Having read the broad print, Australia’s National Food Plan is not that, though it is pretty ambitious to say the least. And there are things to like about what the folks at the Department for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry have set out to do.
I particularly like the setting aside of A$28.5m for an Asian food markets research fund to help the food industry capitalise on opportunities offered by growth in Australia’s closest region—although we must note here that the plan is really meaning “China” when it says “Asia”.
This is being backed up by a “What Asia Wants” study, whose findings we should all be really looking forward to.
Then there is an additional A$5.6m to give agriculture industries a stronger, government-endorsed voice in key overseas markets. I would wager the government spending this extra moolah on lobbying abroad.
Then there is the A$2m to develop Australia’s own trusted and recognised food brand—I once suggested the same for New Zealand in an earlier piece. This move is crucial as it is an attempt to ensure that food scandal-ridden Asians perceive Australia as a provider of quality, innovative, safe and sustainable food. It could be the game-changer.
The rest of the plan is more or less... well, for the lack of a better word... meh. There is the bit about another study to analyse food industry trends and A$1.5m each for a community food grants programme and another to grow young people’s knowledge of food and agriculture. Then there are more councils and commissions—I really thought that this was the Indian way of doing things. We love our committees!
What I don’t like is that the plan focuses on the future while doing almost nothing about the immediate problems the food industry faces—something other food industry voices have also noticed.
One would have hoped for more actionable items in the plans too; perhaps something to unshackle the hold the country’s supermarkets have over suppliers, or measures to combat the influx of cheap imports.
For now, the plan is too exports-focused. Policy makers must note that without quick and actionable steps to reform the current regulatory and market framework, Australia’s food industry would withdraw far away from being a healthy and competitive one.
And like most English football managers will tell you, if you are not scoring at home, there’s not point thinking you’re gonna win any away matches.
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