17 April 2010

From Plains To Plate: a declaration from the food convergence

[Held in Adelaide in February 2010, From Plains To Plate was a convergence dealing with issues of the sustainability and security of the food industry in South Australia. The following declaration has arisen from the convergence. Feel free to spread it far and wide to politicians or other interested parties. The original publication is here. - A.N.]

From 10-13 February 2010, over 700 farmers, academics, government, health and community workers, environmentalists, permaculturalists, small growers, gardeners, students, educators and other community members gathered at the University of South Australia, Adelaide, for From Plains to Plate: the Future of Food in South Australia. Through four days of workshops, presentations and discussions, the participants united in their commitment to building a more just and sustainable food system to ensure the security of South Australia’s food into the future.

Food is one of our most fundamental human needs, yet the current industrial food and agriculture system is facing serious challenges. Our ability to produce and distribute food is threatened by environmental issues like climate change, land degradation through erosion and salinity, declining water availability, and the peaking of world oil production. Economic challenges like the rising costs of food relative to income and the concentration of the food system in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations have serious implications. Corporate concentration affects the ability of citizens to access good food, to know the origins and contents of their food, and to shape a food system that truly nourishes. Issues of access to good food also highlight the serious health effects of our current diet, demonstrated by the escalating prevalence of diet-related illnesses in our communities.

1. Food security and sustainability
Every Australian has the right to healthy, affordable and safe locally-grown food. Already urban, rural and remote communities across South Australia are working to develop the local food systems we need. They are cultivating and sharing food, skills and knowledge through a diversity of methods, from community gardens and backyard sharing, to farmers’ markets, Community Shared Agriculture, development of regional food groups and other community-based strategies. However, focussed and innovative Government partnership is required in South Australia to address the growing challenges to our food system.
Recommendation 1.1 Among the many possible approaches, we call for the establishment of a government agency for Food Security and Sustainability. Such a body would unite the many, disparate government approaches to food and agriculture under one agency to support diverse community and private initiatives for a health-promoting, just and sustainable food system.
Recommendation 1.2 We call for the security and sustainability of our food to be explicitly acknowledged as a central policy priority, which is reflected in government programs and made an integral aspect of political discussion and debate. In practical terms, it is important that the responsibilities of the current Ministerial portfolio for Food should include not only food production and the food industry as an important contributor to the economy, but also a prominent focus on community food needs as a key element of economic, social and health-related wellbeing.
Recommendation 1.3 In keeping with this, Government policy and advisory bodies with responsibilities relating to food should have their charters and membership include specific attention to issues of community access to food, and local food security and sustainability. As a means of developing a clear focus on these questions, the Minister for Food and all senior officers with related responsibilities should report to Parliament at least annually on actions being taken and concrete progress made.
We acknowledge the enormous potentials of urban food production to cultivate healthy and nutritious food close to the communities where it is to be consumed, reducing carbon emissions and oil dependency while increasing local food security. The proposed 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide provides an immediate opportunity to address the continuing availability of adequate areas of land suitable for food production close to population, with priority for preventing further alienation of productive land.
Recommendation 1.4 We call for detailed planning to establish entrenched land zoning for food security, to ensure the protection of nominated urban, peri-urban and rural high-quality agricultural land in perpetuity to ensure adequate local food production and distribution for the needs of local communities.
Recommendation 1.5 We call for rebates to support urban food production and incentives that improve the quality of the land, including through composting and vermiculture, and the withdrawal of financial incentives from industries that degrade the landscape.
Recommendation 1.6 In the face of both environmental and social challenges, we support measures that assist farming families, households and innovators to remain on the land, and support additional measures for transitioning to sustainable farming systems. We believe that community-based initiatives such as farmers’ markets, regional food groups and Community Shared Agriculture provide powerful models for directly supporting farmers to meet local needs.
Recommendation 1.7 To support this transition, we call for greater government funding for sustainable and organic farming approaches, including through provision for education and agricultural extension, research and development, and the development of sustainable value chains. Research into and trialling of new farming crops and livestock by agencies such as the CSIRO, including into indigenous varieties suited to Australia’s uniquely balanced landscape and climate, is essential in this transition.
Recommendation 1.8 Food labelling should clearly indicate products that may contain ingredients derived from genetic engineering processes and techniques, or that employ nanotechnology in their production or packaging. Consistent with the South Australian Government’s moratorium on the commercial production of genetically modified crops, we call for an end to field trials of genetically modified crops. Such a measure is essential to protect farming and food industries from contamination.
Recommendation 1.9 Food waste along the entire supply chain is a major environmental and climate change issue. Food waste comprises around 40 percent of what remains in household rubbish after recyclable materials and garden waste have been captured. By composting food waste, we not only reclaim nutrients, but also divert waste from breaking down in landfill where it can produce methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its heat-trapping ability.
Recommendation 1.10 In addition to diverting food waste from landfill, the amount of food waste across the supply chain needs to be significantly reduced. Research by The Australia Institute in 2009 revealed that Australian households throw away more than $5 billion worth of food each year. Wasting food not only wastes embodied nutrients and energy, but also wastes water, one of our most precious resources. In a recent report by the Stockholm International Water Institute, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and International Water Management Institute, it was estimated that in the United States, 30 percent of food is thrown away, equivalent to pouring 40 trillion litres of water into the garbage.

