Conference overview and summary

The Crawford Fund’s Annual Parliamentary Conference for 2012, ‘The Scramble for Natural Resources’, addressed a question of fundamental importance to Australia and to the international community: that is, how to feed, adequately, an extra 2 or 3 billion people within a few decades without irretrievably damaging the planet. The consensus response — from the panel of speakers and the extended question and answer session — was, in short, that the world probably has enough land, nutrients and water and, one might infer, ingenuity, in aggregate, to meet the challenge. Yet a foodsecure world will only be possible if ‘major distributional and degradation problems’ are addressed with efforts to close the gap between achievable and actual yields, as well as increased investment in research to raise yield potential. Increased production, based on a better understanding of interactions between agriculture and natural ecosystems and urban and rural development, enables, at least theoretically, increased yields, lower costs and reduced erosion and water degradation. Even with all of this, however, food price spikes and horrifying episodes of famine seem likely to recur, requiring specific policy interventions and emergency responses — including to changing climate and weather patterns. Australia can contribute to a food-secure world by growing and exporting as much food as is possible within constraints formed by our natural resource base and by market demand and prices. Within these limits, and with increased allocations to research, Australia could become one of a number of food bowls. By itself Australia cannot feed more than a fraction of the world. Its contribution through research, however, could be globally significant and contribute beneficially to the diets of 100 million or more.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2018-01-22

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