Agriculture: From Farming to Food Security

Agriculture must flip its focus from farming to food security.

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Our farm sector is MAD.

That is, it is in Managed Adaptive Decline. MAD occurs when an organisation adapts bit by bit, in a well-managed way, to declining conditions.

Little wonder, given farming’s constant and historic disruption by everything from extreme weather, to changing business models, leaving it unable to guarantee long-term food security, and business security for farmers themselves.

Looking at the industry in detail, it’s not just the climate and ways of doing business that keep disrupting the sector. It’s a lack of funds for new technology and practices. It’s land degradation and poor use of water, as well as pricing produce as commodities rather than value-adding for larger margins.

Then there’s a lack of talent attraction to the“craft”.Australia is a country driven by cities who think food comes from a supermarket–supermarkets who are more committed to selling junk food than the nutrition that starts at the farmgate. Most of our farmers are in a constant state of shock or pending shock. We hail them as heroes for their resilience and their ability to bounce back. Yet, this is an unrealistic expectation. No wonder suicide and depression are sadly at such high levels in rural areas.

We need to shift the focus from assisting farmers in a superficial hand-to-mouth fashion to a deeper and more urgent cause: the sustainability of our food security. And by food, I mean real food. That is, by the dictionary definition, any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth. That doesn’t mean giving up on our farmers. By redirecting our focus, we will be able to assist farmers for the long-term at a more viable, sustainable level. It does mean getting real and taking responsibility. It’s time to adopt a higher level of thinking rather than dithering at the edges with separate and fragmented pledges and approaches to one sub-set of food production over another.

We need to understand our food security needs as a whole complex system that accounts for all elements of the food value network – the inputs, production, distribution, consumption and wealth and well-being of all agents and elements. That includes the cost of consumption of unhealthy food and the inherent risk to our society and economy as a whole.

Not all farmers will survive. The technology of how nutritious food is produced is rapidly providing alternatives to those traditionally found at the farm gate. They must be included and, where required, traditional farm practices that can no longer contribute to a broader food security benefit, cease. For many, such an approach may be seen as a step back from pressing for a “better deal for farmers”. It isn’t. It is better for farmers to have the sustainable place they deserve as a critical part of Australia’s future, rather than being treated as the “poor cousins” in delivering food security.

This article was originally published in the AgJournal, in May 2019.

Larry Quick is Managing Director of Resilient Futures and co-author of  Disrupted: Strategy for Exponential Change.

Larry Quick is Managing Director of Resilient Futures and co-author of Disrupted: Strategy for Exponential Change.

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