2. Public health
Recommendation 2.1Significant government investment is required to enhance food literacy in schools and the community. Food literacy is essential to strengthen knowledge, skills and confidence in food preparation and cooking as well as household menu planning and food budgeting. The essential role of food in celebrating community and promoting health also needs to be recognised through greater support for community food events and shared eating.
Recommendation 2.2 We call for government to take action to ensure healthy and sustainable food on the public plate, including schools and child care, hospitals and aged care, prisons, government departments and the armed forces. The United Kingdom’s Healthier Food Mark is one example of how such a project could be implemented.
Recommendation 2.3 To cultivate more informed food choices and further public consciousness of the importance of healthy eating, we support the movement for more thorough food labelling, including interpretive front-of-pack labelling. The UK’s ‘traffic light’ labels suggest one model for informing food choices.

3. Economy
Under the current industrial food and agriculture system, farmers receive less for their work, while food prices continue to rise, land is degraded and rural and remote communities disintegrate. The market-based, export-oriented agricultural economy in its present form is failing to sustain healthy rural communities, to improve farmer livelihoods, to increase the sustainability of our food system or to increase access to healthy, fresh food for all. To ensure the security of our food system, a new food economy needs to prioritise local markets.
Disconnected from the true costs of food production, the price of food is artificially low, ignoring externalities such as environmental impact, declining public health and the erosion of rural and remote communities. The expansion of diverse, community-based food strategies such as Community Supported Agriculture and farmers’ markets are essential strategies to promote distribution mechanisms that provide farmers with a fair price, reflective of the dignity of their work and the true costs of production.
The industrial food economy favours the concentration of corporate control in the food system. This is expressed locally by the dominance of the two main supermarket chains, resulting in Australia having the most concentrated retail food sector in the world. The dominance of corporations erodes the ability of farmers to demand fair prices for their produce, and reduces consumer access to information about the origins of their food. It detracts from State efforts to sustain regional communities and develop an environmentally responsible economy.

4. Education
Recommendation 4.1 With the serious decline of rural and remote communities and farming numbers, the appreciation of good food and its cultivation must become central to all schooling. Students must learn the skills of sustainable food production, and have opportunities to develop these skills. We acknowledge and celebrate the pioneering work already being carried out by teachers and parents in many South Australian schools with school gardens and kitchens.
Recommendation 4.2 We call for greater Government financial, curriculum and professional development support to strengthen and expand this important work. Increased funding for communities across the spectrum of socio-economic status to engage with school garden and kitchen projects is essential to this. Likewise, we encourage the expansion of these programs into broader initiatives that cultivate understanding of the food system and an appreciation of good food through strengthening links with farms, farmers, and farm education programs. It is essential that funding for community-based food initiatives supports the longevity of existing projects as well as new initiatives.
Recommendation 4.3 We call for an expansion of opportunities for students to engage with sustainable agricultural education, incorporated into the South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE). At the tertiary level, we call for approaches to sustainable and just food systems to be incorporated into agricultural programs, and other programs where relevant. Crucially, social and ecological literacy needs to be an essential part of all teacher education.
Recommendation 4.4 We call for the reinstatement of horticulture courses in major regional centres such as Mount Barker and Murray Bridge, and for the revision of those courses to cultivate sustainable approaches to food production in the face of climate change and peak oil, in consultation with South Australia’s many experts in sustainability and agriculture.
Recommendation 4.5 Likewise, we call for Government support to facilitate access to good land for new farmers to enter sustainable food production without an immediate burden of debt.

5. Networks
The building of a just, sustainable and secure food system necessitates the convergence of diverse groups to work together. At From Plains to Plate, we have come together in recognition of our common ground. The work we do as a network of farmers, community members, health and government workers, neighbourhood organisations, teachers, academics, educators and community members in South Australia is echoed in the actions of social and environmental movements across Australia and the world. We are a global movement, an alliance across a diversity of sectors to assert the importance of the justice, sustainability, security and sovereignty of our food system.
To continue the vision of From Plains to Plate, we are working to establish a South Australian food policy council, composed of representatives from community, government, industry and academic sectors. Such a council would draw valuable lessons from the success of similar councils in North America, dedicated to supporting the development of just, sustainable and local food security.
Good food is one of our most fundamental human needs, requiring action across a diversity of sectors. Already elements of a just and sustainable food vision are germinating on farms, in backyards and community spaces around South Australia. For this vision of a secure and nourishing food future to flourish amid the environmental, social and economic challenges we face, it demands that all sectors unite to place food at the centre of their work.

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