Soil health key to global food security, US expert says

Improving soil health will be key to achieving global food security according to an international expert.

US Special Envoy on Food Security Cary Fowler will explain the need to get back to the basics to strengthen the resilience of agriculture when he addresses a conference in Canberra on Tuesday.

"We have to ensure that we have healthy and fertile soils, we can't expect poor soils to also produce bumper crops when those crop varieties are not adapted to conditions," Dr Fowler told AAP.

"There's just no substitute, long term, for the kind of sustainable agricultural productivity that can only come from having good healthy soil and crop varieties that are adapted to the environment."

In August the Australian government wound up the position of National Soils Advocate, declaring it was taking a new approach as part of a more ambitious vision.

More needs to be done globally to promote soil health across the developing world given there is a food crisis, Dr Fowler said.

More than 700 million people were undernourished in 2022 compared to 613 million in 2019.

As a global grain exporter Australia has much to teach the rest of the world about how it has achieved its status in the face of soil and climate challenges, Dr Fowler said.

"Australia has dealt with a number of issues, climate related, soil health and fertility related, crop adaptation related, that other countries are now facing.

“Wealthy countries like Australia, with access to the latest technologies and a robust (research and development) sector, can play an important role in addressing global food insecurity.”

Dr Fowler is best known for helping establish a vault buried deep in the Norwegian Arctic that stores duplicates of seeds from around the globe, conserved in genebanks.

He will deliver a keynote speech on Tuesday at a conference exploring food security.

The conference is being run by the Crawford Fund, a charity that promotes international agricultural research and development. 

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