Australia’s Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) has called for the offshoring of the country’s food processing capability to be reversed.
Speaking at a high-level agriculture roundtable in the New South Wales regional hub of Lismore, BCCM CEO Melina Morrison said: “The last three decades have seen more and more of our food processing offshored and a steady decline in Australian owned agricultural supply chains.
“We want to reverse that trend, which is why we’re holding a national agricultural co-operatives roundtable in Lismore today. Securing access to food staples and preserving onshore food processing creates local employment.”
There are more than 2,000 agricultural co-ops in Australia and more than 24,000 family farm owners.
Nearly all areas of agriculture were represented at the event, from fisheries, beef and dairy to alternative protein, horticultural, tanneries and meat processing.
“Food supply represents a national security risk, especially in times of crisis,” added Morrison. “We’re bringing co-ops from across the nation together to work on these issues and increase awareness of the vital role co-ops have played for centuries in regional and rural Australia”
The Northern Rivers of New South Wales are the home of co-operatives such as local anchor businesses Norco and Casino Food Co-op and, combined, generate regional economic turnover of AU$1.5bn and 3,000 direct jobs – but is also still recovering from last year’s catastrophic flooding.
The National Agricultural Roundtable also covered issues including workforce availability, housing, supply chains, risk and insurance, cyber security, farmer wellbeing, social care and a farmer-owned brand.
“Co-ops and mutual businesses are very often on the front line of economic and social crises, as well as natural disasters,” said Morrison. “And this is where their unique business model comes into its own.”
“During the pandemic and recent flood disasters we have seen how it pays to co-operate in a crisis.”