Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 5 May 2016
Page: 4493


Dr STONE (Murray) (10:56): On behalf of the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I present the committee's first report of the inquiry into development partnerships in agriculture, entitled Food for thought: improving health and nutrition in the Indo-Pacific region.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

Dr STONE: by leave—On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, and as the Chair of the Foreign Affairs and Aid Subcommittee, I am pleased to present the committee's first report for the inquiry into the role of development partnerships in agriculture and agribusiness in promoting poverty reduction, economic growth and regional stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

This first report offers some directions on what Australia can do to improve health and nutrition outcomes for our nearby Indo-Pacific region, and particularly for our nearest neighbours in the Pacific.

The evidence taken during the inquiry urged the committee to note that there is a looming health crisis in our region.

By 2050 the global demand for food is expected to rise by 60 per cent. Meeting the need for a sustainable supply of nutritious and affordable food will be 'one of the greatest challenges of our time'.

The Indo-Pacific region is the epicentre of a youth bulge. Significant nutrition deficits will not only have grave implications for maternal and child health but also have long-term economic and population health impacts.

This report details the result of increasing affluence in some families, where, despite more of family income being spent on food, it is not necessarily being spent to purchase food with a higher nutritional value. Urbanisation, changed agricultural production, the incursion of urban development, the migration of men and youths to cities or overseas and changes in trading patterns in the Pacific region are all making a difference to what people have access to in the way of food and the preferences in food consumption.

As local food production and fishing industries have fewer people engaged in them and often overseas remittances provide families with additional income, unhealthy imported convenience foods—for example, fatty mutton flaps, turkey tails, turkey necks and other offcuts from the abattoirs of the US—typically become available in quantities, and often at a price, where they become a preferred and higher status food for many consumers. Tinned spam and fish is too often replacing the fresh meats and fresh fish which once underpinned the local diet.

The result is that the enduring challenge of malnutrition, particularly among mothers and children, has transformed into a double burden of both overnutrition and undernutrition, sometimes occurring in the same communities.

The statistics presented to the committee bear this out. For example:

in Papua New Guinea, 49 per cent of children are stunted, while 13.8 per cent of the children under five are overweight or obese; and

In the Solomon Islands, 33 per cent of children are stunted, while 39 per cent of women are obese.

The health impacts of poor nutrition, combined with the rising price of healthier fresh foods, a more sedentary lifestyle and a lack of knowledge about dietary health are placing high cost burdens on communities, particularly in relation to health services.

In Pacific island countries, the incidence of non-communicable diseases has escalated, with some of the world's highest rates of obesity and associated diseases, such as diabetes, recorded in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. In August last year a diabetes related amputation was being carried out in Fiji every 12 hours. This year, in Vanuatu, 11 diabetes associated amputations had occurred by April.

The solution to these problems is clearly not just a matter of increasing food supply. Rather, better information about nutritional values, food storage and preparation, better support for local food production and some control on advertising unhealthy food choices for children all play a part.

Contrary to conventional assumptions, improvements to income or GDP do not automatically lead to improvements in health or better nutrition, as shown in Australia, where poor dietary choices and excess sugar and fat are often part of the rise in diabetes.

At the same time, affordable fresh food and sustainable local industries to produce it can improve the health and incomes of the poor in the region. Australia in particular has expertise in how to manage agriculture, use small-scale equipment and look at better genetics for livestock. We are in a perfect position to assist these countries to ensure their own food production remains stable and, indeed, is even improved.

Often women remain the main workers in agriculture in the region. But, as more men leave communities to migrate to the cities or overseas, women are having to assume even greater roles. Some refer to the feminisation of farming in the Mekong. We took evidence of how some equipment traditionally used by men in agriculture is now being modified—in particular, being made smaller—so women can use it. This is a very important development.

A focus on what has been termed as 'nutrition sensitive' agriculture intervention results from international recognition that agricultural development is facing extraordinary threats, including encroaching urbanisation, less access to water, soil erosion and local pollution. We know we must carefully target these particular communities, taking on board their particular challenges, if we are going to improve nutrition outcomes.

This approach takes into account the broader social underpinnings of economic wellbeing, including the clear nexus between women's involvement in agriculture, their status, their education, good nutrition and health.

With women now in charge of around half of the farms in the region, as men move offshore to paid work and to send remittances home, women's empowerment—from working as farm and financial managers, as family educators and as cooks—has never been more important to the region's prosperity, health and wellbeing.

The subcommittee was pleased to see advances for women in agriculture being considered in the context of the Australian government's recent commitment to integrate gender and nutrition programs. I am so pleased that more than 80 per cent of our Australian aid programming is directed towards the empowerment of women.

A companion policy focuses on child nutrition, in recognition of the importance of good nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life, without which a child will never reach their physical nor intellectual potential.

The subcommittee's report examined closely global donor commitments to support nutrition-specific programs, for child and maternal health, and nutrition-sensitive agriculture policies, to address malnutrition, and we found that Australia is making commitments but could be taking more of a leadership and coordination role in improving nutrition in the region.

The report makes four recommendations, with the first being to develop a stronger regional policy and funding focus on nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive activities under our overseas development assistance program.

Much of the evidence gathered during the inquiry, in some 50 submissions and during public hearings, documented the tremendous work being done in agriculture related programs by regional governments, organisations, businesses and universities, in partnership with the Australian government and its agencies. In particular, we commend the excellent work of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the CSIRO.

The final recommendation calls for improved education and analysis, and for greater co-ordination between multisector partners to act more decisively on nutrition related initiatives. This includes us continuing to engage and partner with our Pacific neighbours in the Scaling Up Nutrition movement and to make the 'double burden’ in the region a global priority, in partnership and with leadership from Australia.

I commend the report to the House.