In Australia there is only about five days’ worth of perishable food in the supply chain at any given time, according to a recent report from the Australian Security Leaders Climate Group (ASLCG).
Given World Food Day this week, and with the war in Ukraine and international climate generated disasters affecting food access, is it time to rethink our reputation as a land of plenty?
Australia exports about 70 per cent of its agriculture overseas. We don't process or manufacture much of our non-perishable food, which leaves us dependent on other countries to keep producing.
But what happens when they don't?
In 2010, heatwaves and wildfires reduced Russia's wheat production by 30 per cent, leading it to ban exports for several months, which had a global impact. Drought in areas such as the Middle East and Africa can cause political instability and refugee crises. A ripple effect occurs across the world.
It all comes down to food, and its availability.
A commitment to “make more things here in Australia” was a key election promise of the Albanese government. According to the ASLCG's Missing in Action report, understanding and assessing climate security risks is a first step for government.
An urgent review of Australia's food production and supply chain resilience is needed as global temperatures increase. We also need to help our neighbours, even if for selfish reasons.
We have the technology to monitor potential food insecurity hot spots, a reputation as a producer of safe foods, a world's-best regulatory environment, and research producing more climate-resistant crops and farming systems.
Importantly we need to be proud of the produce we create.
We can't compete with countries like Ukraine and Russia, which produce huge amounts of food cheaply, so we need to market ourselves as producers of very high quality food, which in turn will create more highly skilled jobs.
We consistently tell ourselves we are a lucky country, and we are.
We produce so much food we send most of it overseas, and boast an economy that keeps most of us in food and clothing.
Except, even with all that, in a global disaster we have only five days' worth of food to keep us going.
It's worth thinking about.
Professor Tony Bacic is Director of the La Trobe Institute for Agriculture & Food
This article was originally published in the Herald Sun, "Food's an issue to chew over", 18 October 2022