Updated: July 29, 2012
Food Plan Green Paper brings northern Australia food bowl fantasies back to Earth
Members on both sides of the political fence who keep pushing pipe dreams to convert northern Australia into the food bowl of Asia have been dealt another blow, with the release of the federal government’s National Food Plan – Green Paper, the Wilderness Society said.
In the last year, both major parties have turned their attention to overcoming the considerable constraints to agricultural development.
In June, Labor’s Craig Emerson launched a joint investigation with China into the feasibility of a northern food bowl, while the federal Coalition have set up a Northern Dams Taskforce headed up by Andrew Robb and Barnaby Joyce, to investigate building new dams to facilitate mining, large irrigation projects and land clearing across northern Australia.
But the federal government’s National Food Plan Green Paper refers back to the 2009 report of the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce, a group of scientists and other experts commissioned by the federal government to investigate the potential for large scale irrigation and agriculture projects across northern Australia.
The National Food Plan Green Paper found (p.139):
In its report the Taskforce indicated that, while there may be opportunities for small-scale agricultural development, there are significant constraints such as: seasonal water limits and a constrained ability to capture and store water due to climate and topography; geographic isolation from major population centres; increasing costs and risks; reduced access to labour and skills; poor transport and other infrastructure; a lack of knowledge about appropriate farming methods; sustainability; and Indigenous issues.
These constraints mean large-scale expansion of irrigated agriculture in northern Australia—the scale of which would be required to create a northern food bowl— does not appear to be sustainable or feasible, but other options may be.
“The Taskforce, informed by the best science available, found that northern Australia will never be the food bowl of the world, Asia or even Australia, and it never was going to be even though people have been dreaming it for nearly 150 years,” said Northern Australia Campaigner, Gavan McFadzean.
“Under a best-case scenario the Taskforce found that agriculture could be modestly increased from 20,000 hectares currently farmed to 60,000 hectares, a tiny proportion of the 100 million hectare study area and way short of the aspirations of either of the major parties or the Chinese.”
“There is plenty of rain in the north, but the Taskforce's final report found that building new dams was not appropriate because evaporation is so high and flooding rains occur only during a short and intense wet season, leaving the rest of the year in effective 'drought' conditions.”
“It found that due to remoteness and lack of infrastructure the economics of new dams don’t add up, the geology is unsuitable, the climate hostile and the ancient soils nutrient-poor and highly fragile.”
“The report noted that the river systems and flood plains are so close to the coast that the water runs quickly to the sea and relatively little of the rainfall occurs in the upper reaches of rivers where the topography for dam construction is more favourable.”
“It’s time that both sides of politics accepted the science and abandoned pipe dreams about environmentally destructive and phenomenally expensive large scale dam and irrigated agriculture projects.”
Further comment contact: Gavan McFadzean m: 04143 754 023
For more information, please contact:
The Wilderness Society Qld Inc - Brisbane
67 Boundary Street (upstairs)
West End, QLD, 4101
Phone: 07 3846 1420