What about our smaller farmers Minister Fitzgibbon?

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The Asian Century Whitepaper speaks about opportunities for Australian agriculture, Dr Nick Rose and Dr Matthew Mitchell write to Minister Joel Fitzgibbon to express their concerns with Australia's approach.
Are Australia's small to medium farmers being looked after?

Dear Minister Fitzgibbon,

Congratulations on your appointment as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
As the new minister, you inherit amongst other matters, responsibility for the implementation of Australia’s first ever National Food Plan (NFP). When the intention to develop this plan was first announced, prior to the 2010 federal election, many Australians looked forward to what we hoped would be a genuinely consultative and inclusive process. A process with openness to fresh thinking in policy and practice, in an area of such fundamental importance to this country’s present and future.
There are many serious challenges facing Australia’s food and farming systems. Among them:
  • high rates of soil salinization and biodiversity loss
  • an aging, dwindling, highly indebted and stressed workforce of farmers
  • an extremely concentrated supermarket sector
  • an obesity pandemic
  • increasing levels of food insecurity; and
  • extraordinarily high levels of waste.

We hoped for an honest assessment of the challenges before us, and an integrated, open and holistic approach to meeting them, drawing on the full complement of experience and capacity that exists within our community.

We have been sorely disappointed. Your government has pursued a narrow agenda in this vital policy arena, responding to the priorities of large corporate agri-business ahead of the interests of Australian producers, consumers and small-to-medium sized food processors and retailers.

There is a clear bias in the NFP towards large-scale farming, continuing the ‘get big or get out’ dynamic that has characterised farming in Australia for a number of decades. Your government assumes, as a matter of course, that this process of ‘structural adjustment’ must and will continue. A transition where ‘less efficient’ smaller producers give way to an increasingly corporatised farming sector, able to take advantage of economies of scale and therefore more ‘globally competitive’.
1,000 hectares of sunflowers on managing editor David Donovan's childhood farm.

It would appear that your government views this model as the only way to increase production, along with an unreserved endorsement of the rapid commercialisation of privately-owned agricultural bio-technologies. However, there are vast reams of research that show that small farms produce substantially more than large ones, even with limited capital.
So our question is: why do we encourage fundamentally unsustainable large-scale farming and genetically modified (GM) crops, which offer at best only a promise of long-term improvements in production, and a high probability of widespread chemical and genetic contamination?
The Guardian's George Monbiot recently commented on these issues:
[The question]of whether or not the world will be fed is partly a function of ownership. This reflects an unexpected discovery. It was first made in 1962 by the Nobel economist Amartya Sen(2), and has since been confirmed by dozens of further studies. There is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per hectare. The smaller they are, the greater the yield.

In some cases, the difference is enormous. A recent study of farming in Turkey, for example, found that farms of less than one hectare are twenty times as productive as farms of over ten hectares(3). Sen’s observation has been tested in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Java, the Phillippines, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay. It appears to hold almost everywhere.
Monbiot draws on the UN report, International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), 2008. Global Summary for Decision Makers. The conclusions of which were supported by all participating countries, expect Australia, the United States and Canada. According to Monbiot, this was so as not to offend big business.

If this is true, it appears Australians – Australian small farmers particularly – have been badly served by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in the past.
We would be very interested to hear your opinions on this if you should wish to share them by either a direct reply or in a public statement.
Dr Nick Rose  
Dr Matthew Mitchell
Swinburne University of Technology
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