By Anika Molesworth
Although I've been told “don’t be a farmer” on numerous occasions, my dream has always been to be a farmer.
And I don’t want young people being told not to be involved in farming.
I want them to be told that agriculture is exciting. It is dynamic. And those involved with the improvement of this industry are making a meaningful contribution to food security, the protection of natural habitats and wildlife, and the vibrancy of rural communities.
And that means we need to change the story.
The Far West of NSW is where I call home. This is a beautiful part of the country, yet the ecosystem is fragile – an eggshell of interdependent and symbiotic relationships. And the combined challenges of feeding a growing number of people on the planet, with reduced environmental footprint, on a backdrop of social pressures and climate change, asks more of farmers than ever before, so the protection of these delicate environments, rural communities, and food production systems is paramount.
And I believe a key to sustainable farming and protecting these places we love - is engaging people in the farming story, and getting passionate and bright people to join our team.
We need all hands-on deck, and here’s why.
The global population continues to climb at an astonishing rate, and with it ascends one of the most instinctive needs of human existence: the need for food. At the same time, arable land, pastures and forests are disappearing – and at a rate that far outpaces the Earth’s ability to restore and replenish such diminished areas.
Food producers are acutely aware of what is being asked of them. After all, they are on the front lines. As emerging economies fuel middle-class growth, protein consumption per grows in strides.
Society is progressing, but not without its challenges, and a great strain is being put on the food system’s ability to adequately nourish everyone.
Now let’s throw climate change onto the farmer’s plate – who are already trying to produce more, with less. Floods, bushfires and altered rainfall patterns are pretty bad for farmers. Particularly for those who walk the tightrope of life like farmers in developing nations.
When I’m not in a dusty sheep yard at home, I’m often found in the lush ricepaddies of Southeast Asia – as well as being a farmer, I am also an agricultural researcher. Because as land managers, we need to continually seek new information, a better understanding of how our world works, and human interaction with it.
And it shocks me when the farmers that I work with in Southeast Asia – tell me the number of days that the dry season is extending each year, or describe to me the insects that they had never seen before, that are now eating their crops. They know precisely how their climate – and their world – is changing.
So, we know there are big issues facings us – yet an even bigger problem is when young people are told not to get involved.
I work with young Cambodian researchers on soil fertility and water management on farms – and I have been told stories of how their parents wept when they said to them they are going to work in agriculture.
You have no social standing if you work in agriculture. It is mundane, repetitive and only for the unskilled.
And these are not perceptions confined to Asia, but are alive and well here in Australia.
But what if we changed that image?
In Australia, farmers make up less than 1% of the population, yet we provide 93% of food consumed here. Yes, we have a lot of land, but we are also the direst inhabited continent on earth, 20% of the country is classified as desert. Our ability to feed ourselves, and feed ourselves well, is only possible through continual betterment of farming systems that grow more, efficiently use nutrients and water, and improve food quality.
And the global agricultural industry has also successfully addressed the call for innovation.
Our livestock have greater survival rates and are producing less methane.
Soil sensors are providing real-time data that we can immediately respond to, and drones are gathering aerial imagery of crop health, helping us to water better and control weeds more accurately.
And this is happening out in the paddocks today!
My vision is a future where farms have long range weather forecasts and advanced telecommunications so they can make well informed decisions. They are powered by renewable energy and no food is wasted.
But we are all responsible in creating that future – and we need to inspire people and encourage others to help create it with us.
As an industry, we built a powerful foundation of wisdom and awe-inspiring technology.
We now have flood tolerant rice, that can survive weeks under water.
Engine improvements in agricultural machinery mean we have more power and use less fuel.
The cotton we grow in Australian uses 90% less chemical than it did only a decade ago.
Yet this story is largely unknown.
And while the perception remains that farmers are as weathered and dull as a dam in a drought.
Our natural resources will continued be plundered.
Food will continue to be scraped into the bin because there is no understanding on the time and energy that went into producing it.
And a blind eye will be turned on our industry, at one of the most crucial times.
So we also need to work at changing the story.
We are using drones, satellites, robotics and genetics to improve production efficiencies.
We are better educated, networked and connected than ever before.
We should be proud of the quality and quantity of food and fibre we are able to grow here-
and these advancements are only set to continue.
Trust me, there is nothing boring about this industry!
We need to promote agriculture as the exciting and dynamic industry that it is, encouraged young people to look beyond the Great Diving Range and explore what opportunities lie in rural and regional Australia.
That young people who have grown up with technologies like computers and smart phones, who communicate daily with peers across the world, are given the platform to help shape this industry, because they have a vested interest in designing truly sustainable production systems.
A wonderful example of this are the Young Farming Champions. Lynne Strong’s programs, which include Young Farming Champions, Art4Agriculture and Young Sustainability Ambassadors, are cultivating change makers – she is building the capacity of young people in agriculture who are shaping their industries and sharing their stories in order to connect others to the land and the food system.
Building the capacity of those who work in agriculture, and engaging and inspiring others to work alongside of them is one of the greatest investments that can be made in our common future.
By Anika Molesworth
The Mekong River Basin is known to be is one of the most dynamic, productive and diverse in the world. Just the mere mention of its name conjures images of fishing nets being thrown by weathered hands, brightly clad women stooped low transplanting rice seedlings, and barefooted children with broad grins riding rickety bicycles. The mighty Mekong River provides life and livelihoods to over 65 million people. Most of the inhabitants who call it home are rural poor with livelihoods directly dependent on the availability of its water for their production of food. Poverty is widespread in the basin, with the people in Cambodia and Laos being among the poorest in the world. Within this, the agricultural labour force is the poorest sector of the population, many earning less than US$1/day, and constituting up to 34% of the national population.
Cambodia’s landscape is a scenic timeline of an erratic history; from the vestiges of mysterious god-kings, to colonial imprints left by the imperialistic French. Sweepers for landmines still work alongside the road verge as one gazes from a bus window travelling from palm-lined beaches, past mosaic rice paddies, and ending in present-day city mayhem. It is a country rapidly transforming – a tug-o-war between traditional beliefs and saffron robed monks versus prestigious cars and the latest phones. The younger generation speak of the future and of politics in hushed tones, and groups meet to discuss how deforestation is leading to changes in the weather and what can be done about it. It is in this complex and intoxicating place I have chosen to undertaken part of my PhD.
Today I am bent low over my field trial site at the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI). I am planting maize. With a small stick I make a shallow hole in which I drop three small golden seeds. There are half a dozen Cambodians working alongside of me, persevering with the slow work without complaint as the temperatures creep to mid-thirties with 80% humidity.
Over the past few weeks I have been working with the CARDI Soil and Water team, preparing organic amendments such as rice straw, livestock manure and biochar. Our trials will determine how these treatments influence soil moisture retention and nutrient availability. We have leveled the ground and made beds for planting – this field layout designed to aid the application, movement and drainage of irrigation water. The equipment used here is synonymous with hard-yakka – pushed by hand with small motors rotating tillage blades to loosen the soil surface, then dragging wooden planks to level the soil.
Once our crop has emerged we fly a drone over the field to assess its development. From aerial imagery we can determine plant health and vigour in response to the organic amendment treatments. The Cambodian agricultural research team are keen to learn how the latest technology can be used to improve nutrient and water management, and give new insight into field characteristics.
My PhD research is situated within a larger project by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). This project – “Improving water and nutrient management to enable double cropping in the rice growing lowlands of Lao PDR and Cambodia” – addresses the questions; What are the key constraints limiting crop productivity? And, how can these be overcome to enable successful dry-season cropping? The support and guidance offered to me by the research team and local partners has been invaluable. My teachers are not found in stuffy lecture rooms, but wear sun-faded shirts, mud covered boots and quite often we share no common language.
Every day I learn more of the complexity of agro-ecological systems – how each individual component is connected to another. If the rain doesn’t fall, then the soil here in Cambodia dries like cement, exacerbating its inherently low fertility and constraining crop development. This results in little grain yield to sell at market and less plant biomass to feed to livestock. Less money in the farmer’s pocket means they search for off-farm employment – it is often the men who leave first, or young family members sent to the factories or who head across the border to Thailand or Vietnam. Those left behind work longer and harder. The interrelationship between the environment and with those who live so closely with the land is clear – a healthy landscape is essential to produce healthy food, adequate livelihoods and sustain vibrant communities.
Improving in-field crop management practices holds the potential to increase grain yield, household income, the regional economy and food security. Doing this by incorporating agricultural residues into the soil means that nutrients are recycled, soil organic matter increases, and the need for synthetic fertiliser inputs is potentially reduced. It is well recognised that the nutrient- and water-holding capacity of soils can be increased by the addition of organic amendments, thereby enhancing soil fertility and increasing crop productivity. Crop residue mulches, livestock manures and biochars have been found to suppress weeds, elevate levels of beneficial trace metals and exchangeable cations, increase crop nitrogen uptake, lower soil temperature, and enhance soil surface aggregate stability and permeability which improves crop root movement for access to nutrients and water. On hardsetting Cambodian soils, applying organic amendments can ease its cement-like characteristics by lowering soil tensile strength, reducing runoff and subsequently improving microbial conditions.
Farmers in both Australia and the Mekong Basin are facing environmental, social and political pressures to improve nutrient and water productivity. Farmers also have the desire to improve profit margins by reducing input costs whilst increasing yields. My research in both Australia and Cambodia is investigating two farming systems at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of social capacity and access to technology and new information, however sharing similar production challenges related to water and soil management. Both systems are striving for improved production with reduced environmental footprint. By understanding the building blocks of any farm – the soils, nutrients, water, and their dynamics influencing plant growth – we can transfer knowledge between farming systems, and ensure the best interactions with them.
As climate change impacts become more pronounced and the global population rises, there will be changes to the way food and fibre can be produced and managed. The impacts will be felt across the globe in varying degrees, and are expected to affect managerial and enterprise efficiencies. Projected impacts of climate change include changes to rainfall and temperature patterns, carbon dioxide levels and other climatic variables, that if realised, are likely to affect forage, food and fibre yield, animal welfare, and proper ecosystem functioning. The magnitude of these effects emphasises the importance of developing a greater understanding of our natural world, of how the climate is changing, and finding adaptation strategies farmers can effectively and efficiently embrace.
After a long, hot day in the field, there is no greater reward than sitting under a shady tree with my Khmer colleagues – reflecting on the good work achieved and discussing the obstacles still to be overcome. With a cool drink in hand, a local dish to sample, and an ever-effervescent group laughing loudly at lost translations, it is hard for me not to love what I do. Although there is no misconception to the challenges that face the agricultural industry, I feel hopeful about the future when amongst this group of young Cambodian agriculturalists.
By Carmen Ng
Ensuring vibrant and sustainable food systems and improving the transition towards these, is not only highly desirable for our communities and natural environments, it is a must.
A new FAO report released has warned that the world’s future food security is “in jeopardy” due to increased pressure on natural resources, climate change and persisting inequality. Despite our significant efforts in reducing global hunger over the past 30 years, it came with a heavy cost on the natural environment as food production and economic growth expanded. If this continues, we will soon surpass our planetary boundaries as forests disappear, groundwater sources deplete and biodiversity crippled.
It is estimated that the burgeoning global population will likely hit nearly 10 billion people by 2050. This increase in humanity’s rank will intensify pressures on our limited natural resources as global demand for agricultural products rises by 50%. Additionally, more people will transition to a diet with fewer cereals consumption and higher intake of meat, fruits, vegetables and processed food which ultimately drives the vicious cycle of more land degradation, deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. To make matters worse, global climate change is also amplifying the challenges we face that affect our food production which include increase frequency of droughts and floods due to erratic variabilities in precipitation.
Additional efforts are warranted to reach the target of ending hunger by 2030. Major transformations listed below may be vital to deliver sustainable food and agriculture production:
I)Push to invest and retool food systems
Without emphasizing the importance of restructuring the food systems, more than 600 million people will still be undernourished in 2030 and would not be sufficient to eradicate hunger by 2050 at this current rate of progress.
As the Earth has limited scope of land and water for agricultural purposes, to meet the rising food demand through production increase would come mainly from improving productivity and use resources efficiently
III)Produce more with less
Primary challenge is to deliver sustainable food and agricultural production whilst maintaining and enhancing the livelihoods of local farmers and ensure food accessibility by vulnerable subgroups. Thus, a “twin-track approach” is essential which combines investment in social protection and pro-poor investments in productive activities in hopes to raise income-earning opportunities sustainably especially among agriculture and rural economies.
Overall, the world will need to transition towards a more sustainable food systems which encompasses but not limited to:
All these are dependent on more investment in agriculture systems, research and development, to promote innovative ideas, to support increase in sustainable production and tackle with issues like water scarcity with better solutions. It is also equally critical to create food supply chains with better connection between small-scale farmers to urban markets – with measures to ensure sustainable access for consumers to healthy, nutritious, affordable and safe foods such as food policies to cope with inequalities.
This article is adapted from FAO’s website and the full article can be accessed through this link:
By Carmen Ng
Diseases and pests are ubiquitous that plague plants and animals whether on farms, at home and even in aquatic environments which compromises the availability and hygiene of our food. These threats are currently spreading and evolving, becoming even more difficult to be dealt with effectively. Ultimately, this may jeopardize our food supplies and population health.
According to FAO, 10% of people fall ill from consuming contaminated food, and estimation of 420,000 people globally die from that. More than 70% of the new diseases emerging have animal origin posing great public health threats and one third of global crop production is lost annually due to insects and plant diseases.
Factors contributing to the increase risk of these threats include certain types of intensive farming, overgrazing, deforestation and climate change. Globalization, conflicts and civil unrest are also trends that increase the risk of threats emerging, dispersing to other new countries with devastating effects. Food manufacturing processes that often occur in multiple countries makes it even more challenging to identify the source of contamination.
FAO Assistant Director-General Ren Wang stated that ensuring the safety of the food chain requires various stakeholders in different sectors such as food production, marketing and processing to be aware and cautious of recent and potential threats and respond to them accordingly as it is increasingly becoming more interconnected and complex in a globalization era.
Additionally, FAO has published a set of methods and tools that showcases prevention, early warning, preparedness, adequate food chain crisis management and good practices is needed to improve livelihoods and food security and safety to address the rising number of animal and plant pests and diseases
Using new communication technologies to aid in averting risks to the food chain
FAO’s set of methods and tools encompasses a multidisciplinary approach that can enable a timely response which includes the usage of new communication technologies may help prevent and control transboundary threats through facilitating information exchange.
EMA – i app is used by livestock farmers in some countries in Africa to collect animal disease information from the field into their smartphone which is sent in real-time to the Global Animal Disease Information System (EMPRES-i) at FAO. The data is shared at regional, national and global levels which may enhance facilitating analysis in a timelier manner to deliver an effective rapid response to tackle the disease at its early stages. This surveillance system allows the chance for farmers to receive an early warning in order to better respond to future disease outbreaks.
Furthermore, mobile tools have been developed to monitor a fungal disease that damages healthy wheat crops known as wheat rust. This enables research institution and other extension workers to share and exchange information on the disease occurrences.
Desert locusts which often threaten food supplies in Africa and Asia are now monitored via the eLocust3 system. This improved locust monitoring and is used in more than 15 countries most susceptible to these dangerous migratory pests and may help avoid infestations.
The FAO Food Chain Crisis Management Framework performs monthly updates with a new information sheet and early warning bulletins quarterly to provide support for countries and institutions to overcome these threats to the food chain.
This article is adapted from FAO’s website and the full article can be accessed through this link:
By Carmen Ng
Biodiversity has been prioritized across multiple agricultural sectors as a key strategy towards achieving sustainable development which includes tackling climate change and ensuring food security.
The UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP13) which ended on 17 December in Cancun, Mexico is where governments from 167 countries have gathered and come to an agreement on detailed steps to promote the incorporation of the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity within and across sectors including agriculture, fisheries, forestry and even tourism.
Collective action from various stakeholders
In the Conference Declaration, it was emphasized that protecting biodiversity is not just the environment ministries’ responsibility, but also various governmental and economic sectors as they are all interconnected in a complex vital web of ecosystem services in which global food production relies on.
Without a doubt, this is a critical point as the agriculture sectors and biodiversity which were often regarded as separate conflicts, yet them being “inextricably connected” are becoming more apparent as stated by Maria Helen Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General. Semedo also highlighted that agriculture has the potential to contribute towards safeguarding biodiversity despite it being a major user of biodiversity.
Since there is demonstrated commitment to link both issues among the international community, Semedo mentioned actions to start building bridges and face global challenges with more coherence and coordination can finally commence for effective change.
FAO Biodiversity Platform
Governments at the Cancun meeting also proceeded to welcoming policy frameworks, guidance and tools developed by FAO and encouraged countries to use FAO as guidance relating to biodiversity and agricultural sectors.
This is when the newly launched biodiversity platform by FAO at the Conference comes into play to break barriers by building bridges between distinct sectors, aligning goals and constructing integrated cross-sectoral approaches to mainstream biodiversity in sectors such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
This platform aimed at facilitating cross-sector relations will allow ministries from these different sectors to share their experiences and discover ways to effectively reach and motivate sectors that are dependent or can impact on biodiversity to adopt the integrated approaches to conserve and use biodiversity resources sustainably.
Not too long ago, FAO’s Council, the organization executive has also endorsed principles of a Common Vision for Sustainable Food and Agriculture as a basis for the policy communication and government arrangements to identify sustainable development pathways to step up efforts.
This article is adapted from FAO’s website and the full article can be accessed through this link:
By Carmen Ng
This year’s COP22 summit at Marrakesh, Morocco from November 7-18 has put an emphasis on agriculture to combat global warming and the dire consequences that entails.
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) research suggests that 70 million more people will be at risk of hunger in 2050 due to climate change. Moreover, global food security cannot be achieved without addressing the climate problem.
Why is this important?
Climate change impacts negatively on agriculture including crops, livestock, fisheries and natural resources such as land and water which undermines global efforts in assuring food security and nutrition. Ultimately, this slows down efforts in reducing hunger especially in rural regions where they are most affected. Climate change compounds on these existing issues and further inaction will lead to more serious and catastrophic disaster in a warming world.
Despite agriculture contributing to 11-29% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions according to De Pinto, an IFPRI researcher, it has been stressed as the main theme at COP22 that agriculture plays a significant role in adaptation and mitigation of climate change particularly in countries where agriculture is the backbone of the economy.
The agricultural sector has the potential to transcend towards handling climate change challenges. Some strategies proposed:
i)Transforming agriculture with sustainable practices – maximize efficiency of using resources
This can be achieved through increasing agricultural productivity with sustainable practices; modifying food systems to aid in adapting and building resilience to rising temperatures; and reducing GHG emissions.
Boosting sustainable agriculture can be beneficial in reducing malnutrition; poverty alleviation; creating economic opportunities and generate better job growth for generations to come.
An increase in sustainable farm productivity will definitely require a combination of more efficient use of inputs and reduction of emission outputs. Eventually, this will lead to improved management of natural resources; conserving biodiversity and the ecosystem; raising carbon capture which subsequently mitigates greenhouse effect and slow down climate change.
ii)Tackling water scarcity issue
As water availability is critical in sustainable agriculture, it has been highlighted as one of the many issues we need to address and IFPRI can assist in overcoming these obstacles through advocating better knowledge, practice and innovative technologies that are effective in different parts of the world.
FAO also launched the Global Framework for Action to Cope with Water Scarcity in Agriculture in the Context of Climate Change at the COP22 conference; a new global framework to resolve global water scarcity issue.
iii)Larger sustainable climate finance flows
There has been an urgency to scale up international flows of climate finance and investment may be needed to bring about change as the current percentage of only 2% of the climate finance is directed at the agriculture sector “is extremely low, and quite below our needs". Hence, a blended finance mechanism between the public and private sector is warranted to raise the necessary funds.
iv)A systemic view towards the problem
A Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) approach must include all aspects of food production and development for it to make a significant change. Transitioning to CSA is not without risk and uncertainties, thus stakeholders must have a systemic approach towards agricultural development in regards to the context of land use.
Collectively, organizations should focus on implementing sustainable management of land, soil, water and climate risk that enables agriculture to be more resilient to climate change and also reduce GHG emission which further compounds climate change. Collaboration and networks among stakeholders may be required to gain momentum and bring about effective change.
The original articles can be accessed through the links below:
Climate Wise Agriculture's inaugural seminar a huge success!
A special free public seminar was held to celebrate the 50th year since the establishment of Fowlers Gap Research Station and to discuss the agricultural future of the Far West region of NSW.
Climate change is one of the principal threats to quality – and equality – of life on our planet. Beyond environmental problems, climate change threatens food security, water availability, health, housing and self-determination. In essence, it confronts our basic liberties and pursuit of happiness.
Recently retired Australian Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb made some pertinent parting observations when he said that we need to focus on "talent security" in considering Australia's future best interests.
The State of the Climate 2014 report was released by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology. Climate changes include sea-level rise, ocean acidification, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, longer periods of hot days, and changes in rainfall frequency and intensity.
Reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions would help constrain future global warming. Nonetheless, adaptation is required as some warming and associated changes are unavoidable.