Why does agriculture deserve the attention it doesn’t have?

Since beginning AgriEducate almost two years ago now, I continually ponder why agriculture deserves ‘agvocates’ and why it needs greater attention. After all, surveys suggest people check their phone up to a hundred times a day and we only eat a handful of times. It’s also well established that in an emergency situation shelter is most important. So this article is an attempt at me breaking apart that need for attention for my own benefit and hopefully yours!

‘Imagine you’re on a plane to Perth from Brisbane and suddenly it crash lands in the middle of the desert in February. Strangely, you have three untouched items in front of you: a set of canvas sheets and poles for shelter, 12kg of Riverina rice and Narrabri beans, and a briefcase with a computer and phone without any signal. Which one would you take? Well the standard survival guidebook would suggest the shelter, food and ‘other’ general hierarchy. Food is important but only if you don’t die of exposure first. After all you can generally survive a few weeks without food, whereas exposure to heat can quickly result in heat stroke and death. As for the computer and phone, perhaps you’ll be even better without them for a while (except for the whole letting people know where you are side of things, but I digress).

From a more realistic perspective, on a typical day we all use (actively or passively) certain items such as a toothbrush, perhaps a car and most likely an apartment, house or computer or phone. In a fortunate country such as Australia, the value of these items are rarely given the attention they might well deserve. Without a toothbrush and all the manufacturing behind it, we end up with gum disease and poor health. Quality construction of a house or apartment lets us weather out storms and severe weather, without so much as a few creaks and groans. And it’s hard to fathom how the efficiency required in current jobs would ever be possible without our computers and communication efficiency of our phones. Surely the inherent value there should drive better understanding of how computers work, saving on computer repair and maintenance costs. In fact, there is a real issue with machine learning and artificial intelligence whereby as the algorithms develop autonomously, we lose understanding of exactly how they work with significant consequences for control.

Moving away from Terminator and on the nutrition front instead, we all try and eat as healthily as possible – consuming three meals along with a few snacks and drinks in between. Perhaps not paying our dues to the farmers that produced the food, nor the toothbrush manufacturers saving us from an early and smelly breath death.

So while we have the good fortune in Australia that each of these critical parts of our lives bear an almost equal importance, why then should agriculture deserve our attention and why should we strive to actively change our ways to appreciate it more? After all, a breakdown of the nearest phone tower makes significant waves of impact across an area, as does the delay in bus services to the Commonwealth Games. Ever had the pleasure of a flat tyre, car breakdown or dead battery on a hot day? Well that surely rings more true than a poor selection of fruit and vegetables at the local supermarket, or protein content fluctuations in milk and flour.

Furthermore, significant agricultural changes such as the application of a tariff on chickpeas and lentils bound for India, or the presence of the Russian Wheat Aphid, while important, slip under the radar of consumers, destined for the hidden Rural News tab of ABC or rural newspapers such as the Land (certainly not discrediting the journalistic quality, merely the accessibility). It makes me wonder then, is understanding and valuing agriculture and food that much more important over construction, electronics, our vehicle and perhaps even shelter, when the consequences of failure in the latter impact us more significantly? And is it right to demand more attention, perhaps at the cost of attention in other areas, from people already burdened with modern day living and the complexities therein?

Reflecting on these multitude of questions above, it seems to distil down to three key factors, which I think sway the argument in the favour of attention-seeking agriculture:

  1. Integrated nature of agriculture
  2. Scale of impact
  3. Potential for good

I’ll explain my reasoning a little further for each of these three areas below.

Integrated nature of agriculture

At all levels agriculture is highly integrated with societies, nutrition, economies and the environment. Developing countries rely on agriculture to support GDP growth and to maintain stable communities. Disruptions in food supply, for whatever cause, lead to unrest and famine.

