Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Admittedly this is not what you'd normally bring to mind when asked to imagine "bread money", but it's redolent with associations. Food prices are set to rise by 45 percent over the next decade, we're told. It should not surprise us. The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, a federal government body, says that food prices have risen by 75 percent since 2000. The Courier-Mail story tells us that it's not just people living in developing economies who will face hunger in the coming years, but "even more Australians will be unable to afford a steady supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, turning instead to processed meals and junk food".

It should be no surprise to governments in Australia, though. In a 2007 study undertaken by the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC), in collaboration with NSWHealth and other health bodies, "Some socio-economically disadvantaged suburbs in [Greater Western Sydney] are effective 'food deserts' with no local food outlets such as supermarkets, food co-operatives or fruit and vegetable shops." Overweight results from restricted access to affordable, healthy food, which the study says is a "basic human right".

But Sydney's peri-urban regions, which could supply a lot of the fresh food its residents require, is a contested area. 50 percent of the farms by number - and 30 percent by volume of produce - producing vegetables in the Sydney basin, are located in the two growth centres on the city fringe. These agricultural precincts are slated for development according to the NSW Department of Planning. When I asked the department for comment, they told me that they "had my details".

The 2007 study notes that a rural lands review to document agricultural land in growth centres was a "current NSW government commitment" but one of the study's authors tells me that it "went nowhere". A "ground truthing" study conducted by a researcher at the Department of Primary Industries documents the state of agriculture in the Sydney basin in 2008. It says that only 12 percent of Sydney's fresh vegetables are grown in the basin. For some produce, such as mushrooms, the local content of what is consumed in Sydney is high. For others, such as celery, about 98 percent of what is consumed in Sydney is produced elsewhere. It seems that people living in areas underprovided with fresh-food outlets will continue to be forced to rely on unhealthy options such as fast food in order to satisfy their nutritional requirements.

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