Urgent action needed to address food security through rural employment

Rural employment key to food security

OPINION
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Alfa Net/Shutterstock

Alfa Net/Shutterstock

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There is a crisis happening in our own backyard.

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Optimal seasonal conditions in many parts of the country mean Australia is set for a bumper harvest predicted to produce some 46.8 million tonnes of grain, which is well above average.

With this year's above-average crop, coupled with a reduced overseas worker population, finding workers to harvest the crop is especially challenging.

Seasonal labour in the regions has been a long-term problem with estimates suggesting it costs the dairy sector alone up to $364 million each year.

These issues relate to global societal issues like food security, food waste, regional employment and mental health; among other economic losses.

The long-term labour shortage in Australia's rural and regional areas is pushing farmers to the limit of their personal productivity with many facing compromised mental health issues.

The pressure of not being able to find labour to bring in the harvest is intensifying this.

Farmers and farming communities are resilient but resilience can only be stretched so far.

Crops have been sown, tended and harvested for millennia but urgent action is needed if food security is going to be maintained and wastage from unharvested crops is going to be avoided.

While it is unlikely consumers will experience higher prices or food shortages as a result of the labour crisis, there is a genuine risk of food waste and farmers burning out from the pressures of an under-resourced harvest.

The UN's Sustainable Development Goals are unfolding here with Australia's seasonal labour shortage being a global problem.

The SDGs particularly relevant here are: 2) Zero hunger and 3) Good health and well-being.

With the introduction of the SDGs, we are learning to question issues surrounding threats to food security, food waste and the compromised well-being of anyone in society. In this case, it is arguable the well-being of the most critical people in our society - food producers - is at threat.

The federal government's in-principle free trade agreement with the UK and the new Dedicated Agriculture Visa program are welcomed by farming groups - but the labour is needed before the deals come into play.

It's often asked, "Why are these jobs going to overseas workers? What about Australians?" Well, what about Australians?

There is a crisis happening in our own backyard so anyone who is fluent in English with a willingness to work independently, in isolated locations, operate heavy machinery and sometimes handle livestock should be urgently encouraged to contact any rural employment agency.

Dr Elizabeth Jackson is from Curtin University's School of Management and Marketing.

The story Urgent action needed to address food security through rural employment first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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