For the first time ever, the Australian Government has developed a National Food Plan Green Paper to map out how Australia might best meet food security challenges such as climate change and population growth over the next 40 years.
We're pleased that the National Food Plan (NFP) recognises that as a global citizen, Australia has a role to play in helping to address food insecurity for those living in poverty, particularly within undeveloped agricultural systems. But we've got serious concerns about the plan itself. Read on for details and how you can help:It's disappointing that the central premise put forward in the NFP is that food security is best achieved through pursuing further trade liberalisation and providing opportunities for developing countries to participate in global markets. The plan presents a model that marginalises the poor and fails to learn from previous lessons. If a key purpose of the National Food Plan is to address global political and social stability within our region, then addressing the underlying failures of the global market will be key.
Things are not looking up
As witnessed with the 2007/2008 food crises, price volatility led to staple crops doubling in price, pushed up to 100 million people into poverty and led to social unrest across the world. Men and women living in poverty are still acutely vulnerable to further shocks such as climate related disasters, oil and food price hikes; all trends that are set to repeat themselves in the near future.
Recent reports suggest that we are on the verge of another such food crises. Failed corn crops across the US will soon have a knock-on effect for the rest of the world. For Australia, this might mean an inconvenient rise in prices for our meat consumption during barbeque season, as farmers pay more to feed their livestock. But for those in other parts of the world, the effects will be much more far reaching. Even a short term food-crises can have long term devastating effects on the world's poor; malnutrition can cause debilitating effects for pregnant women or children under the age of two.
Smallholder farmers are key
The National Food plan must recognise that the world's poor cannot compete in a global marketplace and should ensure that future policies acknowledge these vulnerabilities and invest in safety nets and other protective mechanisms.
The majority of the food produced in this world is by smallholder farmers; the severe lack of resources and investment in this vital group of food producers simply makes it unfeasible for them to compete in the global food marketplace.
The NFP identifies emergency food aid as another way Australia can help to contribute to global food security. ActionAid's experience shows that if Australia prioritises and invests in local food economies and smallholder farming, it will help ensure that these communities are resilient in a crises, therefore minimising the need for food aid. Promoting strategic food reserves will also be key to ensure that communities are better prepared to deal with food crises in the future.
Finally, the NFP fails to acknowledge the gendered dimensions of food security. It should acknowledge the extensive research showing that not only are women most affected by food insecurity, but as producers of 60% of the world's food supply, investment and support in women is also a key solution to the problems being addressed in the NFP. Any future agricultural policy, whether national or international, needs to be gender sensitive and put women at its centre.
Our ask of the Australian government
We invite the Australian Government to consider the following proposals and propose that the National Food Plan is amended to reflect these aspirations:
- Recognise the limits of trade liberalisation in agriculture as a core strategy for addressing global food insecurity.
- Promote the importance of smallholder agriculture and commit the Australian government to policies which foster the viability of local smallholder-based food economies within the context of a fairly regulated global trade in food.
- Support the continuing focus on smallholder farmers as a core element of Australia’s development assistance targeting rural development.
- Identify the key role that women play in delivering global food security both at home and overseas, and in particular the role of women smallholders in the developing world, and support policies to ensure these farmers can be competitive.
- Recognise the importance of strategic food reserves/buffer stocks in helping prevent food crises.
- Endorse practical measures that address post-harvest loss for smallholder farmers.
You can read our full submission to the National Food Plan here. If you agree with our approach, you can lend your support to the campaign by contributing to the National Food Plan blog here: http://nationalfoodplan.govspace.gov.au, or by using Twitter (@NatFoodPlan). Please reference ActionAid in your comments and email us to let us know you've done so. We'd love to hear from you!