Article by: Hari Yellina (Orchard Tech)
It is widely known that Australia has made a global commitment to “sustainable agriculture”. This can be defined as an endeavour seen as increasingly crucial to ending world poverty, halting biodiversity loss, and combating climate change. Moreover, A recent report from the United Nations found land use, including food production, to be responsible for around one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, Australia has something of a sustainable agriculture policy vacuum, after years of a fragmented, stop-start approach. The need of the hour is a contemporary definition of sustainable agriculture, including agreed on-farm metrics. This should be put into place to honour the international obligations and respond to growing sustainability markets.
It is a cause for major concern that Australia’s first progress report on implementing the sustainable development goals contains the words “sustainable agriculture” only once in 130 pages, as part of the heading for the goal of ending hunger. Australia’s only substantial sustainable agriculture policy mechanism at the moment appears to be grants available through the National Landcare Program. This is reiterated by searching through key Coalition policy documents and the recent budget.
The newest budget allocation to the overall National Landcare Program is around A$1 billion from 2017 to 2023. These programs combined equate to some A$354 million per year. But a coherent sustainable agriculture policy cannot be delivered through grants alone. Even though these grants are substantial, past ABS surveys found that farmers invest at least A$3 billion a year in natural resource management. The Indigenous on-country contribution is currently unknown, but likely to be substantial.
According to recent surveys, approximately 10% of Australia’s population lives in rural or remote areas. These comparatively small communities, largely farmers and Indigenous land managers, currently anchor most of the country. A review released in late July on how conservation laws affect the agriculture sector has recommended the federal government create a A$1 billion fund for farmers who deliver environmental benefits from their land.