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.

environment, politics, sustainability

The end of the world as we know it, is near

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity. – Limits to Growth, DH Meadows, 1972

Elizabeth Kolbert painted a bleak picture on the future the biodiversity in the face of climate change and development at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. In We Are the Asteroid, Kolbert talks about how we are heading into the Sixth Extinction by the end of the century with biodiversity increasingly being reduced through the impact of carbon emissions on the natural environment, the acidification of oceans and its impact on coral reefs and how the transportation of non-native species through ballast water has impacted on natives in their natural environment.

Supporting Kolbert’s theory, Dr Graham Turner’s recent publication looks at the remodelled data on scenarios such as population growth, food security, resource usage and peak oil constraints identified in the Limits to Growth (a study which is as old as I am). Both Kolbert and Turner coincidentally point to how climate change is accelerating, its impact on the environment and how population growth is rapidly depleting our resources. Turner adds it appear[s] that the global economy and population is on the cusp of collapse.

I’m still sleepless from the raw nerve that Kolbert had struck on the global issues that mirror the issues that are dividing Australia at the moment. Whether its mining to coal seam gas extraction and its impact on native species to the warming and [inevitable] destruction of the Great Barrier Reef through the acidification of the oceans.

There are many debates in Australia that have no win/win solutions: creating jobs in ‘dirty’ industries to support the economy, preserving the natural environment against the expansion of extractive industries to the political dilution that could wind down Australia’s renewables industry.

A lot of emotion goes into these debates around our rights and the environment. In any attempt to ‘rationalise’ things, we need to remember that the environment does not belong to us and when we take away from it, we need to put a price on this so we have the means to leave it for the future generations.

EDIT – A must watch mashup of a video on the Rise and Fall of Humans that is a collective narrative of authoritative voices over the years made by Munir Kotadia.

environment, politics

Our trees live to tell


I’m feeling a bit like a sook today so my spirit is lifted when Dan tells me about this project he is working on based on the Hall of North American Forests. A giant sequoia tree that was cut down in 1891 which is more than 1,400 years old that is displayed in the museum with historical events marked on its rings. I love the idea as it recognises the survival of nature and how it prevails over the wars, disasters and feuds between civilisations, countries and people.

Fast forward many years later, we continue to think little about the forests that we have and how many stories these trees have lived to tell. I’m watching closely, with faith that UNESCO will not delist a World Heritage listed forest area in Tasmania. It will spell a sad day for us if we allowed this environmental vandalism happens.


Mary Rowe talks about the power hyperlocal communities have in making decisions and being resilient. It is where politics intervenes to make these decisions that destroys things. How self-organisation within communities bringing people together from different disciplines and background have greater power to create change that is more impactful on their communities.

An interesting insight in that lecture was how Rowe highlights disconnection in the feedback loops in cities that are challenged. How environmental decisions have not been mapped against economic decisions or how feedback loops were not in place during the decision making process.

This video spoke to my heart as I think about the large infrastructure projects such as coal seam gas that are struggling to get validation from communities. Or the backlash politicians in Australia are seeing on a raft of issues that have been earmarked for transformation – whether its healthcare, education or welfare.

Would we be a better society and would we be able to move forward on some of these issues if we had a feedback loop? But then again, would we allow our communities to participate in this decision-making process?

community engagement, environment, NGO, politics, sustainability

The social license to operate


One of the terms of references I’ve had to work with often with clients in contentious industries is the “social license to operate”.

The social license which was once perceived to be the consent or permission to operate within an immediate community has increasingly seen its definition of community widening. Beyond immediate local residents, businesses, community groups and governments, the sphere of influencers who have their say in giving legitimacy to this license, is increasingly broadened not only domestically but internationally.

When financial institutions such as AMP and Hunter Hall enforced its RIL principles in the types of companies it invests in, we start to see the positive impact it has on oil, gas and fuel companies – who may have a formal license to operate but their social license to operate diminishing outside of the traditional confines of its community.

