City Talk with David McWilliams

(6.30pm, Tuesday 13 November 2012, City Recital Hall)

Thank you, Simon, [Marnie, MC], and welcome, everyone, to our City Talk. I'd like firstly to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the people of 200 nations who live in our city.

It's a great pleasure to welcome our panel for this evening - what a great line-up! And especially to welcome David McWilliams whose insights and forthright commentary will be familiar to many of you.

 

THE CHALLENGE OF FOOD SUPPLIES

Our world has seven billion people, with the global population predicted to rise to eight billion by 2030—and nine billion by the middle of the century.

Almost all of that growth will occur in less developed countries and it will be accommodated mostly in cities, with declining rural populations.

And according to the International Food Policy Research Institute, if those nine billion people in 2050 have the consumption of industrialised countries now, the consumption rate will be equivalent to 12 billion people by 2050.

The Institute's 2012 Global Hunger Index (its seventh annual report) shows hunger remains a serious global problem, with tragically slow progress of reform.

The report puts forward two visions of the future: an unsustainable global food system in which finite resources continue to be depleted at a growing rate; and an alternative in which access to food, energy and clean water improves, and the degradation of ecosystems is halted or reversed.

The Institute's recommendations involve more responsible management of natural resources, innovative solutions for scarce natural resources, and action on the causes of scarcity, including climate change.

But in an era of urbanisation—as with many of the major challenges facing our globe—the solutions will involve transformations in how we construct and live in our cities.

 

SUSTAINABLE FOOD RESPONSES FROM SYDNEY

Across the globe there is an upsurge in people challenging the conventional patterns of food supply and resource use. Cities and communities are pursuing more sustainable and ethical solutions.

Sydney is no exception. We have a great - a well-deserved - reputation for our food culture but how do we continue to sustain that food culture, eat well and keep our consciences healthy?

How we source our food, what we do to ensure everyone has access to fresh, healthy food, what we do with the left-overs are matters of public concern and public policy.

It entails, as a priority, keeping agricultural land close to our city safe from encroaching development. We can't afford to build over the farm lands of the Sydney basin or sacrifice the inner market gardens to Botany Cemetery.

That in turn means allowing for greater density in the city while still maintaining and improving - urban amenity, so that denser living becomes an enriching experience.

In sourcing products for our own festivals and events, the City promotes ethical and sustainable catering, with a number of our suppliers signing up to a Sustainability Charter which commits them to meeting our Ethical Food Guidelines.

We are also responding to growing interest for community gardens and a city farm.

Our City staff are working on detailed plans for our City Farm in Sydney Park by 2014. To maintain the enthusiasm, we'll be planting a summer garden there from January to March next year.

The farm will have an important educative role, and will further inspire our already keen community gardeners. There are now 16 community gardens across the local government area, the most recent in Bourke Street, Woolloomooloo.

Six of our community gardens boast native beehives and I believe they will be harvesting the honey next year.

We are also preparing a Staff Community Garden on the Marconi Terrace at Town Hall. This will provide a showcase for growing produce in a small space - and will also allow staff to add fresh ingredients to their lunches!

One of the positive spin-offs from this movement is the cross-city connections that it's fostering: the Bourke Street gardeners are taking tips from the longer-established Ultimo garden on things like crop rotation, record keeping and other skills.

 

CHALLENGE TO CONVENTIONAL THINKING

This reflects some of the exciting characteristics of the sustainable food movement — it's not just about access to good quality and healthy food products.

It's part of an emerging cultural change that challenges the fossil-fuel-driven model of growth and the failure to deal with environmental considerations.

In reality, the major challenges of our time—climate change, population growth, fossil fuels, water and food—are closely and inextricably intertwined.

To be sustainable, our food production needs to protect plant and animal diversity, and provide for the welfare of farmed animals and wild species.

It needs to avoid the depletion of natural resources, and to help drive down the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change—and the extreme weather events that in turn threaten food supplies.

And there is a growing and justifiable expectation that food production will contribute to thriving local economies and, for imports, promote sustainable incomes in the source countries.

Some of you will have seen David McWilliam's documentary "Addicted to Money". In it he challenges conventional wisdom and puts the pieces of the food, fuel and financial crises together in a different way.

We need David's innovative and provocative thinking to help create and promote a sustainable future. I look forward to this evening's discussion.

Thank you.