Here are some facts that, initially, may seem separate phenomena. However, I think they are linked more than most of us realise.
1. The world now has more people living in urban areas than in rural areas, at 54%. Australia is well ahead of that percentage, at a whopping 89%, ranking 25th in the world.
Australians may be interested in the landscape, but few have direct contact with it
2. About 38% of the earth’s land area is used for agriculture, with 70% of this being grasslands. Australia has a higher proportion of its land used for agriculture than the world average, at about 58%. The majority of agricultural land, 88%, is used for grazing (often because it is not suited to other food production systems).
Investment in agriculture, and livestock systems in particular, is an investment in our country, in every sense of the word
3. 6.1% of Australia’s GDP is spent on public health. But Australia has amongst the fastest growing populations with obesity, diabetes and other modern illnesses. The prevalence of obesity in Australia has more than doubled in the past 20 years. Of the 34 member countries in the OECD, Australia ranks fifth for the proportion of the population who are obese (25%). Diet-related chronic diseases are the major cause of death and morbidity in Australia.
Public health expenditure has not led to public health
4. Dietary choices in Australia show some bad habits. The largest category of household food expenditure is ‘meals out and fast foods’, at 27% of the average household food budget (the second largest category is alcoholic beverages). ‘Meat, fish and seafood’ is ranked third, and ‘fruit, nuts and vegetables’ ranked fourth, at about 12-13% each. Following closely, at about 10% of household food expenditure, is ‘Condiments, confectionery, food additives and prepared meals’. Shopping behaviour is dominated by factors other than nutrition, such as price and economic uncertainty. This has made the food processing industry Australia’s largest manufacturing industry.
Food consumption is more about convenience than health
5. The modern consumer relates to food more through TV celebrities and supermarkets than to food growers. Australians have less direct contact with farmers than ever before. This is, at best, a shame. At worst, it’s a disaster.
Food producers are crucial to the health of consumers (all of us!), and the health of our country’s landscapes. So we should get to know them better
What does ‘getting to know them’ mean in our modern world? It means building awareness that the health of individuals, communities, and landscapes are inextricably linked. But beyond awareness and, heaven forbid, a policy statement, I think we need new economic structures and market partnerships that empower landholders to produce healthy food whilst serving as custodians of so much of our landscape.
It’s a big job: feeding us and managing the land. Is there another job with such high stakes? But virtually all of the farmers and pastoralists I’ve met are up for the job, as long as they’re given the chance.
Connecting human health, landscape health and business health is no doubt easier said than done. But perhaps the starting point is to build networks and markets that emphasis people and provenance (place), not just products and profit.
We must also involve food processors and retailers in the discussions and plans, given their central role in our food systems. The modern food system is what we’ve got, like it or not. We’ve tended to develop ‘them versus us’ views between producers, processors, retailers and consumers. Each sector can sometimes regards the others with suspicion. But we will only make progress through open dialogue, working together, and building greater awareness that the relationships between all of these sectors ultimately influence our health and that of our landscapes.
Data from online resources: