Transforming the Food System in Australia – From the Ground Up

Champion's Mountain Organic Farm's stand at the Eveleigh Farmers Market. (Sydney, Australia) (Nick Rose)

There is a battle underway for the soul of Australia’s food system. 

Looking in from the outside, you wouldn’t think it’s much of a battle. The current Australian Federal government (Labor Party) recently published the country’s first National Food Plan (NFP). Ironically released on the same day as the first global March Against Monsanto, this plan is really a charter for corporate rights, including the rapid roll-out of genetically engineered (GE) crops across Australia. 

Meanwhile, the main conservative opposition parties would take us even further down the free trade free-for-all, urging a massive land-clearing and damming program to convert Australia’s vast northern wilderness into a ‘northern food bowl’. This is all in aid of replacing the declining mining boom with a "dining boom", as billionaire magnates urge a quadrupling of Australia’s commodity production in order to "feed 200 million people."

In other words: push the land harder, drain our water tables further, and drive our remaining farmers harder, in order to make as much money in as short a time as possible. 

Never mind that we are losing farmers at the rate of seven per day, projected to rise to 17 a day within the next few years, or that the rate of suicide and depression amongst farmers is double the national average.

Never mind that the horticultural and food processing industries in Australia are in crisis, as free trade policies result in tonnes of fruit left to rot on the ground and thousands of hectares of mature fruit trees being bulldozed and burnt. 

No. What matters above all are profits for corporate agribusiness. Such is the extent of political vision and debate about food and agriculture in Australia as we approach the next national election, due in September. 

Such trends are not new, but the urgency of the challenges facing our food system is intensifying. Which is why the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) was formed three years ago: to give voice to the thousands of Australians, in towns and cities and on farms around the country, who for years have been striving for a better and fairer food system. 

Inspired by the example of the People’s Food Policy Project in Canada (2008-2011), last year we launched the People’s Food Plan process, Australia’s first grassroots and open-sourced food policy initiative. With the help of 600 people in 40 public forums around the country, we began to articulate a vision and a strategy for a food system grounded in principles of fairness, resilience, true sustainability, and democracy: a food system grounded in the principles of the growing global movement for food sovereignty. 

And now we have launched Australia’s first-ever Fair Food Week, to put a spotlight on the new story of food that we and our supporters are creating in this country. 

But the powerful thing is that this is not just an Australian story. It’s a story being told and re-told all around the world. It’s a story of connection and healing. It’s a story of health and well-being, of buen vivir

The struggle for the future of food system may seem one-sided. We have almost no money and little political influence. The defenders of the status quo appear gargantuan in comparison. 

But as we make our connections, strengthen our networks; as we establish relations of trust with each other, and as we tell our new story of food, we are becoming powerful, because we are engaged in acts of creation. We seek to uphold and enhance life, not degrade it or exploit it purely for selfish monetary ends. 

This story’s decisive chapters remain to be written, but we invite you all to become part of it, because what can be more meaningful than transforming our food system? And there are so many ways to do this, starting with your own hands and some herbs. 

In this story, there is great joy.

Nick Rose is the National Coordinator for the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA). He leads AFSA's People's Food Plan. .

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