State has ‘global role’ in providing food



Northern Queensland has the potential to be a global player in meeting the world’s need for food.

This is the view to be put by James Cook University’s Professor Jeff Sayer in an address to almost 200 delegates at the Crawford Fund’s inaugural State Parliamentary Conference “A Food Secure World: Challenging Choices for our North held in Parliament House, Brisbane.

The event includes international and Australian specialists discussing issues around food security of particular relevance and topicality to Queensland.

Dr Sayer will tell the national and international delegates that North Queensland not only has unique advantages to meet the challenges of increasing world food production but also could export expertise, innovations and research.

Another of JCU’s academics, Professor Bob Lawn, will outline for the conference the opportunities and conflicts in further agricultural development in the Tropics with reference to northern Australia.

Professors Sayer and Lawn are two of an international panel of scientists and specialists who will be taking part.

Professor Sayer, who is Professor of Development Practice at JCU, will be speaking about the role TropLinks, Northern Australia’s leading organisation in the promotion, commercialisation and export of Tropical Expertise, can have in opening up opportunities for northern Queensland.

“The world faces the challenge of increasing food production by 70% by mid-century,” Professor Sayer will tell the conference. “This increase will mostly be met through the expansion and ecological intensification of agriculture in tropical developing countries.

“It will have to be achieved on a diminishing resource base; we will have passed the peaks of phosphorous, potassium, fossil fuels and water and the danger is that yield increases will come at the expense of the conversion of environmentally valuable natural forests and wetlands.

“Tropical North Queensland has the potential to be a global player in developing the technologies to meet this challenge. We have commercial farmers, non-governmental organisations, government agencies, universities and a number of research institutions, notably CSIRO, all active in tropical agriculture.”

According to Professor Sayer northern Queensland could export expertise, innovations and research. TropLinks, he says, exists to promote the role of the area in exporting our expertise to the tropical world.

Professor Lawn, who is Professor of Tropical Science at JCU, will tell the conference about the early optimistic assessments of the region’s food production potential.

“The agricultural potential of northern Australia’s natural resource base has become contested in recent decades, however, with some markedly more pessimistic assessments than in earlier times,” Professor Lawn says.

“In part, this reflects the mixed success of some past developments, the challenges in managing tropical soil and water resources for agriculture, the vulnerability of natural ecosystems to human activity and changing community environmental values.

“The role that the north plays in addressing the world food challenge will therefore depend as much on the relative importance that the community places on preserving the region’s natural values, as on the development of sustainable production systems technology and high value markets for its products.

“The challenge for scientists is to provide objective information to decision-makers, recognising that future community values will ultimately depend on the interplay of a diversity of additional issues,” Professor Lawn said.

“These might include but will not be limited to environmental values, competing economic uses, food security, rising food costs and commodity values, climate change, rising energy costs, and national and regional population pressures.”