In late 2012, Sydney and the Hunter played host to a high-profile forum on food security in Africa. Organiser ICMS Australasia’s Emma Bowyer, filed this report for micenet AUSTRALIA.

BY EMMA BOWYER  

There’s an oft quoted saying in our company that “where there is a political will, there is a financial way”, and so it was in late 2012 when the Australian Government hosted an inaugural Forum on Food Security in Africa, opened by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr.
The forum brought together a selection of notable high-level Africans, Australians and other international delegates from government, research and development, and private enterprise. The primary purpose of the forum was to showcase Australia’s expertise in research, development and policy for improved global food security and to launch the Australian International Food Security Centre (AIFSC).
In truly serendipitous fashion, the AIFSC was an idea generated from discussions held between Australian and African ministers during CHOGM in Perth to address the ways in which our nations could share agricultural technology improvements to combat food shortages in Africa. These discussions were no doubt undertaken at a time when Australia’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council was highly charged and being promoted strongly by Minister Carr himself. A political promise made seems to have been a promise delivered, with Australia now soon to enjoy its ‘Global Citizen’ turn with a seat at the UN Security Council, and the formation of the AIFSC to benefit African partners now established. The AIFSC will lead programs worth more than $500 million in long-term Australian commitments to African development.

The journey to the launch of the AIFSC at this forum was filled with all the usual challenges of event coordination that was compressed into a six week period, involving DFAT, AusAID, the Department of Immigration, and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). Department heads across various government agencies worked together tirelessly to invite African ministers and other key international dignitaries often ensconced in their own bureaucratic webs. In some situations the Australian ambassadors within African countries facilitated the invitation and approval process themselves, acting as true extensions of the Federal Government.
In the end, 14 ministers and ministerial representatives, plus 98 delegates from 18 countries arrived in Sydney for the official launch. To achieve this, visas were expedited, travel over multiple time zones in isolated regions was coordinated, and inter-governmental formalities were extended to all of the travelling VIPs. Requests large and small were accommodated and the invitation list was overseen by a selection committee at the highest level.


Once the attendee list was confirmed, the Australian Government was keen to showcase the jewel in the crown that is Sydney. Through a strong social and familiarisation program the delegates enjoyed, amongst other activities, a harbour cruise on a clear and sunny Sydney day, and a gala dinner in the fine setting of NSW Government House.
Without a doubt, and not to take away from the formal program or government funding announcements, the highlight of the visit was the opportunity to explore beyond Sydney Harbour and to head with the delegation deep into the heart of the Hunter region of NSW to showcase smallholder farmers and producers of Australian viticulture in their natural setting. A once in a lifetime opportunity was created for the delegation to meet personally with the farmers to share the complexities of modern day farming and to reach out to each other to solve common challenges.
The stories of goat breeding and herd management hardships from Alex at Banfield Park Stud Goat Farm were so honest and heart-warming that it is quite possible this young man from Singleton has done more for goat farming knowledge transfer with Africa than any government research paper or bureaucratic exchange in a venue ballroom.
Likewise, Peter from the Adina Olive Grove in Lovedale, showcased his knowledge of specialist equipment designed to harvest higher quality crops in dry years and to ensure consistent quality of the olive production process. This is no small feat in the heartland of wine growing where the temptation to produce wines at higher returns is always front of mind.
A visit to the Hunter is of course not complete without tasting the wine for which it is so renowned. However, in keeping with the focus of the farming element, the delegation was hosted by First Creek Winery which is the largest contract wine making business in NSW. Their philosophy is simple: only source the top grapes from top producers to produce top wines. Wines produced by First Creek are consistently ranked in the who’s who of wine reviews both nationally and internationally, a fine example to showcase a low yield, high quality approach to viticulture. Right here in Australia.
The Hunter Valley truly showcased an impressive range of farmer entrepreneurship and Australian agricultural produce, and I for one will never be able to visit the Hunter again for my favourite drop of chardonnay without reliving “The African Experience”.
So, the next time you hear of a major political announcement or government initiative, don’t be too cynical, but rather, cast your mind to where the services of our industry might be able to be utilised and showcased and find a way to become involved.