Dr Lindiwe Sibanda spoke of the integrated nature of agriculture at the Crawford Fund 2017 Annual Conference. Dr Sibanda highlighted that while there had been a push towards growing bulk commodities like maize for economic benefit (and consequently buying more food) away from growing everything you needed, the unintended outcome was malnutrition. Kids and adults alike were stuck with maize three times a day when the income from selling the grain was not sufficient to buy meats, fruits and vegetables at the local market. The environmental and community health suffered with intense monocultures and heavy, unrestricted use of pesticides. One policy decision and direction by intergovernmental bodies resulted in poor economic, health, community and environmental outcomes.

Conversely, one policy decision could generate incredible wealth, health, environmental benefits and societal cohesion too. The opportunities are there to be taken.

We see similar occurrences in Australia and other developed countries too, although perhaps not with the same human consequences, but particularly environmental and community consequences. Take, for example, the drive to implement no-till farming. The result was improved soil retention (reduced wind and water erosion), organic matter content (generally speaking) and initially higher yields. Yet without tillage options available to farmers, there is and was a strong reliance on herbicides, resulting in herbicide resistance, potentially negative environmental outcomes and a loss of social licence in some cases.

On the positive side, the push to allow GMO cotton resulted in a 95% reduction in pesticide use and significant improvements in environmental, societal and economic outcomes for those areas.

Agriculture is so intertwined with environment, society and health that changes to one all impact on the other as illustrated by this diagram:

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.01.25 PM

In other industries such as construction or manufacturing, policy mechanisms and technology changes may benefit the bottom line of a company, the income and health of workers and potentially reduced environmental impact, but the changes are retained within the small circle of influence. And that brings me to the second point of scale.

Scale of impact

Imagine being able to adjust the practices of one person and improve both the productivity and sustainability of 100 million square metres (10,000 ha; 170,000 average sized housing blocks), which is slightly larger than normal farm size in Western Australia.

Whole corridors of animal movement and vegetation can be improved with consent of just a large handful of farm managers. Nevertheless, the consequences of poor management decisions can be disastrous for productivity and the environment (the two go hand in hand) but if you’re a change maker or an aspiring one, why not go where the largest net change is possible on such vast scales? Furthermore, one family can manage more area (albeit with low intensity) than all of the construction areas combined! To illustrate this point, the largest station in Australia, Anna Creek in SA covers 2.37 million hectares, or 33.8 million averaged-sized housing blocks in Australia.

The scope of change from policy mechanisms and new technologies is absolutely massive. If the Queensland Government banned all clearing today (just a hypothetical here), then tomorrow we retain the many thousands of hectares of trees that would have otherwise been lost. Likewise, a total ban on live export in 2011 completely disrupted the industry and resulted in many thousands of animals starving to death on over populated stations and properties. These are just some extreme examples of the scale of impact and the serious potential for good.

Potential for good

Ever heard the saying killing two birds with one stone? Well with agriculture, rather than killing, you can benefit so many people, environments, regional communities, developing countries, food insecure nations and poverty stricken regions with single swipes of good policy, research and new technology. Take for example the good work of ACIAR in countries like Cambodia, Laos or Pakistan, taking Australian agricultural knowledge and implementing it in an appropriate way to improve food security in those regions.

Understanding agriculture, appreciating the intricacies, and processes encourages all of us to minimise waste, improve environmental outcomes, benefit farmers and perhaps lend our own expertise into solving some global food supply, environmental and nutritional problems.


So why does agriculture deserve the attention it doesn’t have?

And thus is the importance of understanding and appreciating agriculture, not only for the possible inherent career opportunities but for the its integration with society, environment and health, its vast scale and consequently potential for good and massive change.

 

Time to get a wriggle on? Consuming bugs for human food security.

Christine Freak is the resident Development Agriculture expert here at AgriEducate, and a lover of insect puns. If you have a development agriculture story you’d like covered get in touch with Christine at agrieducate@gmail.com.

It all stated yesterday – I was walking through the University of Sydney campus, and The Economist were giving away Bug Ice-cream! Yep – and bug ice-cream is exactly what it sounds like – a delicious berry gelato with the sweet crunch of berry seeds, ground up ants, and whole crickets! Delicious…. Right?

Whilst the idea may initially seem repulsive, insect consumption as a food source is becoming a “buzz” word of 2018 food security talk.

The new buzz word has flown in for good reason too – bugs have a very high nutritional value, are a very sustainable form of protein to cultivate, and can generate great socio-economic benefits to many poor regions.

Farming and consuming insects isn’t a new idea either. Thailand has more than 20,000 insect farmers alone, compared to the 85,000 in Australia. Globally, over 2 billion people are already consuming insects as part of their usual diets. In many countries, some insects are even considered a delicacy!

Eva Muller, Director of FAO’s Forest Economic Policy and Products Division, identifies that “insects are pretty much untapped for their potential for food, and especially for feed.”

Across the world there are over 2000 different insect species consumed. Beetles and caterpillars are the most common species, followed by bees, wasps, ants, cicadas, locusts, crickets, dragonflies, and flies.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, caterpillars are a regular protein source at local markets year round. The average household in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa consumes 300g of caterpillars per week, which adds up to 96 tonnes consumed annually in the city.

Fun fact #1the practice of eating insects is known as entomophagy.

Why is it crunch time?

Insects have a very high nutritional value – they are high in protein (65%), contain high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, and high levels of iron, calcium and zinc.

Insects are a sustainable protein source –  Insects emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases than most other protein sources (livestock), do not require land clearing, and are very efficient at converting feed into protein.

“The bigger the beast, the more food, land and water is needed to produce the final edible product, resulting in higher greenhouse-gas emissions. A cow takes 8 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef, but only 40% of the cow can be eaten. Crickets require just 1.7 kg of food to produce 1 kg of meat, and 80% is considered edible”.
The Economist

Insects bring great socio-economic benefits – Insect harvesting and processing is relatively low-capital intensive and uses unsophisticated machinery. This means the industry has huge potential for many poor people in rural areas of the developing world, giving access to employment and income.

Fun Fact #2 – Insects contain up to 65% protein!

Should we be so quick to critter-cise?

According to Eva Muller, the Director of FAO’s Forest Economics, Policy and Products Division, “Insects are not harmful to eat, quite the contrary. They are nutritious, they have a lot of protein and are considered a delicacy in many countries”.

But to get insects onto the plates of more people around the world, will require upscaling of the industry to larger automated facilities (most production currently occurs through small-scale production).

Muller continues, “Most [insects] are just collected and there’s very little experience in insect farming, for example, which is something that could be explored in view of a growing population.”

But before bugs will make their way onto our common dinner plates, there is another big hurdle – consumer preferences! As good as bugs are, it is fair to say that many western consumers feel rather uncomfortable consuming creepy crawlies (this is dubbed the disgust factor).  Although, diets are well documented as been able to quickly change, so who knows when/if bugs will be welcomed crawling into our pantries sometime soon!

 

 

So even if you’re not hopping/crawling/marching off to stock up on bugs, it’s important we recognize the huge potential these critters may have for global food security, and the importance of innovation and challenging current norms to overcome some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.

For more information check out:

The Economist: https://learnmore.economist.com/story/58ff11c009e97e5a29f0b2ec

FAO: http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e00.htm

References:

Christine Freak is the resident Development Agriculture expert here at AgriEducate, and a lover of insect puns. If you have a development agriculture story you’d like covered get in touch with Christine at agrieducate@gmail.com.

Land to Lunchbox – NACC educating students about the origins of food

The following article is from the Northern Agricultural Catchments Council’s (NACC) Kirsty Kipling and the recent Land to Lunchbox event in Geraldton WA. You can find the original article here.

“Food, food glorious food” was the subject on the minds of a group of Geraldton students recently – who were learning all about where the food in their lunchbox comes from through a variety of hands-on exhibitions and presentations.

The Land to Lunchbox food education event, organised by NACC, featured five display stations – each focused on a different topic and presented by a different group of people:

    • Aquaculture and honey production – presented by Central Regional TAFE.

 

  • Broad acre cropping – presented by NACC.

