Thursday, 10 April 2008

A welcome dose of common sense

George Megalogenis article about the question of whether Australia needs agriculture is a welcome one and I wish I had seen it when it came out last September.

Not only is Australia suffering from chronic drought, it also has by far the poorest soils and the most variable streamflow in the world. This alone questions whether we should be farming in Australia at all. Whilst there might have been justification when poverty and famine were endemic in circa-1800 Europe, since the 1950s “Green Revolution” raised productivity in other hot nations possessing reliable runoff and reasonable soils there is no justification except its extreme labour-use efficiency for farming Australia.

Abundance of land nonetheless has encouraged the incessant growth of Australia’s farmland and the urban population that its exports supported, and today serves to discourage agribusinesses and even organic farmers from thinking of abandoning Australia for countries with better soils and reliable runoff.

Megalogenis is to be credited for showing just how much the drying of southern Australia's climate has eroded the farming base since the winter of 2006 – which I always knew to be a critical turning point. From my finding Perth had received less than half its previous record low June rainfall and raindays, I knew very well the end of the winter rainfall zone is imminent – to be replaced by an arid belt extending all the way to Cape Leeuwin.

It's a pity neither Megalogenis nor the many people who realise Australia is grossly overpopulated do not consider the long-term solution of large-scale revegetation and protection of southern Australia, which would eliminate from the landscape plants totally unsuited to our ancient soils and offer hope of an economy based around ecotourism that might be sustainable.

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