agriculture, food, food sovereignty, sustainability

You can change the food system

Food Geographer

In the last three years over intensely analysing and theoretically dissecting the complexities within Australia’s agricultural and food industries, I’ve come to the conclusion we’ve not come really far in solving the challenges we face in feeding a growing global population.

Consumers are only concerned about getting their value for money when it comes to shopping for food. Let’s look at ALDI’s growing market share and the price war between Coles and Woolworths. With Kaufland’s stores opening in Adelaide and Melbourne, interest from Lidl to launch in Australia and the possibility of AmazonFresh entering the market, food retailing will be the new battleground. We are only at the beginning of a cycle where cheaper food is the new battleground at the expense of producers.

The reality is we don’t really think about the challenges producers need to overcome to get food on our tables. We don’t think about where it comes from or how much has gone into producing it.

In response to industry pressures on the extent of imported produce entering Australia’s food value chain, the ACCC introduced a country of origin food labelling system. The progressive introduction of this labelling has created more transparency on the extent of imported ingredients in our supermarket aisles. I hope I’m not the only person reading these labels because I would often look for a locally produced alternative over an item that is predominantly or wholly manufactured using imported ingredients.

But beyond the country of origin, is it possible to create labelling systems that covers a more holistic view such as GMO, organic, nutrient specific, ethical beliefs such as free range to food miles. We have additives, hormones or chemicals in food labels but could we go a step further to ask if it was sustainably farmed, practiced animal welfare or if workers involved in harvesting or producing the food paid a fair wage. PWC’s farm to fork paper on the traceability of food opens an interesting discussion on how we could potentially restore consumers’ faith in food systems. We already have all this technology – QR codes to smartphones – to empower consumers so we can take advantage of this!

I started my postgraduate experience with the lens that the problem was the food system but now that I’ve graduated, I’ve come to realise that the problem lies with us – the consumers.

There are so many considerations but rather than thinking I could change the world [as I thought I would be able to do with my GradCertSustAgric], here are five things we can do as individuals to make a difference today:

Food sovereignty is real: We can’t change global value chains involved in the processing and manufacturing of a final product when it reaches a retailers’ shelf. However, we can support the development of a local food system that is based on sustainable production. My visit to Pocket City Farms in Camperdown inspired me because its possible to reduce our food miles if we could grow locally.

Develop food ethics: Wendell Berry said, “Eating is an agricultural act.” If we were to consider ethical sourcing, animal welfare, the environmental impacts of food production to what is a fair price for food that you buy, this simple act of being aware changes your relationship with food.

Stop food waste: Don’t buy more than you need and don’t let food go to waste. Eat with the seasons. It’s okay to buy ugly fruit and veg – no one died from eating wonky carrots. Food production creates a massive carbon footprint and you can reduce this by not wasting food. A shout out to Harris Farms for taking the lead in this.

Reconnect with producers: Visit a local farmers market, learn about how food is produced and think about what they done to harvest food that we consume and how it is inherently linked to your health and mental wellbeing.

Empower with your dollars: The pressures small scale producers and food grocers face against supermarkets are real. Buy from a local grocer, small independent retailer or head to the markets on a weekend.


agriculture, food, food sovereignty, politics

Australian food trends in 2016

Heirloom Tomatoes

As we approach World Food Day on October 16, I reflect on the headlines that have dominated my news stream in Australia over the last 10 months.

From the rising dominance of supermarkets that are now being subject to scrutiny under the ACCC Grocery Code of Conduct, farmers who are increasingly under pressure from banks to foreclose, the growth in foreign investment in Australia’s agricultural industry to the continued demand for Australia to step up its role as a food exporter.

But the battle between demand and supply in the industry is quietly fuelling what will hopefully drive five food trends in Australia as we move into 2016.

The rise of alternative food systems: From farmers markets to food distribution hubs, consumers will be drawn to searching for better produce and buying local. Organisations like Food Connect and Ooooby who will draw new supporters as consumers start to think about their connection with producers even more. Will community supported agriculture be the new black in 2016?

Healthier food options: We’ve scrutinised paleo or looked at raw food in 2015. But without a doubt, more Australians will gravitate towards healthier food options. Having spent quite a few weekends at About Life, I’m seeing more grocery baskets with produce shift along with the growing appetite for prepared meals from bain maries using organic produce. Thr1ve will find good company as our love for food bowls and healthy eating on the go continues to grow.

Ugly food: If Harris Farms has its way, we will be seeing more Imperfect Picks in baskets. Australians will finally get over buying cosmetically non-conforming fruit and veg and growers will now be able to reduce the amount of food waste because the large retail supermarkets won’t take it. Along with ugly fruit and vegetables, cheap cuts of meat will be the new staple as we face yet another year of rising food costs.

Reducing food waste, feeding the hungry: Foodbank, SecondBite and OzHarvest will play an increasingly important role as Australia becomes less food secure and we have more mouths to feed in tough times. I would love to see a TV network turn this into a reality television program so we can educate consumers on this silent crisis we are facing.

Our National Food Plan: When we stop debating about the impact of TPP and ChAFTA on our agricultural industry, 2016 could be the year when we will revive our discussion on the need for a National Food Plan that looks at making food more affordable, accessible and fair for our communities.

agriculture, food sovereignty

As frequently as we eat, we are making a choice

I missed Dr Vandana Shiva’s talk in Sydney as it was sold out but I am glad Sydney Food Fairness Alliance has generously made her speech available on YouTube. While most of her lecture focuses on the right of farming communities to non-GMO seed, this speech comes at an appropriate time when a legal battle in West Australia over the encroachment of GM farming onto an organic farm is featured as an ABC doco today.

Shiva also draws on a number of references around the failures of large scale agribusiness, specifically calling out the impact of GM on traditional farming practices. How corporations and governments through their support towards making seed an intellectual property will devastate and impoverish farming communities for the years to come. Monsanto believes that GM seeds benefits our agricultural systems because it creates a more productive and efficient system.

I don’t believe why or how GM can do this — if it creates the risks around cross contamination that we are already seeing in our existing food systems. If the demand for organic farming can be sustainable, and if we are facing shortages in the organic grain industry, why can’t we create a more sustainable outcome that is a win/win for both producers and consumers? Why do we allow big corporations to rule our food systems through the things that we buy?

agriculture, food sovereignty

A ripple of relief or fear for Australia’s agricultural industry


Should the tightening of rules on foreign investment in agricultural farm land in Australia announced today bring some relief to those who believe in food sovereignty? The question remains if it is too little and too late in reducing the investment threshold and [finally] creating a register to track foreign ownership of land.

While the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation reports that just 11 percent of agricultural land is owned by foreign investors, its perhaps more alarming that foreign ownership accounted for about half of Australia’s dairy, sugar and red meat sectors. That percentage would have changed as this was reported back in 2012 and recent acquisitions such as JBS for Primo to SAPUTO’s takeover of the Warrnambool Cheese & Butter — would cast a different light on things.

I am personally not opposed to investments that will create jobs, spur economic growth or increase innovation for the benefit of the Australian agricultural industry.

However, we have yet to see how foreign investments have translated directly to our capability to address the ageing infrastructure that shifts production to markets, water allocation for agricultural production to supporting farmers who have been affected by the falling value of food.

Perhaps it’s a little premature to rejoice in this news today.

Until we see more than a ripple of policy measures to address the 25 themes outlined in the Agricultural Competitiveness Green Paper, I’m staying in the camp of the three in five Australians who are opposed to the foreign ownership of agricultural land.