Toilet paper is one item that everyone has noticed has been in short supply, but also long shelf life food items such as pasta and pasta sauce. We have also experienced shortages of eggs, milk, rice and frozen vegetables that have been sold out or limited in quantity for purchase.
In fact, we are so used to seeing shelves full all the time, that any absence is alarming and tends to evoke an emotional response, even if it is minor. We are just not used to see blank space. We feel something is wrong.
Elsewhere in the world and throughout history, empty shelves and a lack of access to food is actually normal and not the exception. If we lived in the Soviet Union during the 1980’s, only four decades ago but accessible though review of old television broadcasts, this the reality for its citizens. Or at the extreme, many nations in East Africa that are experiencing famine. A situation unchanged since the Soviet Union existed and kids in school were doing the “Forty Hour Famine” to raise desperately needed funds.
So is Australia evolving into becoming like other nations around the round the world where we will see regular shortages in terms of food and other products.
Firstly, we need to understand what food security is and isn’t. Food security is not food insecurity. Food insecurity is a lack of access to food due to personal circumstances, which is largely driven by a lack of money.
Food security is the ability of a country or state to be able to meet the food requirements for its population, either now and into the future.
Upon visiting Foodbank WA back in October of last year, I learned that they provide for 18,000 breakfast meals each week for school kids in WA. That is in addition to the numerous charities and individuals that Foodbank help each week. A situation that has been made worse by COVID-19 as regular donations from supermarkets have not been as regular as expected. That is because supermarkets are selling out of food products due to panicked buying and hoarders during the early part of the COVID-19 crisis.
Food insecurity is driven through personal factors and food security is driven by macro factors.
In the joint publication “The Situational Report for the Food Security Plan For Western Australia” by Curtin University and the Perth Natural Resource Management Association, ten factors were outlined that affect food security in WA. These are:
- Climate Change
- Land Use
- Population Growth
- Soil Acidity
- Water Availability
- Agricultural Exports
- Consumer Behaviour
- Aquaculture & Fisheries
These factors influence food security at a sustained high-level comparative to the acute nature of food insecurity.
The biggest determinant to food security is population growth.
The more people living in your state or country, the more food you need to feed the masses.
The production of food and other consumable products requires the use of environmental resources. To feed a growing population, the country or state must use more of its environmental resources (essentially soil and water) to meet the needs of more people or organise and pay supply lines to get food in from other countries or states.
This then brings up some initial questions.
Do we have enough environmental resources to meet a growing population here in WA? Which is a food security question. Could we feed five million people living in the state of Western Australia?
If couldn’t grow the food and products ourselves, could we bring more and more food in from interstate/overseas? Would that be affordable for the most vulnerable within our society? Which is a food insecurity question.
This is a question that is increasing over time and has been highlighted by the recent COVID-19 isolation period. With more people forced out of work and unable to generate an income, coupled with shortages at the point of sale, the situation has really come to fore of the public’s collective view.