Food Security depends on Fuel Security

An alarming report on Australia’s liquid fuel supplies, commissioned by the NRMA—Australia’s largest Motoring and Services organisation—has significant implications for the nation’s food security. With about 95% of the road transport network dependent on liquid fuels, the report concludes that deliveries of food and medicine would come to a standstill after 23 days of normal consumption, or well before that perhaps, if overseas oil and fuel supplies were cut. The report takes into account fuel stocks at sea, crude storage tanks at refineries, service station stocks, and tank fuel held by motorists. I guess that as soon as a crisis arose, the Government would impound all petrol/diesel supplies in the country (except in our private vehicles) for use by police, ambulances, the defence forces etc, so transport of food and essential goods around the country would be affected almost immediately.

Over the past three decades the nation’s dependency on overseas oil and fuel has increased steadily and will continue to rise as local refinery capacity decreases. The planned closure of Sydney’s Clyde and Kurnell refineries in 2014 is expected to reduce Australia’s refinery capacity a further 28%. According to the report, Australia’s Liquid Fuel Security (www.mynrma.com.au/media/Fuel_Security_Report.pdf), the government has allowed the country to become too dependent on foreign supply of liquid fuels, with no coherent contingency plans to deal with the devastating impact of any cut to overseas supply because of war, economic turmoil or natural disasters; instead, adopting a “she’ll be right” approach.

Written by retired RAAF Air Vice-Marshal John Blackburn, the report seeks to contribute to the public debate by raising the question of whether we should be concerned about this increasing dependency on overseas liquid fuel and whether or not Australia is resilient enough to withstand interruptions to the supply chain.

So concerned are some community leaders in the ACT about Canberra’s food security in the event of a fuel crisis, that Fusion Canberra (www.fusion.org.au/)—the Canberra branch of the Christian youth and community organisation, Fusion Australia—has partnered with SEE-Change (www.see-change.org.au/) —a not-for-profit group that aims to reduce Canberra’s ecological footprint—to organise a food security awareness campaign over the next 12 months, including the run-up to the Federal election. With the nation’s capital dependent on road transport for the delivery of food, the ‘Our Hungry Future’ campaign aims at getting the ACT Government to set up a food policy and program, working towards Canberra-based greenhouse, hydroponic, aquaponic and aquaculture operations to produce a significant proportion of the city’s food. Their vision is for the nation’s capital to be 30% self-sufficient in food production within a decade. Campaign organisers say a localised intensive food production industry could involve about 700 hectares of glasshouses, in and around the perimeter of the city, costing $1 billion in investment, a labour force of 10,000 people producing $700 million to $1 billion worth of fish and vegetables annually. These are ball-park figures, they say.

Fusion Canberra’s mission is to create a Canberra where nobody gets left behind, with the firm belief that food security is one issue that needs to be addressed to create a city that is truly sustainable. Fusion and SEE-Change believe their strategy to develop localised intensive food production and processing operations could be repeated across other population centres dependent on transport for food and essential goods. They also point to diversification strengthening local economies by creating investment opportunities and local jobs, reducing transport, wastage and other costs, with profits and wages remaining in the local area. It’s a noble and commonsense aspiration.

Steven Carruthers

PH&G June 2013 / Issue #132


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