 

 

  • Livestock – presented by CJ Stokes & Son

 

 

  • Agricultural production – presented by CJ Stokes & Son

 

 

  • Agricultural Education and Training – presented by the WA College of Agriculture in Morawa.

 

 

The students also had the pleasure of hearing from renowned soil scientist Dr Maarten Stapper, who really captivated the audience with his presentation on Science behind Healthy Food for Eaters.

 

NACC Aboriginal Projects Manager Greg Burrows was the driving force behind the broad-acre cropping display and said it was great to see young people enthusiastic about learning where their food came from.

“The highlight of the day was definitely the guest speaker Dr Stapper, as he took a more alternative approach to explaining food production,” said Greg.

In addition to the display stations, students had the chance to interact with some ‘sheepish’ friends with the help of some busy farmers who took time out of their day to get involved in the event. Jane Royce from Nagle Catholic College said getting-up so close to the sheep was the highlight for her students.

NACC Regional Landcare Facilitator Stanley Yokwe, who organised the event, expressed his thanks to everyone who helped make the day such a success.

“It would have been impossible to provide this opportunity for our young people to learn about local food production without the help of dedicated community volunteers,” said Stanley.

The Land to Lunchbox event was supported by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, Bendigo Bank, Geraldton Grammar School, Nagle Catholic College and Geraldton Senior College.

A special thanks to all of the representatives and organisations who held an exhibition on the day: Central Regional TAFE, Bookara Goat Dairy, WA College of Agriculture in Morawa, and CJ Stokes & Son.

Millennials, impatience and UAVs: How innovation challenges like Thought For Food are helping change agriculture

In 2001-2002, NASA launched the Pathfinder Plus as the first significant foray into the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in agriculture. The aim was to provide multispectral imagery of coffee plantations to improve harvest timings. The budget for the program was almost US$4 million, and built on many previous years of development. Not to bore you with the details (aren’t UAVs cool?) but the wingspan of the Pathfinder Plus was over 30 m and relied on six electric motors to fly at altitudes of 1000 m. Ground-based pixel resolution was 50 – 100 cm (e.g. my desk/coffee table would be about one pixel).

Fast forward 16 years, and building a hexacopter drone complete with object avoidance, multispectral sensors and autonomous flight controls is as easy as clicking a few buttons online, watching a few videos and burning yourself with the soldering iron. Moreover, it costs just a small fraction of the US$4 million NASA project budget.

27785704_10214680682352032_1416351114_o.jpg
A hexacopter built from online tutorials, online shops and trial and error! This platform is capable of <1 m GPS accuracy, <4 cm altitude hold accuracy and 4K video and for less than $3000.

 

And clearly UAVs haven’t been the only area of development in the past 15 years. Micro computers such as the raspberry pi, programming languages and platforms, decision support tools, wireless communications speed and reliability, and data management and analytics have enabled your everyday innovator to help address global problems surrounding food production. There are more open source platforms (think code and hardware that’s freely available for editing and use) than ever before helping capitalise on these gains too. A quick scroll through kickstarter, SproutX’s accelerator program or the Thought for Food winners, and it’s clear that innovations and inventions with significant potential are no longer the realm of multi-millionaires, philanthropists and large government agencies. It’s now everyone’s game.

The distributed network of millennial impatience

 

Building off this rise in technology, communications and social media, the millennial generation is often typecast as one glued to screens, constantly connected and highly impatient with life in general (Game of Thrones series really take a whole 18 months to make?!). This generalisation is often associated with negative connotations, a negativity I don’t necessarily buy.

The connectedness aspect of the generation is certainly helping create a quasi “distributed network” of problem solvers, working together on similar projects for a common goal. For example, the AgriEducate team is based in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Perth, with almost daily communication about new ideas and work that needs doing. Innovation challenges such as Thought for Food rely and thrive on the global connectedness of participants and ambassadors to help improve food security. Thought for Food participants have access to an entire global network of other participants with ideas about their local food security and how that may translate globally. You definitely don’t have to have a whole team to begin with!

