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04
Feb
11

The Fragility of Food Supply

There are early predictions more than 90 per cent of Australia’s banana crop was wiped out as Cyclone Yasi hit ‘Banana Central’ – a narrow coastal strip  centred around Innisfail, Tully and Cardwell, North Queensland. 85 per cent of Australia’s bananas are grown here.

“With industry worth AUS$400 million, a total of 75 per cent has been affected,” said Cameron MacKay of the Australian Banana Growers’ Council. Bananas are Australia’s third most valuable fruit industry, but 99% of them are eaten by Australians. Exports to Japan, Indonesia and New Zealand only account for 1% of total production. If Australians want bananas in the next 12-18 months the industry will take to recover, then they’re going to have to be imported.

The cyclone will have an even greater effect on sugar. Catastrophic might be the right word here. Farmer lobby Canegrowers has estimated the cost of Yasi will exceed AUS$500 million, including crop losses and damage to farming infrastructure. Sugar is one of Australia’s most important rural industries, worth over AUS$1.5-$2.5 billion. Australia exports 80% and virtually all of it comes from Queensland. NZ’s favourite Chelsea sugar imports 27,000 tonnes of it every 6 weeks. There are a lot of cakes and tea cups in Kiwi kitchens that will be feeling the pinch of increased sugar prices due to Yasi destruction. Bloomberg is reporting that futures prices for the sugar industry have hit a 30-year high.

Things are just looking more and more grim for Australian growers. Floods, fires, drought are just decimating the country. Paul Sheehan has written a very good column in the Sydney Morning Herald about Australia’s topsoil:

“Australia reminds me of an injured person, gushing blood. Others gather around, concerned, yet nobody mentions the gushing blood, or appears to even notice.”

 

These are not the best of times, and I’m afraid they certainly aren’t going to be the worst. The world is just starting to get an idea about how important top soil is. Soil conservation is a necessity! We need to learn more, protect more, be smarter about one of the most fundamental substances that we’ve taken for granted for far too long.

 

 

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