The Food Connect Foundation is a leader
in the emergence of the new food economy.
The conventional globalised agriculture and food system is unfair and out of balance in the following ways:
- Unprecedented land clearing and rural communities are displaced in a global land and water grab to keep the system expanding
- We're witnessing diminishing plant variety and diversity
- High dependence on fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals, all of which are reaching their peak
- Small and family farms rapidly declining with corporate agribusiness taking over
- Obesity and diabetes now affects 400 million people
- Contributes to 33% of global greenhouse gas emissions
- 40% of food purchased is wasted
- 1 billion people, mostly rural women and children, are starving and malnourished.
We're facing a crisis in skills shortage: from 1990-2007 Australian grain farmers number dropped by a fifth. Dairy farmers have declined by three-quarters. Family farmers are squeezed to ‘get big or get out’.
As Australian agriculture has become more ‘efficient’ and achieved higher levels of ‘productivity’, the financial and social burdens on many farmers and their families have reached and exceeded breaking point.
Getting big often means taking on huge debts, which creates high levels of stress and anxiety. The rates of suicide and depression amongst male farmers and agricultural workers is more than double that of the urban employed population.
The new food economy
Business as usual is no longer an option, even for those who have the most invested in the system as it stands at present. There’s no point being perched at the top of a tree if at the same time you’re busy poisoning its roots. The good news is that there is a positive and powerful pathway forward: it's called the new food economy.
The term ‘new food economy’ describes the emergence of vibrant sectors of small-to-medium sized farms and food enterprises adaptively catering for rapidly changing eater preferences.
At present these are still classified as niche markets (local, organic, ethical, ethnic) but year-on-year growth in the region of 5% – 10% means that this classification may soon need to be revised.
The multiple benefits of creative food economies are becoming better understood and their contribution to public value includes:
encouraging the greater consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, thereby improving health and well-being and lessening the burden of dietary-related diseases
successfully targeting marginalised and vulnerable groups, overcoming the phenomenon of ‘food deserts’ and reducing levels of food insecurity
stimulating local and regional economic development, creating local businesses and jobs, and broadening the revenue base for local and state governments*
reducing the fossil-fuel footprint of food systems through encouragement of knowledge- and labour-intensive, rather than input-intensive, forms of agriculture and food production
enhancing biodiversity, and rural / urban amenity, through diverse production methods, the preservation of significant agricultural land, and the greening of urban spaces
increasing food system resilience, through shortened supply and value chains
building social capital by educational and vocational learning opportunities
tackling the demographic crisis facing farmers and rural communities by making food growing and production seen as desirable and financially rewarding, and thus an attractive livelihood option for young people.
* Research: https://hbr.org/2010/07/the-secret-to-job-growth-think-small