This is why bureaucratic decisions to grant permission to companies like Metgasco and Whitehaven Coal have failed with the lack of community engagement. I don’t believe these companies or the planning authorities would not have imagined the extent or the number of stakeholders that were emotionally or ideologically attached to these social licenses to operate in the region. Over the last few weeks, it has become increasingly apparent that “undefined communities” were emerging and they had reinforced their opposition in a stronger and more vocal manner. I salute and support groups like Lock the Gate Alliance for creating awareness amongst the wider communities who have shown that these exploration and mining projects have far reaching implications beyond just a small region but to every individual living in Australia.

But why then do consultations on coal seam gas seem to only fall within the peripheral boundaries of the states – the Victorian Government’s Natural Gas Community Information “consultation” is a good example.

The environment belongs to everyone of us and the future generations so I would like to see a national register for development consent on projects that impact on Australia’s natural environment where everyone has the right to review and make a submission. Its time we restored transparency into investment led projects that affect the environment and to rethink who ultimately grants businesses the social license to operate.

Its you. Its me.

community engagement, environment, politics

Listen before the shit hits the fan


Source: True Issues, JWS Research

An opinion piece by Geoff Kitney in the Australian Financial Review that talks about how voters are increasingly tuning out of politics. Its a well thought through article around how politicians are failing to drive the agenda, the shrinking pool of insightful media commentary being driven by the demand for instant news and people being increasingly disconnected from issues that are affecting them.

Why have we failed to come up with solutions to address concerns around climate change (an inadequate Direct Action Plan), renewable energy (RET review riddled with biases) and resource use (let’s keep the mines running while coal prices tumble because we need those jobs) when its consistently been ranked as the top 3 concerns over the last quarters.

Its probably a case of a community that has stopped speaking because the politicians have stopped listening.

I’ve been working on a prop around community engagement for a few days and one thought that burns brightly in my mind is how slow organisations have been in engaging with their stakeholders until an issue impacts on them. Then they get into a mad scramble of trying to drum up support to save [insert cause], [insert impact] and [insert blame].

Active engagement is continuous listening and dialogue combined – in times of peace and especially at a time where the political tides are changing. This is why ccmmunity engagement needs to go deeper if organisations are to remain relevant to the stakeholders they serve. This is when listening allows organisations understand issues, to map out priorities and communicate a clear pathway to address these concerns. Instead of kicking up big save [insert cause] and not finding the support. Or much worse, facing the dilution of 15 similar organisations looking for donors, volunteers and support for the same cause.

agriculture, environment, politics, sustainability

Australia: what is the price to pay for a land of opportunity ?

ImageSource: Social Progress Index

Many people say and believe that Australia is a land of opportunity and the Social Progress Index reinforces this by ranking us #3 using a mesh of indices to determine our place in the world when it comes to personal rights, freedom of choice, tolerance and inclusion and access to advance education.

But when it comes to measuring the foundation of our wellbeing that looks at access to basic knowledge, information communications, health and wellness and ecosystem sustainability, we come in at #18. On the whole, Australia doesn’t do too badly as we are ranked the 10th most socially progressive country globally.

However, being a socially progressive country comes at a price to the environment where Australia is ranked #52 for the sustainability of our ecosystem which measures greenhouse gas emissions, water withdrawals as a percentage of resources and biodiversity. Living in one of the driest continents in the world, water feeds Australia’s agricultural industry and according to the ABS, it accounts for 38 percent of use.

While there are underground sources of water, we are still reliant on rain and the impact of climate change could mean rainfall would be less predictable or available. As we watch quietly the debates over who owns the rights of and the trading of water, I would love the opportunity for us to throw this debate out to the community to discuss who rightfully owns water in Australia (not just the Murray-Darling basin alone but also groundwater), how it can be rightfully protected from pollution, assigned to support agricultural needs and financially supporting buybacks for an entitlement that belongs to our communities.