Dear Minister Fitzgibbon,
Congratulations on your appointment as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
- 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.
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’.
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.
[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.
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.
Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance