All of us need to eat every day to survive and thrive. That's why the Commission for the Human Future, of which I am the secretary, recently released its second major report, this one about the global future of food. It came hard on the heels of a comment from the United Nations Secretary-General that the world is facing its worst food situation in the past 50 years.
Action is required urgently to avoid starvation of millions.
We can no longer take food availability for granted. Despite our riches in land, skills and energy, that assertion is true for us in Australia, and it is already a life-threatening fact in many parts of the world. The fracturing of industrial food chains has already occurred during the current pandemic.
Our long-term capacity to maintain food supplies is already imperilled by scarcity of soil, water and nutrients and by climatic instability. Essential global action to remedy these risks is a long way from what is required. And Australia, despite having the most urgent need to do so, is at present evading the challenge.
The commission's 33-page report has two major sections - the first on risks to the global food system and the second on potential solutions and pathways to a viable food future.
Action on climate change was agreed by participants in a survey to be absolutely urgent and central to reclaiming a viable food future. So was the need to build on our capacity for regenerative agriculture and the need to develop a circular food economy, in which we reclaim nutrients and reinvest them in the food system rather than discarding them.
There are brief sections in the report about building the capacity to produce food in the cities and about deep ocean aquaculture. There is also reference to the unexploited potential of many plants that grow in Australia and that could grow in salt-infiltrated soils.
Not only do we need a revolution in renewable energy, we also need to focus on the production of "renewable food". We are currently destroying the very resources on which our food system depends and are failing to build into the system a capacity for long-term renewal.
It has become clear to me that we must develop a new focus on the entire food system, and not just its component parts: agriculture, food production and processing, marketing, nutrition and health impacts. Food is at the heart of our future and it deserves holistic policy development, locally, nationally, and internationally. We need to discuss the possibility of developing a Ministry of Food.
The report concludes: "Above all, we must acknowledge that the weaknesses of our present global food system pose a real threat to human civilisation in the short, medium and longer term and that enlightened, courteous and informed discussion of how to overcome them is the best way forward, and vital to our future."
- Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas AO is a retired epidemiologist and secretary of the Commission for the Human Future.