Can we feed nine billion in 2050?

In the year 2050, there will be an extra two billion people coming to dinner.

Tim CostelloJust how we’re going to feed everyone is a question that’s exercising politicians, agri-businesses, academics and of course farmers.

A group of distinguished Melbourne-based scientists together with Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision, will lead a seminal Ideas & Society discussion on Wednesday 10 April at La Trobe University to tease out some of the issues.

Chaired by Tim Costello, the panel includes Snow Barlow, Foundation Professor of Horticulture and Viticulture at the University of Melbourne, Philip Keane, Reader and Associate Professor at La Trobe University, Department of Botany, and Elizabeth Finkel, Associate Editor, Cosmos Magazine and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, La Trobe University.

Ms Finkel said: ‘There is little doubt that the world’s ability to produce more food is under assault. What exactly to do about it is where many disagree.’   

‘A third of croplands are losing their topsoil, others are disappearing under new cities. Water is running out: Saudi Arabia has nearly exhausted the wells its wheat production relies on; India’s breadbasket, the Punjab, is heading in the same direction. Crop-withering heatwaves, a likely harbinger of things to come, have hammered harvests in the US and Russia,’ she added.

The panel brings together a spectrum of views, including the case for solid investment in research to make farming both environmentally sustainable and remunerative for farmers; and the need to concentrate more on development in agriculture in order to bring low-performing farms around the world up to speed using today’s technology.

Can we feed 9 billion in 2050 is being held the day after the opening of AgriBio, Centre For AgriBioscience. A joint initiative of the Government of Victoria, through the Department of Primary Industries (DPI), and La Trobe University, AgriBio is a multimillion-dollar, world-class facility for agricultural biosciences research and development, creating better science outcomes for the benefit of Victoria and Australia.

DATE: Wednesday 10 April 2013

TIME: 12.30-2.00pm

VENUE: John Scott Meeting House, La Trobe University, Bundoora

Webcast: A webcast will be available for download from Ideas and Society following the seminar.

Public inquiries: Ideas and Society

Media inquiries: Penny Underwood on (03) 9818 8540.


Tim Costello is one of Australia’s most sought after voices on social justice issues, leadership and ethics, having spearheaded public debates on gambling, urban poverty, homelessness, reconciliation and substance abuse. Since 2004, as Chief Executive of World Vision Australia, Tim has also been instrumental in ensuring that the issues surrounding global poverty are placed on the national agenda.

Snow Barlow is a plant physiologist and agricultural scientist, whose research encompasses plant water use efficiency, viticulture and impacts of climate change on agriculture, water management and global food security. Currently he chairs the Filling the Research Gap Expert Advisory Panel of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), Action on the Ground RDE Programs in Climate Change, and the Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge and Innovation (VESKI).

Philip Keane, Reader and Associate Professor at La Trobe University, Department of Botany, completed a Ph.D. through the University of Papua New Guinea, studying a destructive disease of cocoa at the Lowlands Agricultural Experiment Station near Rabaul. He then taught in the University of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, before taking up an appointment in the Department of Botany at La Trobe University in 1975. He has maintained a strong interest in agricultural development in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, and currently leads an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research project on management of cocoa health in Sulawesi and West Papua, Indonesia. He has spent sabbatical periods in the USA, Costa Rica and Indonesia.

Elizabeth Finkel, Associate Editor, Cosmos Magazine and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, La Trobe University, is a leading science journalist and author of Stem Cells: Controversy at the Frontiers of Science and The Genome Generation. She has won numerous awards for her work including the prestigious Michael Daley Award for one of her radio broadcasts, multiple nominations at the Eureka awards, winner of multiple Bells awards and the National Press Club’s Higher Education Journalist of the Year in 2011.