In December 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released a short publication titled 'Australian farming and farmers', as part of its Social Trends series.
This report, when read together with demographic and other studies surveying the socio-economic situation of Australia's farmers, makes for concerning reading.
The facts are undeniable:
- Farmers are getting older - much older.
- Retirement is increasingly a mirage for the thousands of Australia's farmers who continue working till their late 70s and even into their mid-80s
- Farmers are working significantly longer hours compared to the rest of the Australian workforce
- Rates of depression and suicide amongst farmers and agricultural workers is more than double the average for the non-agricultural workforce.
- According to the ABS report, 19,700 farmers left the land between 2006 & 2011 – at the rate of 76 per week.
When we add to this picture the prediction made by accountants KPMG last year in their submission to 'Australia in the Asian Century', that perhaps half of all Australian farmers will leave the industry in the current decade, the rural exodus will accelerate to around 130 per week.
It is fair to say that we really are speaking of a demographic crisis. And while our farmers may be at the sharp end of that demographic crisis, it will affect us all in short order.
Via Campesina organiser and former President of the National Farmers' Union of Canada, Nettie Wiebe explains, in the video above, why what happens to farmers is everybody's business:
"I often say to people, what happens in the food system is of no concern to you if you're never going to eat again. But if you're intending to have breakfast, lunch or dinner, what happens to small-scale farmers, what happens to seeds, what happens to water, matters to you, because your lunch depends on it."