By Growcom CEO David Thomson
We may very well be facing a recession in Australia with impacts that will reach further and deeper into our economy and society than immediately obvious.
The International Monetary Fund expects Australian gross domestic product to shrink by 7.2% throughout 2020.
Livelihoods will be threatened due to lost jobs and incomes to the coronavirus crisis. But more is at risk.
Many lower socio-economic Australians already find it difficult to obtain affordable, nutritionally adequate and safe food to meet essential dietary needs for an active, healthy life.
Quality nutrition plays an important part in peoples’ everyday physical and mental wellbeing.
Food insecurity has been strongly related to negative outcomes in particular for children, including behavioral problems, lower educational performance, and generally poorer cognitive development.
Even brief periods of food insecurity – like those caused by a global pandemic – may have longer term impacts given the rapid pace of brain development during adolescence and childhood.
We must do all that we can to prepare for this disruption and manage the worst impacts.
While governments will not be able to keep everyone in a job, or necessarily sustain generous social security payments, they can conceivably do more to ensure everyone has equal access to nutritious food, including fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts.
The initial version of the Food Stamp program in the United States was implemented in 1939 to address the dual problems of widespread unemployment and unmarketable food surpluses.
So the times we’re in aren’t quite as unprecedented as they first appear. The Food Stamp program continues to this day, providing assistance for food purchasing to low income and unemployed persons.
Our last experience in Australia with widespread government intervention to ensure equity of food access was in 1950, when the wartime rationing of butter and tea finally came to an end.
But the idea of government now influencing the spending of individuals, even if it’s their welfare payment, will have serious detractors both within the bureaucracy and among social advocates.
There are other levers to pull.
Government assistance in propagating food cooperatives and community supported agriculture projects are just a couple of innovative ways of improving access to quality food, while creating closer relationships between consumer and producer.
As peak body for Queensland horticulture, Growcom is committed to working with governments at all levels to ensure these and other options are explored to ensure the food security of all Australians.