Land management change urgently needed: Jeffery
AN urgent imperative exists to change how the Australian landscape is managed, for food security and climate change reasons, especially farmland, according to former Governor General, Major-General Michael Jeffery.
But in that transition, farmers must be viewed not only as food growers but as the primary custodians of the Australian landscape and “rewarded accordingly”.
Major-General Jeffery outlined his thoughts on agriculture’s critical importance to climate change adaptation, during the opening address of a high level land use forum organised by Independent MP Rob Oakeshott, in Canberra last week.
Major-General Jeffery said the challenges confronting Australia in dealing with a changing climate, land degradation, food and water security and the needs of increasing global populations were “unprecedented”.
In casting that warning, he said governments needed to take the issue far more seriously by handing the responsibility for managing the various interlocking tasks attached to a positive and sustainable outcome, to the Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Premiers or their equivalents.
“Water is fundamental to life but it can only do its job properly through the aegis of healthy soils,” he said.
“If we save our soil we save our planet.
“The common thread is carbon and its key role in building soil health and thus naturally regulating the water cycle through the photosynthetic and evapotranspiration action of trees, plants and a regenerated soil structure.
“But to do this, effective and coordinated change is essential now.
“Effective practical policies and actions are needed now.
“The good news is that effective, safe solutions are available, funded on improved management of the Australian landscape.
“However, we need to support land managers with sound policy, research and incentives to ensure that Australia can play a leading role in providing these solutions both regionally and globally.
“A Net Emissions Reduction Inventive based on an escalating carbon levy can potentially handle our whole carbon emission reduction challenge, whilst improving soil fertility and enhancing farmer prosperity.
“Farmers should be recognised as the primary custodians of our agricultural landscape and be rewarded accordingly.
“But to pull this together quickly and efficiently requires coordination at the highest political levels; Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Premier or equivalent.”
Mr Oakeshott said the call to action by governments, as urged by Major Jeffery, was “the key” to generating better land use in an appropriate carbon trading scheme.
The independent MP said he would certainly support the establishment of an equivalent “task-force” with wide ranging powers, wether it had the Deputy Prime Minister, State Deputy Premiers or someone from outside of Parliament on it, such as a former Governor General, with the power and authority to “cut across all of the red tape issues and ensure governments at all levels get the importance of this, at this moment”.
But he said establishing the taskforce was not something he discussed with Labor during the negotiations to form government after last year’s hung Federal Election.
“I had not seen his speech (Major Jeffery) before hand but I’ve certainly written it down in my notes and it will be another one of the conversations I’ll be having (with the Prime Minister),” he said when speaking to Rural Press after the forum.
In continuing his message, Major Jeffery said governments had to ensure Australia’s remaining farm land was not “lost forever” to new urban developments or mining ventures.
He said the globe was losing around 1 per cent of its arable land annually and at that rate, by 2050 when the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion, currently estimated at 6.9 billion, there would be 40 per cent less arable land to produce 100pc more food.
By the middle of this century Australia’s population is expected to increase by 55pc from the current mark of 22 million to 35 million, along with a notable increase in the median age, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics,
“Whilst we have an abundance of land mass in Australia, converting our most productive agricultural and forestry land to suburbs or for coal extraction purposes, as is currently proposed in the upper Hunter for example, does not make sense, given the food integrity challenges we face,” Major-General Jeffery said.
Major-General Jeffery said cities also had a part to play in the total equation by recycling their water to ensure they did not reduce farmers’ ability to grow food to the standards and qualities required.
He said cities needed to begin recycling nutrients, food and organic waste.
Major-General Jeffrey also pointed out the importance of retailers, saying they needed to recognise that their supply chains, for quality food and fibres, were at risk due to climate and land stresses.
And with consumers better informed and educated about food quality, retailers needed to embrace “comprehensive labelling” of products for nutritional value and sustainable production.
Through the forum, Mr Oakeshott said he wanted to raise awareness of “peak soil” rather than “peak oil” as the number one issue facing the nation and the planet’s future.
“We are starting to get to the pointy end of some decisions in public policy, so having farmers and investors come together at a key moment like this, to put the issues of land use and land management and biodiversity in the face of decision makers, hopefully has a value of its own,” he said.
He said work on soil carbon had also been updated recently and would have an impact on where the debate was heading.
“The US Study Centre at the University of Sydney had a conference two weeks ago which seems to be saying, the soil science and the accounting tools are now lining up,” he said.
“This was the great issue around additionality (a contentious and fundamental issue of the carbon offset market) and permanence that had everyone scared about corrupting markets but the latest advice is that this issue has been resolved.
“The question now is for policy makers to turn that into a policy result that allows us to really use soil carbon sequestration in a way to deal with some of the challenges we face with a lot of co-benefits for farmers and biodiversity.”
In terms of giving farmers a price for carbon, similar to what they would see for a price of wheat, Mr Oakeshott said it was easy to get hung up on exact dollar figures.
He said in the end, better soils produced a better product which equals a better price.
“For anyone who is farming, what they do that in their farming practices anyway, you would hope, is try and get better soils to get a better product and in turn get a better price,” he said.
“This is no different.”
Other speakers at the forum included Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, Multi-Party Climate Change Committee member, Senator Christine Milne and Andrea Koch from the Soil Carbon Initiative of the US Studies Centre at Sydney University.
Mr Combet said the Carbon Farming Initiative was a market mechanism that would “begin to unlock the potential for land sector abatement” and ameliorate the opportunities lost for forestry and land sector offsets due to Parliament’s failure to pass the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS).
“Just as the lack of certainty over carbon pricing stopped long-term investment in our electricity generation sector necessary for energy security, the lack of a framework for rewarding the abatement offered by the land sector has compromised the investment the sector needs to be part of the solution to climate change,” he said.
“I am committed to getting the Carbon Farming Legislation into Parliament as soon as practicable and working with Parliament to get it passed before 1 July 2011 to allow the land sector to focus on methodologies and on the ground projects which can make a real difference.
“To achieve this, stakeholders will need to continue to engage with my Department on the detail with the realistic expectation that not every detail pertaining to their project or methodology can be resolved in the primary legislation.
“This is why I set up the Domestic Offset Integrity Committee last year to begin the important work on methodologies which will make this framework meaningful to farmers, foresters and landholders.”