France

France is the world’s most popular tourist destination. It’s capital Paris is home to iconic tourist sites, the Effiel tower, the Lourve museum, the arc de Triomphe, and the champs de elysse . These are a must see when travelling through the country. Paris is also the second most important location in the world for headquarters of the world’s 500 largest companies and trade organisations, including the OECD.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.

The OECD provides a forum in which governments can work together to share experiences and seek solutions to common problems. They work with governments to understand what drives economic, social and environmental change. They measure productivity and global flows of trade and investment, analyse and compare data to predict future trends and set international standards on a wide range of things, from agriculture and tax to the safety of chemicals.

While in Paris, we had a meeting at the OECD and discussed the role of the organisation. We also discussed reports including the recently released outlook report, looking at the effects of current trends within developed countries. We discussed the producer support estimate (PSE) manual and the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) report which looks at emerging economies. However the latter is hard to estimate as the Indian government doesn’t work with the organisation. The producer support estimate manual can be viewed online at http://www.oecd.org/agriculture/PSE. After our meeting the decision of the French government to supply producer supports became clearer as to why they are providing support for people to remain in country areas.

As a result of the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), France is undertaking reforms to reduce payments through the supply management arrangements into the future. Currently the French agricultural sector receives almost €11 billion in European Union (EU) Subsidies.

France is among one of the largest agricultural exporters in the world and a major agricultural power in the EU, accounting for 16% of all its agricultural land. The destination of 49% of French exports are to other EU member states, although they also provide agricultural exports to many of the poor African countries (including its former colonies) which face serious food shortages.

France is the only country in Europe to be self-sufficient in basic food production. Agricultural production is characterised into regions with cereal cropping to the North of France. Dairy, pork, poultry and apple production are concentrated to the western regions. Beef production is located in central regions while fruit, vegetables and wine regions range from central to southern France.

The high quality of agricultural products have created a competitive advantage and global reputation which also contribute to the excellence of its famous cuisine. Among these are some of the world’s most renowned agricultural products such as wine, bread and cheese.

French farmers are leading the world in terms of value adding their produce with one fourth of all farms using a quality brand and eighteen percent selling their products via a short supply chain or directly from the farm.

Our visits were clear examples of this, with a vegetable grower building his own equipment and sheds to produce fresh beans straight to supermarkets. An orchardist diversifying into ciders and expanding his business considerably in the last five years, selling 70% on a contract bases to improve cash flow. Egg and poultry producers selling produce direct into restaurants and markets in Paris, a dairy producer making his own cheese and selling it direct from the farm and a turf producer also selling direct from farm. Our other visits involved producers selling through co-operatives with grain, potatoes and milk.

Agriculture in France employs close to 1 million people on 490 000 farms with an average farm size of 100 hectares.

In terms of Australian agriculture, there are lessons to be learnt in branding products and selling direct to market, however it has to be kept in mind, France has a huge population at its door step with close export opportunities. As a lamb producer, France’s sheep population is decreasing and opportunities are being created to supply high quality lamb into this market of fine dining cuisine. Particularly as a lamb roast is a tradition around Easter.

France also defines my global focus tour, as it was here we got to experience a night off and go to Le Mans 24 hour car race. My whole tour is now defined as pre and post Le Mans. Magnificent.

Ukraine

Soviet aggression during the Ukrainian-Soviet war resulted in the occupation of Ukraine, and it became one of the founding members of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Soviet government was hostile to Ukrainian culture and language in 1932 and 1933 which resulted in the genocide of millions of people who starved to death.

Ukraine gained independence again when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. This dissolution of communism started a period of transition, from a planned economy to a market economy, in which Ukraine suffered an eight-year recession. Ukraine had high economic growth for the following years until it was caught up in the worldwide economic crisis in 2008, when the economy plunged again. GDP fell 20% from spring 2008 to spring 2009 before levelling out and is just starting to recover today.

Due to these economic conditions, infrastructure is seriously underdeveloped. Roads and transportation have not been upgraded since the dissolving of the Soviet Union. Other than highways, the roads we travelled on got smaller and smaller until the road eventually ran out or had large potholes and weren’t sealed. Driving is recommended at your own risk, as drivers will overtake up to ten cars or trucks deep and police guard sections of road checking for speeding drivers.

Ukraine is one of the Europe’s largest consumers of energy, with the country using nuclear, coal fire power stations, hydroelectricity, wind and solar energy. It receives most of it’s nuclear fuel from Russia but has its own sources of coal and large hydroelectric, wind and solar parks.

We visited Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where today, 5000 people work at the reactor a day. They are working on resealing reactor 4 and are building a new concrete shield to replace a massive sarcophagus built in 1986 that contains the still-radioactive core. The new concrete shelter costs $1.1 billion and will need to be replaced again in a century’s time unless the core can be safely removed and stored somewhere else.

A 30km exclusion zone still exists around the nuclear facility. The city of Pripyat is the actual closest town to the reactor (not Chernobyl) and was built to accommodate workers of the power plant. Evacuation of the whole town happened within hours of the disaster and people were told they could return in three days of the accident. This was later revised and many people left their lives behind, never to return again. Some people have returned to live within the exclusion zone, against the law, because they could not leave the places they were born. Today a eerie landscape now exists with abandoned cars, tractors, buildings and homes being devoured by trees and shrubs.

A legacy of the Cold War also exists near the town of Pervomaisk, in the Ukraine. During this time, Ukraine had more nuclear missiles than any other country outside the United States and Russia. Strategically and secretly distributed throughout the countryside, 176 nuclear missile launching silos were at the ready awaiting a phone call that would then send missiles to hit multiple targets across the United States. The missile silos were surrounded by armed guards and a 3,000 volt electric fences all protecting the deep underground command posts and rocket silos.

On our visit to the Strategic Missile Forces Museum, we saw displays of rocket engines, auxiliary vehicles and disarmed nuclear warheads. On display are models of many missiles including missiles used in the Cuban missile crisis and the intercontinental ballistic missiles known as Satan. This missile was 35 metres long with a diameter of 3 metres and weighed 212 tonnes. It had a maximum range of 15000 km, a shooting accuracy of 0.5km, contained 10 warheads with an explosive equivalent of 750 kilotons of TNT each. The missile was equipped with means for overcoming an anti ballistic missile system. It was a chilly reminder of how close the world came to destroying itself and what is still in use in other parts of the world today.

In terms of agriculture, Ukraine has been one of the powerhouses of world agriculture due to its fertile conditions. 30% of the world’s black soils are in the Ukraine, and 42 million of the countries 60 million hectares is agricultural land where wheat, barley, rye, rapeseed and sunflowers are grown in abundance. Organic matter ranges anywhere from 3-6% and top soil can go down to 40 inches. The climate for growing small seeds is excellent and favourable sunlight hours are experienced during the growing season.

The Ukraine, as of 2011, was the world’s third largest grain exporter. Among the European countries, it is a leader in the growing of sugar beet, buckwheat and carrot and second in wheat (behind Russia) and tomato (behind Poland).

The average farm size ranges from 2 ha to 8 ha, depending on the size of the village when the USSR fell, and is owned by the state government with the people having lifelong leases on it. The ability to find land available for foreign investment companies to lease can be hard work. There is a challenge of getting available blocks of land that connect in one big field. In the case of one farm we visited, on a10,000 ha property, the farmer had some 3,000 landlords. However some of this was simplified by negotiating with 1 or 2 people at the village councils.

28% of the population work in, or are involved in, agriculture and labour is inexpensive. The labour force is willing to work but stealing is a major issue, as the legacy of communism days is still evident, where people think they are entitled to have what you have. A farm operated by a Dutch manager has 300 staff and 60 of these are security guards and he regularly has to put staff off for stealing from him. Corruption and bureaucracy are other issues limiting farming in Ukraine.

As a cropping farmer, Ukraine was unbelievable to see, with its deep black soils and water availability. There is huge potential for expansion and modernisation, and with laws changing on foreign ownership in Russia, and likely to be followed by Ukraine, there are plenty of opportunities and good stories ahead for agriculture. Geographically it has easily accessible ports and borders which allow transportation to major populations of the world.

Qatar

Qatar is a sovereign Arab state, located on the northeasterly coast of the much larger Arabian Peninsula. Its sole land border is with Saudi Arabia to the south, with the rest of its territory is surrounded by the Persian Gulf.

It is ruled as an islamic state, with hereditary rein by the Al Thani family since the mid-19th century. The most important positions are held by the members of the Al Thani family, or close confidants of the family.

With a small citizen population of fewer than 250,000 people, foreign workers by far outnumber native Qataris. Foreign expatriates come mainly from other Arab nations (13% of population), the Indian subcontinent (India 24%, Nepal 16%, Bangladesh 5%, Pakistan 4%, Sri Lanka 5%), Southeast Asia (Philippines 11%), and other countries (7%).

Qatar has the highest human development in the Arab World. In 2006, the population was 880,000 people. Today there are 2.2 million people and by 2016, (when the World Cup is in Qatar) the population is estimated to be 7 million people. 90% of people live in the capital city of Doha.

Formerly one of the poorest Persian Gulf states, the mainly barren country was noted mainly for pearl hunting and fishing. It has become one of the region’s wealthiest states due to its enormous oil and natural gas reserves.

Food security has become the major objective for the Al Thani government. With tensions in the Persian Gulf, the government has set a policy to be able to supply food for a year, if the situation in the Gulf deteriorates. The government, through Hassad Food International, is buying land and looking for investment opportunities in Australia, Sudan, South America and Eastern Europe. They are spreading their risk from both climate and political situations to provide investment and production to secure food for Qatar.

99% of food is imported into Qatar. Indigenous Qataris are able to get special ration cards, however the government subsides red meat at 14 Riyals/kg. Australia provides 80% of mutton and 60% of lamb into the Middle East and with the live trade the value is over 7 billion dollars to the Australian economy.

While in Qatar, we visited Hassad Foods International, Zad Holdings (Flour Mill), Rosa Hassad (Greenhouse for fresh cut flowers), Mawashi meats (abattoir) and Carrefour supermarket.

For my colleges it was hard to comprehend the amount of money the government were investing in facilities to prove they can produce product in the desert. However they are using it as a example of what can be achieved and to teach local people the skills needed. We visited Center-Pivot irrigation circles in the middle of the desert, where they are growing Rhodes grass for fodder production. It seemed unsustainable and at some cost, but they were growing grass and using effluent waste water from the city to do this.

We also visited Roza Hassad, which again seems extravagant, but it does prove they can grow anything in the desert and can be self sufficient. The investments they have made around the world have to provide returns, which allows them to spend money on infrastructure within their own country.

From an Australian sheep producer’s perspective, a visit to Mawashi Meats allowed me to see where Australian sheep enter the food chain. Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) have been working in the region for over fifty years and are a service provider to grow demand for Australian meat. They do not buy and sell product but work with local abattoirs in ensuring the new livestock export regulations are adhered too. The new ESCAS standards were put in place after the four corners program showing the harsh treatment of animals in Indonesia before slaughter.

We were shown through the facility and how local Qataris choose their meat. Qatar people are mainly Sunni Muslims and all animals must be killed under Halal. Religion is a sensitive area and it is hard for anyone to impose their beliefs on others. This makes it hard for MLA to educate locals of the standards we expect as westerners, producers and consumers. It is my belief that MLA have and are doing extensive work in the Middle East to ensure ESCAS standards are maintained. Australian producers, through grower levies, have provided facilities in these abattoirs to make sure animals are slaughtered to the high standards of ESCAS. MLA has also provided education in livestock handling to improve the way in which animals are treated.

I consider myself, as a producer of livestock, to care for animals as this is my livelihood and I take great pride in showing people around my farm, looking at the facilities and the condition of my animals. Therefore I expect the same when they leave my farm. At Mawashi Meats in Qatar, in general, standards were as I consider to be acceptable. However MLA still has some work to do in educating locals to our standards. These expectations will take time to negotiate and educate through but without Australia being in this space, livestock standards would not be as high as they are today. Too this I say good work Meat and Livestock Australia and all Australian meat producers.

With the increase in population over the next five to ten years, Australia has huge potential for market development. We need to continue working with Qatarians as they have great respect and trust of Australians and Australian products.

I would recommend a trip to Qatar and see the beautiful city of Doha and the potential it offers all Australians. As Blythe Culnan, our host told us regularly, she enjoys showing us “the real Middle East”.

Northern India – Punjab.

Punjab is in the northwestern area of India and borders Pakistan after Punjab state was divided by the British. Punjab is the only state in India with a majority Sikh population. The holiest of Sikh shrines (the Golden Temple) is located in the city of Amritsar. It is visited by more people annually than the Taj Mahal, and by our visit doesn’t see many Westerners, especially four women and a couple of blue eyed people.

Punjab has a higher standard of socioeconomics and better infrastructure than the south of India, although it still had a huge shortage of electricity due to high demands. The people are more affluent, with a growing middle class and education levels are high in the younger generation. But as in Australia, the population is increasingly becoming more urbanised.

Agriculture is the largest industry in Punjab and while it is home to just 1.6% of the total available agricultural land, it is the largest single producer of wheat in India. It provides 60 percent of wheat and 45 percent of rice to the central grain kitty. Sugarcane, maize, barley, fruits and vegetables are other cultivars and commodity crops grown in the region. Rice and wheat are double cropped with the rice stalks being burned off prior to the planting of wheat.

Due to high crop intensity and the excessive use of fertilisers, soil health has deteriorated and the water level has gone down in the most part of the state. Indiscriminate use of pesticides have led to contamination of groundwater, residues in the food chain and environmental pollution. The average yield of wheat per hectare has decline from 47.0 quintals/ha in 1999-00 to 43.1 quintals/ha in 2009-10.

The average landholding in Punjab is 2.65 hectares, nearly twice that of Southern India. It has been achieved through producers being more progressive and prosperous, due to their willingness to adopt more modern farming techniques, the use of better cultivars, uptake of mechanisation and have more access to markets. However with continuing increases in population, land is being fragmented into smaller holdings, making agriculture less profitable.

Punjab farmers receive a agricultural price policy payment for their products as well as receiving large subsidies in the form of fertilisers, power, irrigation, and credit. This has allowed them to invest in machinery over the years but due to the average farm size decreasing, it is meaning farmers are taking on more debt and making themselves over capitalised. The richer farmers appear to have considerable economic and political clout within their farming organisations and at governmental level.

Research and extension is seen as vital for indian agricultural to overcome issues and plays a key role in increasing food grain production. Punjab Agricultural University is located in the city of Ludhiana and covers an area of 580 hectares on its main campus and 2000 hectares at the regional research stations. PAU provides world class research, teaching and extension services at the door-step of farmers and has continuos government policy support. It has played a key role in the past to transform the life of peasantry in the region and has also made notable contributions in increasing livestock and poultry production.

India and Indian farmers have done a commendable job in providing for a billion strong and growing population. They made significant strides in the green revolution and continue to met the challenge of securing the production of basic staples like rice and wheat.

I believe the opportunities are the same as in the south of India with knowledge transfer being our major commodity we can trade in. There are opportunities to build private public partnerships in processing and value adding ventures and infrastructure in refrigeration and transportation.

The hospitality of India people is worth mentioning again and although I can’t say why, I loved India and will return some day.

Southern India Tamil Nadu

India has major problems associated with population. At the last census, the population of India was estimated to be around 1.2 billion people, however speaking to government officials, it was suggested the actual population could be more like 1.6 billion. In Chennai alone there is an estimated 23 million people floating through the city daily.

Poverty was evident, as we travelled throughout southern India. We travelled for over a thousand kilometres on roads across the country, travelling through rural communities, and saw people on the roads the whole time. There was at no stage, a point when we didn’t see someone. People and dogs roam the countryside and lie on the ground and rest from the heat wherever possible. It was hard to comprehend why they would just sleep in the doorways of shops and houses, but once you get your head around they don’t have anywhere to be or anything to do, you start to understand.

Electricity is another problem throughout India. Supply is limited to eight hours a day and it is not guaranteed. Most western hotels and big industries have back up generators to supply constant power, however there are still flickers as the supply changes over. On our first experience of a power outage, we stopped conversations as we worked out what was going on. The second time it happened and from then on, we wouldn’t even break sentence, as it happened regularly.

Standards of living in Southern India are not high. Wages range from 5-7 Australian dollars a day. 80% of the average wage is spent on food, leaving only 20% for discretionary spending. Food is a necessity and people can’t afford to purchase luxury items. Most food is fresh, however due to logistics and no refrigeration quality isn’t guaranteed. Rice is the staple food source along with curries.

We were lucky to be invited into local’s housing and found them to be open plan living houses with little clutter in the house. Most people live with their parents and some siblings as well as their children. The Indians we met were very generous and hospitable, providing us with cups of tea everywhere we went.

Our hosts, Mark Jackson and Ramesh, over four days showed us around cultural and typical Indian sites. We visited temples, markets and tourist areas. We rode elephants, visited a spice farm, a banana plantation, dairy farms, a milk factory, tea plantations, an apparel park (where garments are made for JC Penny and Target Australia.), an agribusiness store and an egg farm.

The average farm size in Southern India is an acre. Ground water was the main source of water, with Southern India being in drought for the last two years. Major rivers, wider than the Murray River in Australia, were completely dry and had been for some time. Ground water, soil health and fertiliser and chemical use are major problems facing Indian agriculture at the moment. Current farm practices are unsustainable but they are conducting world class innovation to solve some of these issues.

In terms of Australian agriculture, there seems to be great opportunities to provide intellectual property to the Indians. Southern India is about fifty to sixty years behind Australia, in development and infrastructure, and until I travelled to India, I didn’t fully understand what a large population was. But this is where the opportunities lie for Australia.

Sunday 10th March

Sunday morning started with introduction of the contemporary scholars, using PowerPoint presentation. We each had three minutes to explain who we are, something about our family and home towns and our study topic. Remembering people’s presentations proved very hard as we listen to some 64 presentations. All I can say is, when sitting in a room full of people with achievements like they have, you wonder how you are in the same room.

 

Sunday afternoon was a group bonding session with an “AgMazing race”. This involved taking photos around the University of Guelph of things related to Canada and Agriculture.

Sunday night was something different. I had see curling on the tv before but had never experienced it. To me it was just someone sweeping the floor infront of a rock. However after having the rules explained I now think it is lawn bowls on ice with someone sweeping infront of it. It is a big thing in Canada and after playing it for a night I can see why they enjoy it. It did remind me of the movie “Crackerjack” with Ladies and Gentlemen playing the game and no doubt a swear jar. The best part of Curling is you don’t need a separate fridge for the drinks you just leave them on the side of the rink. Sorry if I have offended any Canadians. These are my views and not that of Nuffield 13.