Thursday, July 13, 2017

Australia - a food larder

Australia feeds a lot of people. As a big country with a relatively small population, it has just over two arable hectares per person, one of the highest ratios in the world. The diverse soils and climate provide a wide variety of fresh food all year round.

Australia is a leading food-exporting nation with 65% of farm production going overseas, therefore it contribute to the food security not just of Australia, but of many other nations. Australia is part of a global food system.

Australia's population is projected to reach between 36.8 million and 48.3 million by 2061

Currently, exports feed (at least in part) 36.6 million people outside Australia. If we add that to domestic population, 61 million people will eat Australian food in 2017. If we apply the same assumptions to projected high and low Australian populations for 2061, we arrive at a total (domestic plus export) population fed by Australian production of 92 million to 121 million, or an increase of 51-98%. Could Australia double the number of people we feed by 2061? The answer is yes, but not simply by doubling the amount of food we produce. 

  1. Increase food productivity. We need to aim for 2% growth in annual food production by increasing investment research and development for food and agriculture. For comparison, between 1949 and 2012 we have averaged 2.1% annual growth, although from 2000-12 that slumped to 0.6%. Achieving this productivity target will be difficult, given the challenge of climate change and other constraining factors.
  2. Reduce food waste. We currently waste around 30% of the food we produce. Reducing food waste benefits the environment and the economy. This strategy requires ongoing improvements in supply chain efficiency, changes in marketing, and consumer education.
  3. Change our eating patterns. Moving towards sustainable diets will improve public health and environment outcomes. Reducing overconsumption (a contributor to obesity), eating more vegetables and less discretionary “junk” foods represent initial steps in this direction.
Australia can feed many more people than it currently does.