At the other end of this distributed network is the so-called millennial impatience. Impatience is often wrongly captured by columnists and commentators as a flaw of the millennial generation. In my mind it should be seen as a passionate desire to solve problems quickly (and not necessarily poorly), without waiting for the go ahead from those above you. Has technology created this productive impatience, or is it simply enabling it? Either way, promoting and capturing this impatience through innovation challenges is helping improve food security prospects.

Innovation: everyone’s game

 

 

What I’ve seen firsthand from my unique experience working with TFFers is that anyone— regardless the type of organization they work in, regardless of their age, expertise or location in the world — can solve the our most complex problems in new ways.

Christine Gould, CEO of TFF

Using the example of the UAV and Christine Gould’s comments, now more than ever, people from all around the world are able to apply their own impatience, skills, awareness of problems in their food supply chain and creative thinking to develop practical solutions.

In times gone by, agricultural research and extension was too often directed from the top in the development of top-down solutions, which may not have encapsulated the practicalities of social and agronomic constraints on farming systems. These days formalised research and extension have embraced the bottom-up approach required for effective change (see some of the Crawford Fund’s work overseas for some great examples).

Nevertheless, while everyone may be able to begin developing and generating new ideas and solutions, support and guidance is invaluable in making sure these ideas become a reality and can form into some on-the-ground change.

And that’s where innovation challenges and the TFF come in.

Cue the rise of the innovation challenge: enter TFF

As the pressure mounts to feed nine billion people by 2050, innovation challenges, such as Thought for Food are combining the passionate impatience, the generational connectedness and situational awareness with support and guidance from big industry players and professionals. This approach is helping drive and support the development of new ideas where they are needed most, and really capitalising on innovation as everyone’s game.

The competition is open now for applications, and I highly encourage you to apply. We all have important experiences, connections and ideas that with a little push and some impatient hard work can become the next step towards global food security. We all share that passionate drive, that impatience for change and results, and TFF can help realise that.

So just like the 2002 NASA behemoth UAV symbolised the start an era of agricultural robotics, remote sensing and data-driven decision making, the innovation challenge signals the promotion of bottom-up ideas, developed by impatient millennials looking to change the world.

Why does the sky have to be the limit when it’s sometimes part of the solution?

Guy Coleman is the Founder of AgriEducate, a massive fan of UAVs and an Australian Youth Ambassador for the Thought for Food Challenge. He’s also on the board of the Ag Institute Australia and will be presenting at the University of Sydney on the 16th February on this topic. For more information please see: https://tas.currinda.com/register/event/1716.

 

Crawford Fund Student Awards: Apply now!

Have you been inspired by our Development Agriculture articles? Would you fancy a trip overseas to experience international agricultural research and development in action, in a developing country?

Well, the good news is you can!

The Crawford Fund are offering Student Awards to allow students interested in research for food security the opportunity to participate in projects overseas.

Emily Lamberton, a previous award recipient, has said: “It created a fantastic opportunity to learn first-hand the struggles and barriers experienced by farmers and the factors that influence on-farm decision making”.

Find out more information about the awards here, and best of luck applying! https://www.crawfordfund.org/awards/the-2018-crawford-fund-student-awards/

Looking back at 2017: top 10 advancements and achievements in agriculture

As many are looking ahead to what 2018 may hold, we thought we’d give a quick rundown of the incredible achievements and technological advancements made in the agricultural space over the past year, and perhaps what the future may hold for the industry and technology. Even if crops around the country were not quite of the 2016-17 volumes. If you have a key achievement that you think is missing get in touch!

So without further ado here are our top 10 for 2017!

10: Launch of the Invisible Farmer

The recognition of the role of women in agriculture through the launch of the Invisible Farmer project was a fantastic way to kick off the year. The three-year project aims to tell the stories of women in agriculture and:

  • create new histories of rural Australia
  • reveal the hidden stories of women on the land
  • learn about the diverse, innovative and vital role of women in agriculture
  • stimulate public discussions about contemporary issues facing rural Australia and its future
  • develop significant public collections that will enable far reaching outcomes in research, industry and public policy.

