A very well attended Industry Forum symposium entitled Food 2050 was held by the Institute of Agriculture of the University of Western Australia (UWA) on 10 April 2013.
The challenge to the 15 speakers was to present ideas, technologies and implementation strategies which could assist in feeding an estimated 9 billion people seeking food production 70% above current levels from arable land areas which may be marginally greater, but could well be less, than are currently available.
There are some promising developments in many fields. These include preserving and enriching soils, the retention and strategic reintroduction of native vegetation with its associated biodiversity, using available water more wisely, increasing grain production per hectare, greater use of highly nutritious legumes such as lupins, tracing the origins and measuring the quality of foods produced more accurately and honestly, developing intensive horticulture and improving management skills.
But this symposium and others like it are also highlighting issues of great concern which are already affecting and will continue to affect the reliability of rainfall and the sustainability of food production in Australia and across the globe. Many regions within certain countries within Africa and elsewhere are already struggling and widespread famine is all too frequent.
These concerns include the widespread and varying impacts of climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the encroachment of urban sprawl on productive agricultural land, the negative impacts of mining and unconventional gas exploration and extraction on many agricultural areas and their communities and the future availability and quality of water supplies.
As a current example, the declining rainfall and crop failures over several successive years in the Eastern Wheatbelt has now reached such a critical level, with the impending abandonment of farms and the associated worsening financial and health impacts , that some State and Federal financial support is being offered to individual farmers under very restrictive guidelines.
Such assistance, though undoubtedly helpful for some farmers and their families, does not address or even recognise the underlying problem of climate change and the probability that future seasons will continue to be too precarious to enable future crops to be sewn with confidence.
The externality costs of fossil fuel consumption, though very difficult to quantify in the area of diminishing agricultural production due to climate change impacts, should have this component included in the overall calculation of those costs.