Recipe to feed 9 billion people
Agriculture in Australia and across the globe is experiencing a boom in demand. Food prices are increasing – and in some countries causing political unrest – due to a growing world population, more demand for animal protein in diets, and the use of agricultural crops for biofuels.
Agriculture also faces great challenges from climate variability and increasing costs of energy, demanding social innovation and cutting-edge technology.
But the supply of agriculture graduates required to meet these opportunities and challenges in Australia is falling way behind demand. A study by the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture (ACDA) representing all 13 universities across Australia that offer significant training in Agriculture shows that there is a job market for about 5000 graduates within Australia, but only 800 students are graduating per year. The situation is similarly dire internationally, and compounding this is a declining investment in research.
This “Knowledge Drought” is a real threat to our future says Professor Rick Roush, Dean of MSLE and ACDA President. This highly appropriate term was coined by journalist, editor and science communicator Professor Julian Cribb, author of The Coming Famine – The Global Food Crisis.
At the Queensland Parliamentary Conference “A Food Secure World: Challenging Choices for our North” held in Parliament House, Brisbane last month, Dean of MSLE Professor Roush told the conference that “the most effective investment in agricultural development and sustainability is in human potential.
“Without expertise, all other investments in sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries cannot have maximal impact. Education provides the necessary long-term focus on the development and adoption of new technologies.
“Yet despite rising international concerns about food security and affordability, the quality and quantity of education, training and research in agriculture is under threat.
“Agriculture is rarely seen as an attractive career path, especially by outstanding students, not just in Australia and other developed countries, but also among students in countries where agriculture is less sophisticated.
“There is a positive story to tell about the career opportunities in agriculture. We are standing at the dawn of the next green revolution and we need the smartest and most capable young people to take up the challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050.”
Professor Roush suggests also that “Coursework training has lots of advantages at both bachelor and masters levels. Graduates of these programs are critically important to employers who are desperate for a highly skilled workforce and allow for close connections with industry, employers and family.”
The study of sustainable agricultural, animal and food sciences means exploring real problems facing society today and investigating solutions that will have an impact into the future. MSLE is fortunate to have a commercial farm at Dookie Campus. This is a living laboratory where a research activity is closely integrated with teaching.
Tiantian Liu, a second year Bachelor of Agriculture student, enjoys experiencing first-hand the benefits of a working farm.
“The highlight of my experience so far has been gaining practical agricultural skills from study at Dookie campus,” Ms Liu says.
“I also volunteer for Farms, Rivers and Markets, a project based at Dookie campus exploring how to do more with less water in farming systems.”
MSLE’s teaching and research is tackling critical social issues. Its researchers and students are developing alternative agricultural practices to accommodate climate variations including water use efficiencies, reducing food-borne illnesses through improved food safety, exploring the impacts and benefits of urban food production, developing knowledge and technologies to ensure sustainable production and ethical treatment of animals, managing sustainable ecosystems through catchment management, soil carbon measurement and analysis.
So when you next go down to your local market or shopping centre for a litre of milk or a loaf of bread, maybe it’s time to give some thought about just how it found its way there and who was involved in its successful and sustainable production and distribution.
A complete list of programs is available online at:
23 August: Dining in the Age of Tutankhamun with Professor Rick Roush, Melbourne Museum.