Water Journal : Current May 2016
www.awa.asn.au 48 Opinion A vital source of prosperity and food security The challenge for the world is to feed a population estimated to grow from around seven billion today to nine billion by 2050, using substantially less land and water because of urban intrusion. Efficiency, technology and plant breeding can largely rise to the challenge, but we need to utilise resources where they are available. The last thing we need is vast forays into the Amazon rainforests, for instance. Northern Australia is one of the last largely untapped agriculture regions in the world. And make no mistake, the north has the resources -- water, land, sunshine and markets. Water: the total fresh water outflow into the Gulf of Carpentaria is 90 million ML a year, three times the Murray-Darling. And unlike the largely over-allocated Murray-Darling, the Gulf s river systems are barely used for economic purposes. Land: a 2014 Flinders and Gilbert Agriculture Resources Assessment by CSIRO found "that a very large area of the Gilbert River catch- ment (1 to 2 million hectares) are moderately suitable (class three) for a whole range of crops and irrigation methods." The Gilbert River catchment represents only a minuscule portion of arable land in the Gulf catchment area. This land, despite some misguided commentary to the contrary, is hardly pristine. It is lightly timbered savannah country, has had cattle grazing it for more than one hundred years, and is widely infested with feral plant and animal species. Solar radiation: there are few places on the globe that have such abundant sunshine, the essence of plant growth. Markets: more than of the half of the world s population (China, India, south-east Asia) live directly to the north, a market representing 70% of the projected growth in global food consumption over the next 40 years. Of course ecological sustainability is fundamental. But there is a rule of thumb in Australia that one third of a river flow can be harvested if two thirds are returned to the environment. One of the other great benefits of tropical agriculture is the enormous amount of biomass that can be produced, such that we can generate renewable electricity from the dry matter waste (effectively stored solar energy). Further, we can produce ethanol for liquid fuel. It s the epitome of carbon sustainability. It is also worth considering the economic impetus it will generate for isolated and disadvantaged shires in Australia, including Indigenous employment. Should we strategically develop irrigation opportunities in the north? Doing so will bring government policy to life, feed a hungry world, generate jobs and wealth in a struggling region, offer economically and environmentally sustainable production, create indigenous jobs and business opportunities, generate tax revenue and improve the current account. KEITH DE LACY CHAIRMAN OF INTEGRATED FOOD AND ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS AND A FORMER QUEENSLAND GOVERNMENT TREASURER. FOR FOR & AGAINST DEBATING THE BIG ISSUES IN THE WATER INDUSTRY. IS IRRIGATING NORTHERN AUSTRALIA GOOD BUSINESS OR A POOR INVESTMENT? Q NORTHERN AUSTRALIA IS ONE OF THE LAST LARGELY UNTAPPED AGRICULTURE RESOURCE REGIONS IN THE WORLD.
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