UQ Global Change Institute - Climate risks in Australia's fresh food system

  • UQ Global Change Institute - Climate risks in Australia's fresh food system: Are we cultivating climate change resilience Jane Muller (UQ & Growcom). Excellent presentation. About a third of Australia's food supply comes from QLD. The systems are highly dependent on fuel, electricity, transport, and ICT infrastructure; and complex, highly sophisticated supply chains highly reliant on cold storage and cold transport.

There is very little fat in the system. Food giants drive it with direct supply relationships with large growers, tightly managed and certified. There are cracks in the system (market power imbalances; energy-dense nutrient-poor foods; environmental impacts; and very vulnerable to external shocks [fuel shocks; climate change; pests and disease; drought and water lack; extreme and severe weather events]) We cannot afford to be complacent.

Climate change is already driving extreme weather events with impacts right through the food chain. Almost every fruit and vegetable category is affected in some way.

Q. How can we cultivate resilience to climate change in our food systems?

It is very much a social problem around the business owners and managers making the decisions. In the research design, a wide cross-section were asked:

Q. What are the implications for recurrent flood events on fresh food supply chains?

Q. How do people involved in supply chains construct climate risk and make sense of recurrent floods?

Q. How are climate risks governed within fresh produce supply chains?

Q. How are supply chain members responding to disaster events and adapting to emerging climate risks?

Who are the actors involved? What rules do they make? What processes do they follow?

There is a huge amount of research around resilience (resilience literature) [Maybe we should be doing literature reviews around the topic of resilience!]

Conclusions We require a significant investment in reflexive governance in the food industry to try to shape the future to cope with unavoidable and unforeseeable risks. Need to focus on building up reserves; on being very careful to avoid things that erode reserves. Use disruption to innovate. Evolve your supply chain to be increasingly well adapted to climate risk.

There are two powerful Australian farming narratives which need to be reconsidered in the light of climate risks:

  • The sunburnt country - extremes are normal and we deal with them
  • The resilient Aussie farmer - gets knocked down and gets back up again.

 Natural disasters have impacts right through the supply chain, and recurrent disasters have cumulative effects.  In the 2013 floods we saw farms in the Lockyer Valley washed away that were land worth $20,000 an acre, and the soil is all gone. The soil wasn't washed down to the end of the paddock. It is in Moreton Bay. For the last 2 out of 4 years farming in the Lockyer Valley hasn't paid off. Natural disasters are coinciding with massive price rises in the cost of fuel and electricity. The amount of investment that goes into a field when you don't know what you're going to get out of it is unbelievable.

Farmers have a divergent construction of future climate risk:

  • Quite a few thought future risk not expected to be different from past, and are skeptical of climate change.
  • There is another group with a growing sense of unease about the possibility of climate change being real. 1 in 100 year events are now down to 1 in 3 years!
  • Another group think that high climatic variability will play a role. There is quite a lot of clarity about the changes anticipated.

 There are contrasting approaches to climate risk governance. Climate risk is governed at each step in the supply chain by individual business managers. The supermarket chains actively encourage/exploit this style of governance. Very little anticipatory climate-risk planning for whole of supply-chain strategies. Big packer-marketer companies are most likely to do this.

Farmers can't do it alone. Their core asset has been degraded by floods and debt. Some growers have left the industry and others are at tipping point. Very vulnerable to any more extreme weather events. They are working under relentless pace/pressure on price and they don't have anything spare to put into risk management. They tell their kids to get out of farming.

Building resilience collaboratively needs to be actively pursued.

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