Sunday, January 04, 2009

How Will Food Production Change over the Next 25 Years?

This link will take you to a recent article on food production systems and the cry for a more efficient way of producing food. It is uk centric, but does have some relevance world wide. I am not sure that some of the claims regarding environmental damage and similar issues are as clear cut as the passing remarks indicate.

Cities require huge volumes of food to be transported into and through them. With Asia about to develop even more mega cities [ 9 million and up population], this situation is about to get a lot worse. The sheer logistics of providing food for those cities is mind blowing. If you have ever crossed the causeway between Singapore and Johore Bahru and noted the lines of trucks carrying food, that gives an idea of the logistical problems of feeding a city, in this case Singapore that has effectively outsourced ALL food production.

Two recent Australian ventures are tackling some of these issues by building monstrous greenhouses, for year round production, essentially hydroponically, or close to that by various soilless cultural options. One is in the New England area - 20 ha of tomatoes - year round, and the other announced last week will be on the South Coast near Sydney in an even larger operation through a joint Dutch / Australian venture. These sophisticated growing systems have superior management of water, compost, plants , disease and nutrition and aim to reduce growing costs while enhancing environmental performance. Both rely on Australia's abundant sunshine which allows year round production. Both are on major link roads to metropolitan areas, with excellent transport connections.

Some Australian agricultural science operatives have proposed green roof and wall systems for FOOD production, not just for carbon dioxide capture and heat reduction on the inevitable concrete surface, using a few ornamentals. The food production option has a huge amount of merit, as does the revival of the household veggie patch, which was common in the pre 1970s periods in many suburban yards - world wide.

There is a need to also get real about form and function in the food we choose and eat. It might be nice to consider that every carrot must be equal in size, shape and colour......but does it always matter? In some cases it might....odd shapes can hide disease at times, but in most cases it is IRRELEVANT to taste. Having a few less than perfect forms means far less wastage of produce to meet unrealistic at times consumer demands. Unless they will pay enormous prices - a bit like the high priced "perfect" fruit used for Japanese gifts.

While the article referred to above makes a low key plea for organic production, the reality is that certified organic production will NOT produce enough to feed the masses. A recent article on the "Politics of Food" by an Oxford professor debunks that myth. But we will have to do more with organic residuals - compost manures and related materials, as that is where many of the residual nutrients finish up, and those nutrients can be reused to grow additional food. Getting them back to the production areas is an issue in itself, unless production areas change. In Australia the vineyards have made enormous progress in use of efficient watering systems, organic compost and semi organic production - saving money and doing it better.

On this issue of food availability, it is also noted that the worlds food deficit areas are mostly where the abject poverty and malnutrition occurs. And the Politics of Food book, rightly infers that producing more in those areas, with more science and even a good dose of GM crops, and solving a few conflicts would aid that issue enormously.

Subtly, food production areas are changing in Australia, with poultry production relocating away from outer metropolitan city areas back to rural areas closer to the production areas for grain, and processing is moving too, to where the birds are grown. It is cheaper to produce both eggs and poultry in those areas close to grain areas and move the finished product. Moreover, the residuals are being used on land around the poultry production areas to grow hay and other crops. Sensible thinking.

We in Australia do not have the monster cities of Europe, Asia or the Americas, and suitable agricultural land is reasonably available, except that many of the great horticultural areas with good soils close to major cities are being converted to land for houses. That has been happening for many years. And it may not be stoppable. In Australia availability of water may be an issue, although treated effluent is potentially suitable for some horticultural uses eg open space irrigation, even to be able to free better water for food production. Do you realise that Sydney, developed when a single use of stored dam water was acceptable, places about 90% of the cities effluent into the adjacent ocean, although that is being reduced - albeit quite slowly.

But we as a society need to think through these type of choices. If regular food production is forced further away from consumers, will it be come too expensive? You cannot grow mangoes in Melbourne; they will always need to be transported from production areas in the tropics. That inherently makes them costly in Melbourne.

As more Australians live in the tropics however, a diet change to locally grown produce might be a good option. That might mean asian vegetables - and some are very good- rather than the usual temperate peas, parsnips and potatoes. And all of the last three will always be imported to the Australian tropics - we do not have a highland area nearby to grow them although some may argue the Atherton Tableland might fit - but not really high enough.

Think of your choices......

No comments: