Future food security must start with quality production now

Blackcurrants are in hot demand. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Blackcurrants are in hot demand. PHOTO: ODT FILES
In my new business, we buy New Zealand-grown berries — boysenberries and blackcurrants — for their anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. We have selected these plants based on international research supporting their use, including work done by New Zealand’s Plant and Food Research. I love buying New Zealand produce and adding value — it’s what I have been advocating for in this column for years and finally I get to do it. We proudly get to put the FernMark stamp on our products, symbolising high quality and high integrity.

This year we were told by our blackcurrant grower that there is a worldwide shortage of blackcurrants because of a poor growing season in other parts of the world. It’s the old supply and demand equation — on top of low supply, there is increased worldwide demand for natural immunity products — blackcurrants are like purple gold. To survive, we had to financially secure our next two years of blackcurrant supply, no small sum. One of our other bioactives, quercetin, has more than doubled in price — we saw that one coming and stocked up in advance. I feel like a fortune teller and there is no doubt, we are dancing in a perfect storm.

Many agricultural and horticultural products globally are in shortage and there are ramifications across food supply chains. We are about to experience massive shortages in wheat production — Ukraine and Russia make up 30% of the world’s wheat trade. Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China was already stockpiling record amounts of wheat. Canada, a large crop producer, has had massive droughts, and there are similar scenarios playing out in the United States.

Dairy prices are at a global high and there will be countries stockpiling dairy products. This bodes well for New Zealand dairy producers who make dairy products from grass (not grain). It doesn’t bode well for any company buying those raw ingredients and turning them into higher value products.

The best position to be in right now is to be a low-input, commodity producer — back to 150 years ago when we pumped whole carcasses offshore. How long is this going to last? Climate change and growing world populations indicate demand won’t dissipate, although it may be volatile as stockpiles are released.

We probably have a window of 10 years before alternate food production methods, like precision fermentation, make a dent. Which they will — the high commodity prices we are experiencing are not sustainable and will drive investment into food technology — country leaders cannot afford national food shortages and associated political instability.

Non-agricultural countries like Singapore, are already recognised as leading this type of food technology investment — just watch as China grows capability and capacity.

The New Zealand Government will be reaping a big tax payout from farmers this year — horticulture, dairy and sheep and beef. We need that tax income to pay for our struggling health system and growing number of bureaucrats — but please, can we siphon more into determining our food future — domestic and exports.

When I was discussing this with a friend recently, we described all of this as a "wicked problem", one in which too many people wave their hands and point to overly simple solutions without understanding the global drivers. As the climate changes, we will see less productive land, we will see more political instability and we will see greater demand for food production and therefore more pressure on an already stressed environment.

The type of food we eat will change, less people will be able to afford meat and milk products and there will be more processed "alternate" food products. This in turn will contribute to greater chronic disease, as processed foods are laden with high-fructose corn syrup and salt to make them inexpensive and palatable. The processed food industry will also be dominated by global "Amazon-like" food behemoths, a prospect which leaves me cold.

The politicisation and polarisation of farming and food production in New Zealand horrifies me — urban armchair critics and food producers need to work together, instead of against each other firing ignorant pot-shots.

Only the countries which innovate and collaborate to support quality food production, will attain food security and land resilience.

 - Anna Campbell is a co-founder of Zestt Wellness, a nutraceutical company. She also holds various directorships.

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