Australia bracing for next green revolution

It's a story playing out the same way everywhere on the planet.

Australia is no exception. Much like their American counterparts, farmers and agricultural scientists Down Under are looking into an uncertain, if not ominous future, and thinking about how to do more with less —less fertilizer, less land, less water — a problem complicated even more, most scientists contend, by the effects of climate change.

For many agricultural experts and policymakers, the doubling of the FAO Cereal Price Index in April 2008 turned out to be a wake-up call. The increase sparked riots in 30 countries, many of which tottered on the brink of severe shortages, if not outright hunger.

In fact, the World Bank estimates that souring food prices during that period added an additional 100 million people to the already billion people throughout the world dealing with the effects of deep poverty, scraping by on less than a dollar a day.

This event was followed by the most severe financial crisis and the deepest economic recession since the 1930s.

Despite global economic rebound within the last year, international food prices remain high compared with previous years — a problem complicated even more by the depletion of resources deemed critical to farming: Land, water and fertilizer.

Experts say the solution will require nothing less than another Green Revolution similar to the vast technological strides that characterized agricultural following the close of World War II.

"The first Green Revolution was a revolution that was essential to feed the world's population at the time," says Peter Carberry, deputy director of Australia's Sustainable Agriculture Flagship, which was established earlier this year to reduce the carbon footprint associated with Australian land use, while boosting productivity.

"We have to do it again, but the parameters have changed, which makes it a challenge for science."

Carberry cites several pressing issues in the future: Increased food demand stemming from population growth as well as enhanced levels of wealth in China and India and supply issues such as land degradation and growth in biofuel production, to name a few.

"As we go forward, it's a much greater challenge to think about maintaining productivity levels when you have issues around limited resources," he said.

"So our second Green Revolution has to be built on increasing our resource's efficiency, getting much greater productivity out of the inputs we use, (while being) conscious of our environment.

For these reasons, Carberry says the challenges associated with the next Green Revolution will be much greater than the ones associated with the last one.

The Sustainable Agriculture Flagship is an effort of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the nation's science agency, which claims to be one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

Its goal is to secure production of Australian agriculture and forestry production by 50 percent, while reducing net carbon emissions per unit of food and fiber by at least 50 percent between now and 2030.

Much like their counterparts in the United States, the Sustainable Agriculture Flagship is engaged in a number of research projects, breeding new varieties of disease-resistant grain and rice and developing technologies to cut greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture.

Fertilizer availability will be another big demand in the future, Carberry says.

Even so, he remains optimistic. Feeding the world within the next couple of decades is achievable, he says. In fact, Carberry is confident there are a sufficient number of technologies on the horizon that will enable farmers to increasing productivity using the existing resource base.

TAGS: Legislative
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