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Food and Environmental Security – Australia’s contribution

Thurs April 17th, 1-5pm (Molonglo Theater, Crawford School, ANU)

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Theme:  Climate variability is increasing and leading to crop failures, while growing demand on agriculture is adding pressure for further expansion. Climate change is also destabilizing natural systems and threatening biodiversity, just as the ecosystem services they provide (water harvesting, soil improvement) are necessary to provide land fertility to sustain life. Food security depends on a stable environment, while environmental security is threatened by food insecurity. Joint solutions are available including sustainable intensification, geographically appropriate integrated agriculture, and new approaches to breeding for ecosystem services. How they can be applied in Australia as a model for other regions will be discussed.

Moderator (Justin Borevitz Associate Professor, Center of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, RSB, ANU)

1-2pm David Lobell’s talk (Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University)

“Aussie rules agriculture: why Australia holds many lessons for achieving global Food and Environmental Security in the next 20 years”.

2-2:30 Mark Howden (Director Climate Adaptation Flagship, CSIRO)

“Towards a more effective climate adaptation response”

2:30-3pm afternoon tea

3-3:20 Murray Badger (Director of Center of Excellence in Translational Photosynthesis, RSB, ANU)

“Research Opportunities in Photosynthesis”

3:20-3:40 Mellissa Wood (Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research)

“Adoption of new agricultural technologies abroad”

3:40-4 Robert Costanza (Chair in Public Policy Crawford School, ANU)

“Geographically Appropriate Integrated Agriculture”

4-5pm panel discussion (Justin Borevitz with speakers)

 

Food and Environmental Security in the Twenty-first Century (to ANU reporter 11Aug2014)

John Rivers1, Norman Warthmann1, Justin Borevitz1

1ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, Research School of Biology, Australian National University

“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” – 1996 World Food Summit

Hence, at the start, food security depends on agriculture’s ability to supply nutritious food, and to increase the supply as needed. Agriculture, in turn, depends on water, fertile soils, and favourable weather. These are ‘services’, provided to us by the Earth’s ecosystems. We take them for granted, but ‘ecosystem services’ are themselves becoming insecure.

More than two thirds of the land currently under cultivation is at risk of degrading, and climate change further jeopardises the stability of agricultural production. This comes at a time when our society faces the challenge of feeding a prosperous 21st-century population. Population increase to 9+ Billion human beings by 2050 is a fact. Every attempt will have to be made to ensure everyone has access to the food and nutrition they need. At the same time we must protect the ecosystem services that agricultural production depends on. We will need to produce more whilst regenerating water cycles, soils, and ecosystems and stabilising our climate.

The numbers are sobering: we will need to double food production. In our home region, Australasia, the need for food will be keenly felt. Many of the two billion people in the region are already undernourished. How will we keep pace with increasing demand for food which directly competes with feed and fuel and indirectly with fodder and fibre? How ever will our environment hold up?

The large increases in agricultural production of the last 60 years have come at the expense of the environment by vastly expanding the area under cultivation, often through deforestation. A combination of management techniques were used, such as irrigation, pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer along with tailored crop varieties, especially cereal grains. It boosted agricultural production to unprecedented levels and saved millions of lives, but widespread use of inputs, especially over and misuse, harm natural ecosystems.

We can no longer afford the environment to be the collateral damage of agriculture. Declining water tables, vanishing soils and an unstable climate threaten the stability of our food supply. We, and others, believe that there are ways to use agricultural land productively while, at the same time, regenerating the environment and, under the right conditions, mitigating climate change[1].

Food and environmental security are linked in many ways. We are only beginning to understand the interplay of so-called ‘ecosystem services’. For example, healthy ecosystems improve soil fertility and prevent runoff and diverse ecosystems host pollinators and control pests.

Our goal must be to make agriculture and regenerating the environment a virtuous cycle. This will require scientists and policy makers to be aware of the interdisciplinary issues that affect both, food and environmental security. Increasing crop yield is a worthy goal, but so is improving crop resilience to the stresses of an erratic climate, such as droughts, heat waves and cold nights. Food security in developing countries requires research into many food crops, not just a few staples and cash crops destined for export. We need research policies at national, and international levels with clear scientific, social, and economic goals.

The ANU has a strong record in plant science research and contributed much to increasing the world’s agricultural productivity. ANU’s efforts and vision have just been rewarded with involvement in two new, federal government-funded, ARC Centres of Excellence, ‘Translational Photosynthesis‘ and ‘Plant Energy Biology‘. Along with other researchers in Plant Science at the ANU, these Centres of Excellence work closely with Australian authorities and research organisation such as, the CSIRO, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) to develop technologies relevant to Australian farmers and the world.

We are committed to research relevant to food and environmental security and we recognise we need to work across schools and disciplines. Earlier this year, the Research School of Biology (RSB), together with the Crawford School of Public Policy, hosted a forum entitled “Food and Environmental Security: Australia’s contribution”. The forum championed an interdisciplinary approach to food and environmental security. It brought together plant scientists, agronomists, policy makers and economists. This exchange is important. It will define and refine our research priorities.

We hope this interdisciplinary emphasis extends beyond the spheres of research, policy and food production. There is, for instance, the consumer. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), food wastage accounted for more than a quarter of food consumed in 2013. Consumer behaviour hence has a big impact on food and environmental security.

Feeding the world whilst preserving and restoring our environment is a challenge we must meet. Research and policy must consider the ‘big picture’. Food production and environmental protection are not different issues. They are the same.

 

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