We’re looking forward to hearing the stories of more and more women and their involvement in agriculture as the project continues on.

9: Record value of wool sold

Over $3.1 billion of wool was sold in 2017, breaking the record for the highest value of wool ever sold on the Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX). As for the volume, the Australian Wool Testing Authority tested more than 160 million kilograms of wool so far this season (6 months in) up almost 8 million kilograms on the same six month period last season. The incredible surge in price and volume sold is said to be primarily driven by strong demand from China. Read more here.

The wool industry has had its ups and downs over the years, and to see it so successful over the past year has been very exciting.

8: Launch of Cultivate Farms

Encouraging youth to study agriculture is one thing, but making farms and farming accessible to young people who often have little in the way of capital is another complex story!

Cultivate Farms launched earlier this year and is helping connect youth with outgoing retired farmers, whilst providing the necessary capital involved in acquiring and managing a farm. The program includes on the farm training in business and management skills as well as ongoing professional development. The enterprise provides an additional succession strategy for farmers too.

7: SproutX’s first accelerator program

SproutX, a Melbourne-based startup incubator for agricultural companies, launched its first accelerator program with 11 teams in the portfolio. These 11 include:

Click on each of the above links to find out more about the individual companies involved in the accelerator.

6: Breakthrough in the management of wheat stem rust

On the genetics side of things, researchers from the University of Sydney and CSIRO led a team including the US Department of Agriculture, Rothamsted Research and Minnesota University in developing a diagnostic test for stem rust that takes hours instead of days. It enables rapid DNA analysis of the stem rust in question, providing an indication if the strain is able to overcome a rust resistance gene.

“It’s like an ongoing arms race – we’ve got to keep one step ahead of this changing pathogen”

Professor Robert Park

The test could save the Australian agricultural industry up to $1 billion annually in lost yields due to the disease. The discovery has worldwide ramifications for food security too, as many areas fall prey to the disease that can cause up to 90 per cent yield loss.

5: Big Data platform for development agriculture

In 2017, CIAT launched the Big Data Platform to provide global leaders with open data, build collaborations, and demonstrate the power of big data analytics to enhance the impact of international agricultural research.

Data without analysis, collaboration and action is useless so the platform is a great move forward in managing and capitalising on the vast quantities of data collected around the world. Collaborative efforts in the space are sure to help improve food security and its potential and significant achievements already has earned it a place in the top five.

The smart and effective use of data will be one of the most important tools for achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Big data represents an unprecedented opportunity to find new ways of reducing hunger and poverty, by applying data-driven solutions to ongoing research for development impact.

4: Agriculture as the largest contributor to Australian GDP growth

Results released by ABARES on 7th September 2017 showed that in the 2016-17 period, agriculture was the largest contributor to GDP growth. Moreover, the industry prevented two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction and as a result a technical recession.

These data illustrate the economic importance of agriculture to the ongoing prosperity of Australia and the figure is only set to grow. Projections are suggesting the industry will reach a value of $100 billion by 2030. Developments listed here are just some of the fantastic ways this significant target can be achieved, particularly in the face of climate change and more adverse weather events.

3: Development of speed breeding

Plant breeding has historically been a very long and slow process limited by the growth rates of plant populations. Attempting to introduce complex plant traits into a population and then deliver a homogenous final product ready for commercial production take anywhere between 7 and 20 years. So discovering a type of plant breeding technique that can deliver six generations of crop in just a single year is mind boggling, and a discovery that will deliver innumerable benefits for food production and food security.

The paper was published on the 1st of January this year, but the work has predominantly been done in preceding years and 2017 and so luckily makes it into the 2017 list. The full paper is accessible in Nature and is well worth a read.

Here’s Dr Lee Hickey describing the finding.

2: #Youthinag and the Youth Ag Summit

The theme of youth in agriculture was a recurring one in 2017. Many social enterprises, organisations and people have seen the importance of the next generation in this space and have launched their own ways of encouraging youth into an agricultural career. Even the World Food Prize recipient Akinwumi Adesina shared his views on capitalising on the large population of youth in Africa and encouraging them into taking up a career pathway in agriculture by “making agriculture cool again”.

The importance of this movement cannot be understated, as the principles employed in this space will ensure the global industry maintains its sustainability. Cracking the youth in ag problem around the world will deliver incredible improvements in food security, agricultural productivity and food waste, and is the main driver behind what AgriEducate does. It’s why youth in ag has earned itself second place in our list for 2017.

A few organisations we’ve come across are listed below:

The Youth Ag Summit represents these initiatives in the coming-together of 100 like-minded young individuals (under 25) from around the world. They discussed important matters facing the industry globally and how best to achieve a food secure world in the face of rising global challenges.

Check out the site for more information and to read the stories from those that attended.

1: National Agriculture Day

The drive behind National Agriculture Day from everyone in the industry summed up the positive and passionate focus of the Australian agricultural industry. It was a logical culmination of the push for greater interest, acknowledgement and understanding of the importance of agriculture in the life of every single person living in Australia.

While just early beginnings for the day (with a few hiccoughs), it is a significant positive force in spreading the love for agriculture in the broader community, and one we hope continues to grow. Having a focal point for everyone in the industry to get behind, ensures that a clear and unified message can be delivered where it is needed.


There are so many more incredible things that have happened during 2017 that we haven’t listed here. Things such as a new professional development and accreditation scheme by the Ag Institute Australia, access to many new markets, the launch of our very own essay competition (if we may say so ourself) and numerous other advancements in technology and production techniques.

And in 2018 we can look forward to an updated definition of genetic modification by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, improvements in weed detection and mapping technology and release of omega-3 producing canola among many other things!

So happy new year from the team at AgriEducate and all the best for 2018.

The Food Sustainability Index: who came out on top?

There is one common thread which links all of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Food!

The way food is grown affects the environment, the way food is consumed affects peoples’ health, and the distribution and access to food affects access to education.

For this reason, the Food Sustainability Index (FSI) was developed to assess a food systems sustainability across three areas: sustainable agriculture, nutritional challenges, and food loss and waste.

The top overall performers in the FSI were:

  1. France
  2. Japan
  3. Germany
  4. Spain
  5. Sweden
  6. Portugal
  7. Italy
  8. South Korea
  9. Hungary

Countries which ranked the highest generally support agricultural research and development, have implemented food waste/loss policy, and have nutritional educational programs.

Can you guess which countries came out on top across the three pillars?

Food Loss and waste:

… and the winner is…. FRANCE!

France loses just 1.8% of its total food production to wastage annually! In France, supermarkets cannot throw away food which is approaching sell-by dates, but instead must donate it to charities under new legislation. Countries not far behind include Germany, Spain and Italy.

Sustainable Agriculture: 

…and the winner is… ITALY!

Italy has led global efforts to reduce water loss and environmental impacts of water used in agriculture. Italy also performed well in sustainable fisheries – did you know: Italy is the biggest consumer of seafood in the EU! Closely behind Italy in the Sustainable Agriculture category was South Korea, France and Colombia.

Nutritional Challenges:

…and the winner is… Japan!

Japan has the highest life expectancy outcome, zero vitamin A and Iodine deficiency, and the fourth lowest percentage of overweight people. Japan also has the second lowest amount of people per fast food restaurant globally (at 30,345)!

The index also found that countries with a high human development index tend to have more sustainable food systems. This emphasises the need to invest in sustainable agriculture in less developed countries, in order to achieve a wide range of development outcomes.

For more information, and a detailed breakdown of the results, take a look at the following food sustainability index complete report.

Mekong: a confluence of dams, algorithms and food security for 60 million

The 4,350 km long Mekong River ensures food security to over 60 million people across six countries, namely China, Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Obviously its continued flow is of critical importance in maintaining adequate supplies of food to people in the region.

However, the construction of dams along the Mekong River for hydroelectricity is also an important source of economic development and renewable energy.

