Industry transformation will only happen when that industry realizes they’re bigger than themselves.

On 24th August, the second FACETS (Food, Agriculture, Climate, Energy, Topsoil, Sustainability) event was held in rural Australia, from a hub at Skillset’s Flannery Center in Bathurst NSW. The TED-style event was streamed to satellite sites in Towoomba, Horsham and the Barossa Valley as well as live on the ABCs website.  Thanks to Twitter and online TV the message was received in over 15 countries.  That’s over 300% growth in audience and reach. Not bad for a movement started by two brothers, David and Andrew Ward just over a year ago.

For me, the messages of the individual FACETS speakers were the most powerful.  Passion, energy and people making change in the way they work, live and communicate to help drive transformation in Australian agriculture.  Right on message for 2012, the Year of the Farmer.

Matthew Cawood, a Fairfax journalist and FACETS 2012 speaker said, “Farming has to become bigger than just the business of producing food & ‘farmer’ has to have more weight & be a steward of the earth.”  His sentiments were echoed by most of the farmers in attendance and reinforced by other speakers; such as Dr. Brian Walker from the CSIRO, Andrea Koch from the University of Sydney and Ian Dunlop from the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas.

The other resounding message what that we need to “give soil a voice”.  In environmental conversations, water has a voice, trees (thanks in part to Dr. Seuss) have a voice, even the air has a voice.  But very rarely do we hear about the importance of soil quality and this crucial resource is consistently put at risk by many modern, agricultural practices.   “Soil degradation is up there with climate change as a problem in Australia but there is little media coverage. Why? Because soil doesn’t have a voice,” said Andrea Koch.

The research and innovation happening within large agricultural organizations will go a long way to supporting the industry’s transformation however “corporate short-termism and institutional failures are some of the primary blockages to solving the problem properly,” said Ian Dunlop.  This failure of large corporations to facilitate real transformation has led to the proliferation of grass-roots initiatives designed to change the way we interact with food.

For example, Adrianne Talbot-Thomson from Port Kembla’s Urban Grown project.  Urban Grown is more than a ‘market garden’.  It is a Department of Education block of land that has become a thriving production area that will employ local people and address unemployment in the area.  The program is a commercial venture that Adrianne hopes will become a model that can be applied across rural communities and “provide reasonably priced, chemical free food grown locally and in a way that promotes community development,” she said.

From where I sat, as an interested but relatively uninformed participant at FACETS, agricultural transformation is happening.  The producers are starting to think of themselves more as custodians of the earth, and as a result are changing they way the produce.  Secondary industry is promoting more sustainable production practices, and as consumers we’re slowly becoming more aware as we gain access to a wider selection of products.

When all segments of the agriculture industry start working towards the same goals, transformational change can happen and we might just be able to make a real difference to not only the environment but also our collective consciousness.

 

Article by Janeece Keller