cribb, 2013). An example of a natural disaster includes increased flooding in many South-East Asian countries as a result of climate change, leading to a collapse in communities and an increase of new migrant arrivals (Cribb, 2013). For Cribb (2013), apart from criticising the political bickering over refugee arrivals, the author highlights how necessary it is for the Australian Government along with other governments around the world to begin investing in important agricultural research and training as well as alternative biofuel sources. The investment in new research and technology is critical to securing food supply, particularly given a third reduction in global grain reserves despite population increases since 2000. Set reductions across grain reserves and other primary produces were acknowledged in the Australian Government’s National Food Plan: Our Food Future.

The Australian Government’s National Food Plan represents the first step to combatting the issue of food security in the near future. Released by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in May 2013, the plan outlines the policy direction of the government for ensuring the future of Australia’s food industry and the sustainability of food resources abroad. What is particularly important in the document is the government’s 2025 goal to assist developing countries gain access to new farming technologies developed domestically and abroad (National Food Plan, 2013). Through the Australian International Food Security Centre, researchers have commenced their study into how small scale farmers can promote as well as take advantage of alternative farming practices. Some of these practices can be found in biotechnology approaches to agriculture, where the government has set aside $23 million dollars for the Australian Research Council’s Industrial Relations Research Program (National Food Plan, 2013). Accompanying a modest investment in agricultural research, the government has also established a goal to support local food industries, where disadvantaged communities (particularly isolated indigenous communities) will be supported with necessary funding and expertise to cater for their local population (National Food Plan, 2013). However, whilst these initiatives acknowledge the impending dangers of climate change on our capacity to cultivate food in Australia, there is still little attention provided by the government on food security issues faced by neighbouring states. The issue of food security in the broader Asian-Pacific region constitutes a federal election priority.

A decline in food availability in neighbouring states represents a major social concern for Australia over the coming years. For countries such as Malaysia, their limited capacity to produce sufficient crop yields and raise livestock will be exacerbated further when the state experiences another decline in rainfall before 2020 (Ejaz-Qureshi, Hanjra & Ward, 2013). In the face of negative health repercussions and potential turmoil in their communities, many Malaysian people will be forced to migrate to Australia in order to provide for their families. The displaced people from countries such as Malaysia will have a total impact on society, particularly in relation to health. For many new arrivals, their cultural practices related to food cultivation and lifestyle will be under direct threat as they adjust to a new Australian lifestyle. According to Howat and Stoneham (2011), displaced persons from states such as Malaysia due to climate change activity are highly likely to develop a far greater ecological footprint given pressures placed on them by developed countries to assimilate into a new lifestyle. In terms of food security and Australia, this would more than likely lead to an increase in consumption of new foods that are already responsible for contributing to the climate change dilemma. To avoid the social pressures and food security threats, the Australian Government needs to urgently act on climate change.

Each party has a responsibility to outline a plan to protect Australia’s food security interest and mitigate climate change. As a starting point, there are a few select initiatives that should be investigated and supported by the incoming government to ensure the protection of our natural and social environment. Two ideas include:

1. Re-imagining Urban Spaces: The Melbourne Model
Re-imagining urban spaces requires government at a local, state and federal level to reconsider the ecological and economic boundaries of urban areas. In the case of Melbourne, urban food advocates have already stressed the importance of planning approaches that take into account ecological justice principles along with self-sufficiency responses to cultivating food (Lyons, Richards, Desfours & Amati, 2013). An example of a re-imagined urban space includes the use of public land found in local gardens and tram stops to grow food that is freely available to the general public. By transforming public land whilst using the sustainable concept of the Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) planning model, several local districts are growing stable food sources whilst harvesting stormwater using bioretention swales (Kazemi, Beecham & Gibbs, 2011). Through preserving the stormwater in bioretention swales, local councils are then able to discharge water at a later date which can then be used to preserve local ecosystems and encourage self-sufficiency in growing food.

2. Sustainable Education: Food Security Despite a growing awareness of environmental sustainability in schools across Australia, state and federal governments need to design policies that give greater attention to food self-sufficiency. In a recent study conducted by Boon (2011), issues related to environmental sustainability in the context of education can largely be traced to inconsistencies in pre-service teaching programs at a tertiary level. With little experience or knowledge on topics including food security, many graduating teachers lack the confidence to adopt inter-disciplinary learning activities that educate students on the importance of food sustainability or protecting natural ecology (Boon, 2011). For the incoming federal government, it will be necessary to take drastic measures to ensure pre-service programs educate teachers on food security so that they in-turn can impart onto their students responsible lessons in sustainability. In particular, the government must fund further research and professional learning opportunities for educators Australia-wide that focus on developing the cognitive interdisciplinary skills of teachers across all sectors (Fortuin, van Koppen & Kroeze, 2013). Whilst education falls under the jurisdiction of state governments, a failure to take action in this area will place the Labor Government’s current objectives (established in their Living Sustainability: The Australian Government’s National Action Plan for Education for Sustainability released in April 2009) at risk.

In conclusion, as a federal election date draws nearer, it is important that all sides of politics place issues of sustainability and food security back on the national agenda. As a developed state, Australia has a direct responsibility to many of its Asian-Pacific neighbours to ensure their survival and prosperity amidst sporadic weather events that are linked to climate change. Furthermore, with the prospect of many displaced persons arriving in Australia as a result of natural disasters, we must ensure that future generations possess the necessary skills to cultivate stable food sources. Our efforts in the two policy areas addressed in this article as well as many others will ensure that Australia takes a leading position in helping mitigate the impacts of disastrous climate change.

Martin Dickens is a Masters of Teaching (Secondary) candidate currently studying at the University of Melbourne. He has a background in Sociology, Politics, History and English from his Bachelor of Arts degree awarded by La Trobe University. His predominant interests lie in domestic and international policies around the areas of education and sustainability.

References:

Boon, H.J. (2011). Beliefs and Education for Sustainability in Rural and Regional Australia. Education in Rural Australia, 21(2), 37-54.

Butler, C.D. (2009). Food security in the Asia-Pacific: Malthus, limits and environmental challenges. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 18(4), 577-584.

Commonwealth Government of Australia (2013). National Food Plan: Our Food Future, Canberra: Commonwealth Government of Australia.

Cribb, J. (2013). Food and Fuel Security: huge challenges – but promising solutions (pp. 30-35). Placing global change on the Australian election agenda: Essays on vital issues that are largely being ignored, Weston: Australia21.

Ejaz Qureshi, M., M.A. Hanjra & J. Ward. (2013). Impact of water scarcity in Australia on global food security in an era of climate change. Food Policy, 38, 136-145.

Fortuin, K.P.J., van Koppen, C.S.A. & Kroeze, C. (2013). The contribution of systems analysis to training students in cognitive interdisciplinary skills in environmental science education. Journal of Environmental Studies in Science, 3(1), 139-152.

Howat, P & Stoneham, M. (2011). Why population growth is a key to climate change and public health equity. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 22(4), 34-38.

Kazemi, F., Beecham, S. & Gibbs, J. (2011). Streetscape biodiversity and the role of bioretention swales in an Australian urban environment. Landscape and Urban Planning, 101(1), 139-148.

Lyons, K., Richards, C., Desfours, L. & Amati, M. (2013). Food in the city: urban food movements and the (re)-imagining of urban spaces. Australian Planner, 50(2), 157-163.

McKay, J. (2009). Food and health considerations in Asia-Pacific regional security. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 18(4), 654-663.

Trombetta, M.J. (2008). Environmental security and climate change: analysing the discourse. Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 21(4), 585-602.

 

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