June 3, 2013
Australian plant biosecurity scientist Shashi Sharma has warned of an urgent need for the world community to develop a long-term vision to secure food supplies for future generations. Dr Sharma, director of plant biosecurity at the Department of Agriculture and Food in Western Australia, was addressing an international symposium in West Bengal, India today on the Food Security Dilemma: Plant Health and Climate Change Issues. “It is a matter of immense concern that about two billion people presently suffer from hunger and malnutrition,” Dr Sharma said. “In less than 40 years, the human population will increase by another two billion people to reach nine billion. The challenging question is – how and when we are going to achieve food and nutrition security for the present and future generations? “Our food security strategies must be based on a long-term vision. A short-sighted approach inevitably will lead to long-term intergenerational food insecurity.” Dr Sharma said agriculture, and therefore managed food production, was about ten thousand years old. “It is time that we looked back and assessed our performance over the last ten thousand years to identify what worked and what did not and decide what lessons we can learn,” he said. “We can then look forward to create a food and agriculture vision for the future. “The outbreak of the Ug99 strain of stem rust in Uganda, to which over 80 per cent of the world’s wheat varieties have no resistance, has revealed the risks associated with our current dependence on a very limited number of plant species for food, and the need for a commitment and shared responsibility for global biosecurity to limit pest impacts. “It is time that we give consideration to diversify and expand the portfolio of food sources as a part of our food security strategy.” He said that food production should not compromise the long-term productive capacity of land. “Productive capacity of land is the ‘principal resource’, food production practices and technologies are ‘investment strategies’, and harvest or production is ‘dividend’ earned,” he said. “We must live on ‘dividends’, keeping the ‘principal resource’ intact forever.” Dr Sharma said he found it surprising that even after ten thousand years of cultivation, the world had a limited understanding of the biological diversity of its soils in its agro-ecological systems. “A better understanding could revolutionise the use of microbial biodiversity in increasing crop productivity,” he said. “Our planet Earth is about 4.5 billion years old and it is estimated to be able to sustain life for billions of years more. If we are aiming for sustainable food security for future generations, then wisdom, knowledge and innovative thinking must be the key drivers of the global food security mission.” Dr Sharma said the world community should be aiming to develop a mission for the next thousand years and plan for one hundred years. “It may appear impossible to plan so far ahead,” he said. “But it is like driving a long distance – from India to Italy in the night. If we have a map and clarity about final destination, the 50 metre road visibility, enabled by the car’s headlights, would be enough to take us to our final destination.” Dr Sharma said a long-term vision, with a clear mission and plan, was fundamental to reaching the destination of food security for all.