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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9575

Mr RIPOLL (9:18 PM) —I rise tonight to speak about my ongoing concern with regard to the issue of global food security. According to the 1996 World Food Summit, ‘food security’ means that food is available at all times, that all persons have means of access to it, that it is nutritionally adequate in terms of quantity, quality and variety, and that it is acceptable within any given culture. Almost one billion people around the world are malnourished. This is being exacerbated by unprecedented population growth, high food prices and high oil prices. While food prices remain high in many poor countries, the global economic downturn continues to play a prominent role in this issue.

Current food prices have effectively compounded the effects of the recession in many countries around the world. There is no doubt that food prices are the real problem. Millions of people worldwide risk being forced into poverty every time the cost of produce goes up. For example, as an indicator of just how serious this is, in Indonesia alone a 10 per cent rise in rice prices means that two million more people will be officially in poverty. The statistics continue to paint an ominous picture. It is estimated that 100 million people have fallen into poverty in the last two years and that poor families spend up to 80 per cent of their budget on food alone.

The Australian government places a high priority on assisting developing countries with food security, as part of reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development. This was evident in a joint statement from the recent G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy. The communique said:

There is an urgent need for decisive action to free humankind from hunger and poverty. Food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture must remain a priority issue on the political agenda, to be addressed through a cross-cutting and inclusive approach, involving all relevant stakeholders, at global, regional and national level.

That is one part of a quite extensive communique, but it is important in noting just how big the problem is. Given the statistics and positions, there is definitely scope for the global food security challenge to be addressed by boosting research and development, helping to remove barriers to global trade and driving productivity along the global food production chain—something that Australia can have a remarkable impact on.

Analysis by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has shown that prices have retreated for most food commodities since the record highs in 2008—just last year—but prices remain high, above long-term trends, and the high cost of food continues to present a food security challenge for many developing countries. The Australian government is supporting improved productivity and innovation in the agriculture sector in the face of climate change and increasing constraints on land and water.

We need to do what we can in this country and certainly show the way in other countries. This is being done here through the provision of matching research and development contributions exceeding $200 million each year to the rural research and development corporations; through Australia’s Farming Future package, which provides $130 million over four years to help our primary producers adapt and adjust to the impacts of climate change; and through the $35 million Regional Food Producers Innovation and Productivity Program, which aims to improve the productivity and competitiveness of food industries through innovation and technology improvements.

Australia can play a major role. It can do that on many fronts. As a major food-producing country and exporter it is important that we do this. Recognising that food security is a global concern, the government is investing $464 million over four years on the AusAID Food Security through Rural Development initiative that includes increasing investments in international agriculture research and development, improving rural livelihoods by addressing market failures in rural areas, and increasing the capacity of the poor to access food. This initiative builds on existing measures such as last year’s $50 million contribution to a World Bank trust fund aimed at stimulating agricultural supply in developing countries and $30 million to the World Food Program emergency food aid appeal.

The government also recently allocated $50 million to assist our Pacific Island neighbours meet the immediate challenges of climate change, which for them is very real and very immediate. Of this, $25 million will be to help implement high-priority, practical adaptation programs in Pacific Island countries, including working with the agriculture sector to address food security issues.

In making these points I believe that food security and the food crisis, the global financial crisis and climate change are all interrelated. They are all interlinked. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has been extremely active in this area and I commend his commitment to the issue. I note that he attended the 35th special session of the Food and Agriculture Organization in November last year, the high-level conference on Food Security for All in January 2009 and the G8 meeting of agriculture ministers in April 2009. Certainly, this government has taken global food security very seriously, and having a minister that is personally interested and active in this area is very commendable.

The L’Aquila food security initiative, as it became known, reinforces Australia’s commitment to comprehensive global action to address the underlying causes of global food insecurity. All G8 leaders agreed on the need for the food security agenda to focus on agriculture and rural development by promoting sustainable production, productivity and rural economic growth. In the end we help others by helping them help themselves. It was recognised that substantial increases were needed in aid to agriculture and food security, and commitment was given to a goal of mobilising US$20 billion over three years. The government is also engaged internationally, advocating strongly for increased investment in agricultural productivity while at the same time ensuring liberalised markets for food as a means of contributing to global food security.

Freeing up markets through trade liberalisation is part of that process to achieve long-term food security and independence for developing countries. It is promising to see the Rudd government actively helping to liberalise world markets through the Doha negotiations, which will contribute to food security in developing nations and also generate new opportunities for Australian agriculture. Again, that is more good news for Australian farmers. Concluding Doha is the best insurance against protectionism and will give the global economy a major confidence boost. This in turn will contribute to the stability of world food supplies. In the lead-up to the Copenhagen climate change meeting, Australia will continue to pursue a science based carbon accounting system that treats agricultural food production equitably. In doing so, we must ensure that actions to combat climate change enhance our shared goal to meet the food needs of a growing global population. The outcomes from Copenhagen will have significant implications for food security.

When it comes to responding to climate change, those who work the land have more at stake than those in any other part of the economy. They have a unique interest in ensuring that carbon accounting matches the science that goes along with it. There are good reasons why countries have been reluctant to include agriculture in their accounting, but we must continue to pursue a science based accounting system that treats agricultural food production equitably across the globe, and this will need more attention in the lead-up to Copenhagen. We must and can ensure that actions to combat climate change enhance our shared goal to meet the food needs of a growing global population.

Finally, I note that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s World Food Day on 16 October is fast approaching. The aim of that day is to heighten public awareness of the world food problem and strengthen solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. I inform the parliament of my intention to move a private member’s motion on this important event which I hope gets the chance to be debated in the next sitting period in a few weeks time.

Food security is about a range of issues and outcomes around the world. Certainly the global financial crisis has added to those problems, but if we look only at our region and the issue of national security then food security plays a role in that as well. Whether it is food security, fuel security—that is, oil security—or other issues which are the highest order needs for poor people around the world, there is no doubt that Australia must play a role. Australia must invest in those nations and in those people. We can play a very big role in this country through science, through technology, through research and development and through the investments we make in food production, innovation and productivity gains. The things that we learn in this country we can pass on to other countries and help them to become self-reliant. There is an old saying which is the core theme of what global food security is about: ‘If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime’. That is the principle we need to adopt on this very critical issue. It is about providing financial support and it is about making sure that we can deal with the immediate issues. But it is about more than that. It is about providing leadership and guidance. It is about providing the expertise that we have—the technology, the innovation and the productivity—and making sure that poor countries, countries that are hungry, have a means of going forward. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—There being no further grievances, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.