Food Security

(Private Member's Statement, 22 October 2020, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

Australia ranks close to the highest in the world for food security. With a population of around 25 million, we produce enough food to feed 60 million people and produce around 93 per cent of the food we consume. But the Black Summer bushfires and the pandemic exposed food vulnerabilities and my constituents want action to guarantee security into the future.

Food security means access to high quality affordable nutritious food. Despite the abundance of food in this country, there is an allocation problem with around 17 percent of inner city residents experiencing food insecurity. Many rely on OzHarvest but donations of food have disappeared with the loss of corporate catered events due to COVID-19 and now receives City of Sydney to purchase food. Councils feeding people is not a sustainable solution to food insecurity.

Meanwhile food destruction from oversupply has skyrocketed from disruptions to exports under COVID. This food could be redistributed if for example we invested in storage facilities close to food sources.

Climate change presents massive threats to food security with more frequent and extreme weather events including floods, prolonged droughts, and rising temperatures. Last season’s fires killed large amounts of livestock and burnt through crops and orchards. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified the agriculture regions of the Murray-Darling Basin and south Western Australia as climate change hotspots. Food production across the nation is expected to fall by over 15 percent from climate change alone. The impact will be felt globally because many countries rely on Australia for crops like wheat, barley, oats and pulses.

A plan to secure food supplies must include mitigating climate change as well as innovation to adapt to the new climate.

Increased floods and wind events, overproduction, overgrazing and deforestation add to land degradation which could significantly impact on our ability to produce food in the future.

Intensive water use and contamination from mining in food producing regions diverts water from food production, causing clashes between farmers and mining companies. Sustainable and affordable alternative energy sources now mean priority can easily be given to agriculture over thermal coal and coal seam gas mining.

Urban encroachment into peri-urban regions reduces productive land. Sydney’s food bowl provides 20 per cent of the city’s food demand but the Institute of Sustainable Futures estimates that could shrink to six per cent in just over 10 years as Sydney’s population pushes residential development closer to agricultural land.

Food production close to the city builds resilience: there are fewer food miles and less spoilage during transit, important for highly perishable items like Asian greens. Transportation routes are less prone to disruption from flood or fire. Sydney is also less prone to drought than other agricultural regions in the state.

I welcome the new urban agricultural land set aside in the Horsley Park Urban Farming Master Plan but we need to invest in technologies that can bring food production into the city. Hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics need less land and can occur in urban contexts to produce highly nutritious food. The city can also attract a young workforce into agriculture and provide significant economic opportunities.

Internationally, demand for biofuels has diverted food to fuel, increasing food costs. The situation locally must be monitored and must look at how the growth in other organic materials like plastic replacements.

Australia’s heavy reliance on fertilisers is a growing threat with major sources of phosphorous dwindling and nitrogenous fertilizer production energy intensive and vulnerable to oil production and price volatility. Innovation will be needed to reduce our dependence on phosphorous and nitrogen fertilisers.

Declines in honey bee populations from the Varroa mite and pesticide use is causing significant threats to global food production. Honey bees pollinate many crops including in Australia and we need to protect and expand populations as well as other pollinators like native bees.

Wild fish catches are in sharp decline for almost all species. Prawn catches in Australia have dropped to half. Lack of no-go sanctuary zones where species can regenerate needs to be urgently addressed.

It is estimated that each person in Australia wastes $239 worth of food every year. Food waste makes up 35 per cent of municipal waste and costs the economy billions. We need to get more efficient with food use.

Sydney’s food distribution relies heavily on Flemington Markets which is at capacity and we need to plan for new distribution options spread across the city.

We cannot take our fragile food security for granted and I believe the parliament needs to address these challenges through a comprehensive food production and supply inquiry.