Opinion

Adapting our food systems to meet future challenges

By Country News

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting just about everything that we do, including the operation and sustainability of our agri-food systems globally, nationally and regionally.

The sight of empty supermarket shelves is not something that we have been used to!

We are lucky to live in a region and country with a strong agri-food sector, but we still have to adapt and transform our food systems to meet the new reality that humankind faces.

Agriculture has a huge opportunity to help lead Australia’s economic recovery, but our agri-food systems must clearly be more productive, profitable and sustainable to seize this opportunity.

In addition, they must also use inputs more efficiently, be more resilient in the face of increasingly likely future climatic and financial shocks, and be better adapted to supply chain disruptions.

At the University of Melbourne’s Dookie and Parkville campuses, we are already teaching our students about sustainable agricultural intensification as a pathway to the more resilient, adaptive and restorative agri-food systems required to meet the challenges of our changing world.

We are sharing with them expert global and local opinions on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on our food systems.

No matter where we live, there will be a need for transformational adaptation of our farming systems to better meet the challenges of future climate change, market changes and pandemics.

As part of our work on this transformation, we are also increasing our research efforts on the development, evaluation and implementation of these new systems. We are currently seeking funding to establish a major ‘sustainable agricultural intensification platform’ at Dookie campus.

The platform would provide exciting opportunities for collaboration and education in the unique environment of the Dookie campus.

This initiative would develop an inclusive community of researchers and students from diverse geographical, cultural and educational backgrounds, investigating a large range of disciplines including, among others, agronomy and farming systems, biotechnology, soil science, animal sciences, digital agriculture, data analytics, ecology, social sciences, politics and economics.

We are also commencing a new research project with partners in the Pacific Islands community on: Conservation Agriculture and Sustainable Intensification of Smallholder Farming Systems in Pacific Countries as a Pathway to Transformational Climate Change Adaptation and Reducing GHG Emissions.

This project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research and is a collaboration between the University of Melbourne, Lincoln University in New Zealand, the University of the South Pacific and the Pacific Community.

Three of our researchers from Dookie are key participants and I am the project leader.

This is an exciting opportunity to work with our Pacific Islands colleagues to develop options for more resilient and adapted agri-food systems.

These will include economic, nutritional, social and environmental outcomes.

The world has changed irrevocably and we need to adapt accordingly.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its resultant shock has already caused massive disruptions to food production and supplies around the world.

To date, the biggest impacts have been in developing countries, but major implications have been felt in every country, including Australia.

Opportunities like these do not just grow local capability to address agricultural challenges, but also share Australian knowledge with our region.

Professor Tim Reeves

Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne