No more Pity Parties – One Australian farmer feeds 700 people – its time to celebrate

At least once a week for the past three months I have been receiving calls from print and TV journalists asking for recommendations of farmers to participate in drought stories.

My first question is, “What is your angle?” and if the answer is clearly a “pity story” then I say I don’t have farmers in my network who want to share pity stories.

Over the last five years I have made a deliberate decision to surround myself with farmers who share stories of hope. Because it’s hope that gets me out of bed every day.

When farmers share stories of hope they are not ignoring the fact that the drought is tough.  They are NOT saying, “It’s hard, just get on with it.” What they are doing is sowing seeds of resilience.

When you share positive stories of drought farming strategies that have worked for you, there is a chance somebody, maybe several people, will read your story and think, “Maybe that might work on my farm.”  They are not saying they have all the answers, but they may have one. Not everyone’s farming situation is the same, so we need lots of farmers from everywhere sharing their drought strategies. The more we share with each other the more we can learn from each other.

Jan Davis.png

Compassionate wise words from Jan Davis and farmer stories of hope in The Australian here  

Farming today is a big gig. Farmers can’t do it alone, we need each other and government, business and the community working side by side with us. What we don’t need is PITY. Pity doesn’t give anyone a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And pity doesn’t solve problems.

Project based learning is the 21st Century teaching technique being promoted in schools. This method of teaching mobilises students to work together to rethink their world and solve tomorrow’s problems today. The Archibull Prize is project-based learning that brings together art and agriculture. When we invite the students to partner with farmers to design a food secure future, this is the information we give them:

Some little-known facts:

  • In Australia, farmers make up less than 1% of the population, yet they provide 93% of food that is consumed here.
  • 25% of our farms produce 70% of our food
  • Our wool farmers harvest 80% of the world’s fine Merino wool, and our cotton farmers clothe 500 million people.
  • Our farmers look after 60% of the Australian landscape and the majority of Australia’s natural biodiversity. Hence our farmers are both our largest biodiversity managers and our source of food and fibre.
  • Less than 6% of Australia’s landscape is suitable for growing crops and fruit and vegetables.
  • In 1950 one Australian farmer fed 20 people. Today one Australian farmer feeds 700 people using less land. But there is no denying this hasn’t come without an impact on the environment.
  • Yes, we have a lot of land. But we are also the hottest, driest inhabited continent. 35% of this country receives so little rainfall, it is classified as desert.

Australia is one of only a handful of countries that produces more food than it consumes, producing food for around 60 million people, and most Australians have access to an abundant and safe food supply. This makes Australian farmers important to everyone. A thriving modern agricultural sector can be a lasting source of prosperity and an effective and efficient steward of Australia’s landscapes, natural resources and ecosystems.

Australia is also considered one of the most vulnerable developed countries in the world to impacts of the changing climate, already 22% more climatically variable than any other country. Rising temperatures, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and declining water availability in some of our most important agricultural regions pose significant risks for the nature, distribution, quality, and affordability of our food supply.

The problems are complex and there is no single model solution. Making well-informed and timely decisions will help farming businesses prepare, build resilience and manage risks, regardless of the challenges ahead.

The solutions lie in farmers, consumers, businesses, scientists and government working together to:

  1. Fill the food production gaps

For example:

    • Wise use of fertiliser and water – more crop per drop.
    • Increase yields through improvement in plant and animal science.
    • Doing more with less i.e. producing more grain/cotton per hectare of land, more milk per cow, more kg of beef per cow, more grass per hectare of land, more kg of wool per sheep.
    • Adoption of technology. Particularly using the new digital agriculture era to allow farmers to make a higher quality, more informed decision, in a tighter window.
    • There is great opportunity to increase food quality rather than food quantity. If we merely aim for volume at all costs, then the natural environment will be the ‘cost’. However, if we send the signal that it is quality from an increasingly healthy natural resource base, then both the natural resource base and farmers will be the beneficiaries.
  1. Sustain productive capacity by addressing:
    • Climate change.
    • Pests and diseases.
    • Land and water degradation.
    • Competition between land for food, houses and mining.
  2. Reduce waste and over consumption.
  3. Managing the risks to the food system.

Success requires farmers having access to a range of agricultural solutions, education to gain necessary skills, and financial incentives. Sustainable farming solutions already becoming standard practice include no-till planting practices, crop rotations, bringing vegetation back to degraded land and planting vegetation around fields to prevent erosion, and transitioning to green energy technology.

Resourceful land use also contributes to mitigating climate change. Globally 2 to 3 billion metric tons of carbon can be stored per year in soil. Farmers can produce higher yields on existing farmland, prevent further loss of fertile land, and find innovative ways to make use of marginal land, especially in developing countries.

Technology is an important part of the solution, but we must also partner to share knowledge. An unprecedented level of global collaboration must take place between farmers, consumers and entrepreneurs, governments and companies, civil society and multilateral organisations. Governments must support resource use efficiency and environmental stewardship, and the private sector must develop new technologies that enable these practices. People should be able to make informed choices about the crops they grow, the products they buy, and the agricultural systems they use. Agriculture should be viewed as a productive investment that drives economic development and builds long-term economic, political and environmental stability.

Drought stories that focus on pity ignore all this. They change the conversation around agriculture from collaboration, celebration, solutions and resilience, to blame, despair and failure.

Only one of these ways of thinking is going to get a farmer out of bed tomorrow to feed another 700 people. Let’s choose hope.

Footnote

The current drought hardship is real. If you would like to support people in rural communities who are struggling to put food on the table a donation of just $40 to Foodbank will supply a hamper. You can donate to Foodbank here  

#onedayclosertorain #strongertogether #drought18