Australia’s rising role in global food security: Reflections from a recent trip

Shenggen Fan speaks at the Natural Resources in Demand Symposium, Adelaide
Source: Flickr (MikeBlogs)

I recently returned from a trip to Australia where I took part in several high-level events and visited key Australian international development institutions.

My first stop was the 2012 Crawford Fund Annual Parliamentary Conference in Canberra, one of Australia’s preeminent annual events which brings together some of the world’s most influential decision makers and researchers working in the development sphere. Themed, “The Scramble for Natural Resources: More Food, Less Land?,” the conference focused on the interactions between a range of competing uses for natural resources, as well as the need to feed a growing population amid increasing climate change-related challenges.

My presentation, “Future Prospects: The Case for Malthusian Optimism,” explored the modern implications of Thomas Malthus’ prediction that population growth would outpace food production growth, if unchecked. While his assertion has largely been disproved thus far due to technological, institutional, and policy innovations, my discussion focused on the need for an integrated approach to enhance global food and nutrition security and free the world of Malthus’s shadow.

Such an approach requires actions including increased investments in technology needed to boost productivity and reduce climate change vulnerability, the scaling up of social safety measures which build resilience among poor and vulnerable groups, and improved global coordination aimed at reducing volatility, such as creating strategic emergency food reserves, ensuring open trade, and eliminating grain-based biofuel production.

Next, I took part in a seminar with members of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), where I discussed policy innovations needed to advance food and nutrition security in the 21st century. I highlighted the critical role evidence-based research and policy innovations play in combatting food insecurity, the need to strengthen policymaking capacities, and the role the CGIAR plays in advancing these two areas, particularly through its “Policies, Institutions, and Markets” research program.

Australia recently announced it will host the G20 summit in 2014.  During the seminar, attending members took this opportunity to express their commitment in placing food security at the top of the meeting’s agenda and look forward to working with IFPRI to provide research-based support for G20 countries in enhancing global food security.

My final stop was the “Natural Resources in Demand Symposium” at the University of Adelaide, which focused on the challenges facing food security in a world of increasingly scarcer resources. My discussion, “Feeding a Growing Population: How can China and India Contribute to Global Food Security?” focused on China and India’s role in reducing hunger, both domestically and globally. Many opportunities exist for China and India to improve food security, including expanding agricultural productivity through increased investment in research and development, promoting mutually beneficial trade, increasing pro-poor foreign direct investment, and sharing best practices throughout the developing world.

Australia has always played an active role in combating food insecurity through organizations such as AusAID and ACIAR, as well as individuals like Sir John Crawford, who helped design the CGIAR, was the first-ever board chairman of IFPRI, and for whom the Crawford Fund is named in honor of. I was very pleased to engage with the many individuals and bodies that play a critical role in enhancing global food security and look forward to Australia’s continued engagement in the future.