“While these dams have the ability to provide clean energy and significantly increase the economic development of the region, they also have the potential to damage food security downstream”.

The area relies on consistent and reliable flooding in the wet season to support the fisheries and flow of nutrients downstream. With dams potentially preventing these floods, the whole food growing livelihood and food source of the millions of people downstream is put at significant risk. Furthermore, the length of the river and the fact it crosses through six countries, adds another level of complexity.

So where do we draw the line between food security, energy security and economic development?

“By analysing data between 1993 and 2012, the scientists developed an algorithm that, if properly applied, can ensure that drought conditions are followed by short floods to allow for optimal conditions and the flow of essential nutrients downstream.”

Well, a team of researchers from Arizona State University have developed an algorithm to determine just that! The algorithm strikes the balance between conserving food and livelihood security, as well as allowing the benefits from hydro-electricity to flow through the region. The algorithm was based on a suite of historical data, used to predict the timings and amplitudes of floods.

Take a read of this fascinating article to find out more.

 

Australian-funded research helping developing nation farmers

What if there was a way to ensure mangoes are available in Australia year round, Australian crops are better prepared for potential threats, and over 490 million people were lifted from food insecurity in the Asia-Pacific region? This week we look at the two-way benefits of international development agricultural research. 

Australia has two main roles in global food security. Firstly, Australia has a role as the farm to many parts of the world, producing quality foods which are exported globally. But, as the saying goes – give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime – Australia has huge offerings in exporting the aforementioned agricultural knowledge harnessed down under.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) is an independent government agency that funds partnerships and research programs to assist in food security and poverty reduction.

What we’re trying to do is work with these countries and identify what the barriers are for farmers to become more successful” ACIAR global partnerships general manager Melissa Wood said.

Importantly for Australian farmers and consumers, internationally focused Australian-funded agricultural research helps not only people facing food insecurity, but Australian farmers and consumers too. 

“Australia’s most valuable asset to support food security in our region and the world is our knowledge base in agriculture” (Prasad & Langridge 2013)

In a pure food production and exports sense, Australian farmers feed around 70 million people (accounting for food waste and supply chain losses). When the contributions of Australia’s agricultural research are taken into consideration, Australia contributes to the diets of up to 400 million people worldwide. However, with the population expected to boom to nine billion by 2050, Australia (nor any country) can be the food bowl for Asia or the world. But the knowledge that Australia can supply can improve agricultural systems globally to ensure global food security.

Focusing in on a mango research program run and funded by ACIAR, Melissa Wood said:

 “We work in mangoes in Pakistan and that’s been really successful because it means that mangoes are available out of season in Australia. The other reason why it’s good to work on these crops that also occur in Australia is we learn a lot about the pest and diseases and threats”

The experience in managing the threat in mangoes in Pakistan means that if an incursion or similar issue arises in Australia, farmers have experts at the ready to manage the spread and disruption presented by the disease. One of the many Australian benefits delivered by agricultural research for food security.

Australia’s Role in International Agriculture

With the incredible celebration of Australian agriculture yesterday for National Ag Day, it is also important to look at the role Australian agriculture has globally – particularly in developing countries. 

“The quality and breadth of Australian agricultural science, and its long tradition of scientists working in partnership with farmers and industry, are such that Australia has much to offer countries in our region as they tackle increasingly pressing and complex food security challenges.”

Since Australia is a world leader in agricultural expertise – we can also be a world leader in using our expertise to target poverty reduction.

One such example of this is ACIARs “Seeds for Life” program, which “showed farmers how to incorporate new varieties of plants and crops into their farming systems, and how to manage them to substantially increase food production and minimise the need for imported seeds from Indonesia and elsewhere”. Through new varieties of maize, sweet potato, rice, cassava and peanuts – the program increased yields by up to 138%! 

Find out more about the role of Australian agricultural research for international development, and hear first hand of the huge success in the field in Timor-Leste from Professor Andrew Campbell, CEO Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). 

The seed for life program is explained in more detail on the ACIAR/DFAT blog here.