21 June 2023
Canberra, Wednesday, 21 June 2023
Chair and Members of the Parliamentary Committee, Good Morning.
Never before in human history have so many people relied on so few to produce their food. This is particularly true in modern developed countries such as Australia. Less than half of one percent of Australia’s entire population produce essentially all the food, feed and fibre for the other 99.5% of the population. This is a fundamental issue when looking at food security.
This phenomenon, which essentially unshackled humanity so that it could focus greater efforts and energy into higher order pyramid of needs issues, was enabled through science and innovation.
The Third Agricultural Revolution, or the Green Revolution, as it is more commonly referred to, started more than half a century ago and remains the foundation of our modern farming systems and delivered a step change in farming production and productivity. The introduction of new seed varieties, modern nutritional and crop protection chemistry and science-based farming systems were the core innovations that facilitated that step change. This is what delivered the greatest improvement in food security and affordability in human history. However, at the same time we have seen over recent decades a significant increase in ignorance, especially in our urban populations, about the basics of farming and agricultural systems.
It is the innovations of the plant science and other agricultural science-based industries that will also be at the core of the next revolution in agriculture, which will be required over the coming decades to achieve another leap in production and enable farming to become even more environmentally sustainable while also addressing the affordability component of food security.
This fourth revolution will need to be undertaken by the farming sector and supporting industries such as ours, in even more challenging circumstances in every sense; climatically, economically, socially and scientifically.
A range of circumstances over recent years, including severe drought, floods, bushfires and global pandemics have reinforced to all Australian’s the importance of agriculture and food security, something that perhaps many Australians had stated to take for granted. These events have also highlighted the dedication and skill of the nation’s farming sector, even in the most challenging of situations.
The foundation of agriculture is in the coexistence of different farming systems and the challenge ahead is too great to be distracted by ideas, philosophies or policies that are not based on good data and proven science.
The world needs to produce as much food over the next 50 years as we have since the beginning of humanity, more than 30,000 years ago, if we are to deliver on that most basic of human rights, of everyone having enough to eat.
That is a staggering challenge, requiring a massive effort from the entire agricultural sector. Farmers will need access to all and every safe and effective tool, product, and innovation to do it, especially new breeding technique seeds and crop protection innovations – be they organic, synthetic or biologically based.
Pesticides have had a hugely positive impact on global food production, yet there remains a serious lack of understanding about their safety and importance, not just to farming but also to the protection and restoration of our natural environment and human health.
Crop protection chemistry remains vital to supporting and indeed enabling modern food production globally. Almost three quarters of all food produced in Australia is directly attributed to farmers having access to and using crop protection products. That means more than $20 billion of Australian crop production annually is enabled by pesticides. Without pesticides the world would lose up to a further 50 per cent of current food crops, devastating food supply. Access to other innovations, such as new seed varieties though biotechnology-based breeding techniques, is also delivering significant yield improvements and reducing input costs for farmers while also delivering huge sustainability benefits.
It’s crucial that Australian farmers have access to these critical inputs now and into the future if our food security challenges are to be successfully met.
This will allow our farming sector to continue delivering for Australian consumers, who are increasing their demand for a greater variety of high-quality safe foods, as well as remain a globally competitive agricultural exporter, to even more international markets.
The ag industry, including key input industries such as our own plant science sector, are working on keeping food safe, nutritious and affordable. We are working to improve sustainability, reduce our carbon footprint and provide solutions for on-farm waste. We are not idle to the problems of the world, and we can and indeed are, through innovation, part of the solution, but this must also be assessed through the prism that producing food is not optional, it is essential.
Furthermore, Australia is fortunate to be one of the most food secure countries in the world, however the last few years has seen, for the first time in decades, an actual deterioration in the Global Hunger Index, driven by seriously diminished food security in many countries, including some of our nearest neighbours in the Asia Pacific. As an agricultural exporting nation, the success of our farming sector is not just an imperative for Australia, it is a moral obligation as member of the global community.
In addressing the challenges of food security in both Australia and globally there can be no place for flawed food fads or political activist agendas that are misleading and go against the fundamentals of evidence and science-based policy. It is also crucial that we do not see bad agricultural policies of other countries imposed on the Australian farming sector through obligatory requirements of trade deals.
Australia is fortunate to have modern farming and food systems built on robust evidence-based regulation, which affords everyone confidence in our nation’s farming and food production systems. It is crucial that they are maintained and driven by science and data, not falsely premised agendas.
As the national peak industry organisation for the plant science sector, CropLife Australia appreciates the opportunity to appear before the committee today to discuss this issue of vital importance.