The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on lives and disrupted economies around the globe, and it’s also revealed vulnerabilities in our agri-food systems.
COVID-19 is affecting all aspects around food security, from agricultural production to stock depletion, loss of employment, reduced incomes, higher food prices and trade restrictions, said Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) Fellow Professor Tim Reeves, who specialises in sustainable agriculture.
“It is not a simple interaction when we talk about the pandemic and global food and nutritional security. And therefore when we’re thinking of solutions it has to be systems thinking and not compartmentalised thinking,” Professor Reeves said.
Professor Reeves, from the University of Melbourne, led a high-level ATSE webinar this week exploring challenges and solutions to Australian food security.
“We cannot be complacent about our agri-food systems in Australia, or globally with existing challenges, and certainly not under the pandemic and in the future when we’ve got to look at similar occurrences that may well occur,” Professor Reeves said.
“Business as usual is going to be business in decline.”
Professor Reeves argues a way forward could be through sustainable agricultural intensification, with enhanced productivity and ecosystem health occurring at the same magnitude.
But he says the most urgent attention needs to go to the workforce.
“It is a sector that is highly dependent on a temporary or itinerant workforce,” he said.
“There is insufficient investment in learning and career development to develop a workforce necessary to make our agri-food systems fit for purpose and for sustainable and resilient food production.”
The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research has identified a suite of common pre-existing vulnerabilities currently undermining food security in developing countries, including:
- Dependence on food imports
- Exposure to climate change and extreme weather events
- Patchy biosecurity, animal and plant health services
- Fragmented value chains and food system governance
ATSE advocates for increasing investment in STEM education to build a skilled agri-food workforce, and boosting opportunities for research translation to build economic and environmental resilience, and strengthen Australia’s capacity to respond to current and emerging global challenges.
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Watch the webinar.