By Lucy Knight
FARMERS are in need of a pay rise if they’re to be expected to keep producing food for the world, a parliamentary hearing in Canberra was told last week.
Science writer and former head of CSIRO media, Professor Julian Cribb, told a Senate Inquiry on food production last week that major investments in farmers were needed to make it worth their while getting out of bed each day.
What’s happening instead, he said, is increasing competition for cheap food supplies by major supermarket chains the world “closing down” or “destroying” local industries and driving more and more people out of agriculture.
Professor Cribb has recently launched a new book, The Coming Famine, where he speaks of the global food challenge and what efforts are needed to avoid it, including an entire chapter on securing a ‘fair deal for farmers’.
He told the hearing the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation last year revealed investments in the order of $80 billion a year in agriculture were needed to help meet these needs.
Professor Cribb said the FAO saw there was currently no incentive for farmers or scientists to invest in agriculture at the moment as “the returns are so poor”.
“Today we have the effect of global competition between large food and supermarket companies driving down the price in any country you care to name around the world as they seek to source cheaper and cheaper produce,” Professor Cribb said.
“This is having the effect of disrupting and even destroying entire local industries.
“We are seeing is happening to Australia: the dairy industry, the fruit and vegetable industry and so on. They are under and an awful lot of pressure by this globalisation of prices.
“I argue this is a one-way street. If you keep on doing that you will drive more people out of agriculture, you will throw away our lot of otherwise viable agricultural industries, you will definitely mine the soil and water resource much worse than it is being mined at the moment and basically you will undermine global food security.
“My conclusion from that is that farmers worldwide have to have a pay rise or they are not going to make the investments that are necessary to sustain global food production.”
Professor Cribb argued that price rise could take a number of forms.
“Most people get fair pay these days, whether they are politicians or journalists or actors or nurses or doctors. Farmers don’t. Farmers cop it both ways.
“They are confronted on the one hand by muscular companies selling them inputs at very high-cut prices and on the other hand by muscular companies offering to pay them very low prices for their output.
“Only a tiny smidgen of highly efficient producers can survive in that world. The logic of that, if we want global food security, is that it has to stop.”
Professor Cribb said it was important the “right signal” was sent to farmers to continue investing in agriculture, and for young farmers so they don’t leave the sector altogether.