I recently presented at the Australian Landcare Conference and must admit I walked away quite sad. The conference itself was awesome ( and so wish I hadn’t missed this presentation) but I was so frustrated by the mixed messages that at times came both from the stage and the audience. There was the woman in the audience who was very lucky I wasn’t standing directly behind or beside her when she stood up and said the only ethical farmers are those using organic farming principles. Anyone who reads my blog knows this is rubbish for a number of reasons but in this case once again I reiterate its not the system that determines “ethical’ farming practices its the management of the system.Lets get it right madam its the people not the concept. See Footnote for my definition of “ethical”
People who market their produce by degrading others make me so cranky. Its so wrong and so desperate and its damaging the reputation of agriculture. If your product cant stand on its own feet and have its own compelling value proposition why customers should purchase it over another then you are wasting your time.
The other thing that caught my attention was the growth of the “produce less be paid more” farming philosophy. I have no problem with this philosophy at all and there is a definite market for genuine differentiation from a small but growing group of people who are willing to pay for food produced according to their values.
But lets put the facts on the table and the proof is not there that it is a more sustainable model than the ‘produce more with less’ known in agricultural circles as sustainable intensification ethos that the majority of Australian commercial farmers follow. The proponents of the ‘produce less and and be paid more’ model suggest Australia and other first world countries should produce only enough food to feed their own countries and assist third world countries to be self sufficient.
This is very noble indeed and I too have no problem with the values behind this. But is it realistic?. If you look at the fact there are very few countries who are happy to trade and our little country sits about 4th on the world list that’s a bit scary. Our grains generally go to third world countries and our livestock products supply the growing demand for protein by the upper and middle classes in Asian countries. Bringing developing countries up to a level where they can feed themselves is a very complex problem. Interesting article here. Only small farmers and agroecology can feed the the world.
It is well recognised this will not happen until women in these countries are educated and who is going to pull that one off when women are too often the contribution of women is so undervalued in many of these countries.
It is also well recognised in countries like ours we have had cheap food for so long we think its a birth right. We have to ask ourselves the question. Will we not only be prepared to pay more for food and also pay more taxes to support people in other countries to become self-sufficient?????
On top of this every year the amount of arable land worldwide decreases by 1%. There is a worldwide water crisis. As the per capita use increases due to changes in lifestyle and as population increases, the proportion of water for human use is increasing. Together with the mismanagement of water resources world wide this means that the water to produce food for human consumption, industrial processes and all the other uses is very scarce.
Source Water Woes See here
BTW Did you know Australia is the largest consumer of freshwater globally?. See what we (CSIRO) are doing to address this here. Hopefully this research hasn’t been affected by the massive government budget cuts to the CSIRO
This week I am off to the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre Think Tank on Sustainable Intensification where I will hear from world experts on this model. Whilst our business followed the sustainable intensification model I would be quite happy to join the group of people farming to ‘produce less to be paid more’ but I wouldn’t be spruiking that its more environmentally or animal friendly until the science tell me it is. I have invited the Fair Food Farmers United to share what drives them, their vision and their mission and I am thrilled they have agreed. I look forward to sharing that blog with you as well as what I learn next week.
Update Tammi Jonas free range pig and cattle farmer has now written a follow up blog that shares what drives her found here . Tammi is an advocate of the ‘produce less for more’ model and walks the talk. I love the way she has summed up her blog. If you have some thoughts on the question she poses please go to her blog and share them
Don’t produce more for less, produce less for more.
By that I mean we must value the land, animals, and workers and ensure their health is paramount in every agricultural system and then ask eaters to pay a fair price for our efforts.
All of which is easier said from a farmer in a miniscule supply chain selling direct to eaters. The bigger challenge is for the majority who are under pressure from centralised market power and long supply chains…
What do you think? How can we address the serious structural imbalances between farmers, processors, distributors and supermarkets in Australia? How can we support all farmers to make a living growing food in the fairest ways possible?
My last thought on this today “How genuinely committed is the world to getting Saving the Planet right and are we all prepared to walk the talk?
Tomorrow I will blog on the big NGO’s who support the sustainable intensification model. Many farmers will be surprised and may do a big rethink on who they partner with. Maybe not – one of agriculture’s problems is we don’t get out enough. We do a lot of talking and not enough listening. After all if we don’t listen how can we expect to be heard
Footnote Please note I am not anti any type of food production system as long as it fits my “ethical” values – i.e. food produced in a way that respects animals, people and the planet and provides a fair return for the farmers.