Pandemic disruption highlights challenges looming for farming

Farming in New Zealand has some challenging years ahead. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Farming in New Zealand has some challenging years ahead. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Walk into any New Zealand supermarket and life feels pretty normal. The shelves are filled with staples of bread and toilet paper and there is the usual melee of highly packed and processed products vying for attention.

Normality, though, hides the continued disruption many New Zealand food producers and manufacturers face as they experience delays in ingredient and product transport and associated increasing costs.

I have heard of New Zealand companies bringing more of their production processes back on-shore in an effort to mitigate supply chain uncertainty, and many companies are having to buy ingredients in large amounts, at increased costs, to ensure continued supply.

Internationally, food access continues to cause major problems.

In a recent FAO report, "How to feed the world in times of pandemics and climate change?", it is noted that hunger has been rising in the last five years and that unless action is taken, disease outbreaks and climate extremes will compound and "shake the bed-rock of our agri-food systems."

The report describes priority actions across several areas for change.

One of the actions for strengthening resilience to pandemics is to "diversify food chains to make them less dependent on small numbers of large operators across food systems to better distribute risks from disruptions while managing trade-offs for biosecurity and other sustainability domains".

Essentially, it would be a move against centralisation and globalisation while maintaining the high-quality standard of manufacturing that comes with large- scale operations.

Somewhat poignantly, this report came out as the Indian farmer protests were escalating, highlighting concerns about corporate business models and their application to food systems and food access. Agriculture employs about half of India's 1.3billion people and this, coupled with the unrest of 130million landowning farmers, is an enormous challenge for the Indian Government.

In times of food shortages and insecurity, we cannot afford to implement policies which undermine food producers, even the small ones.

How do we develop efficient, high-quality food systems and manufacturing while supporting local farmers and economies? It is an important question for New Zealanders, too. Farming in New Zealand has challenging decades ahead. Long-term capital growth of land assets, like the capital growth we have seen in residential housing, has made farming a less feasible investment for many young New Zealanders.

Working long, hard physical hours for your own business is quite different from doing so for someone else. Within New Zealand agriculture, we have relied on owner-operators to do the yards. Business models for farm ownership and incentivising young people into food production, needs to be developed, alongside models for housing ownership. If not, we are likely to have an employment crisis on farms and/or a lot more inedible trees planted.

Similarly, if we are to rebuild small and medium-sized manufacturing infrastructure in New Zealand, we will do well to reinvigorate innovation. I hear of negative and anti-competitive behaviour from many of our larger New Zealand corporations, damaging the viability of small enterprise. These behaviours come from supermarkets, meat processors and milk processors, and it's time to do more to re-invest at the entrepreneurial end of the chain. That won't come without failure and it won't come without consumer willingness to back local — so please do.

There is a silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic: global carbon emissions have dropped by 7% (Global Carbon Project, 2020). According to the FAO report, we have a "a unique opportunity to use the disruptive forces of the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated recovery policies to accelerate the transition to more sustainable and resilient food systems."

That is true globally and it is true locally.

Governments and businesses need to be brave, especially while cash is cheap — food access is a right for all.

Anna Campbell is managing director of AbacusBio Ltd, a Dunedin based agri-technology company.


 

Comments

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"Farming in New Zealand has some challenging years ahead" more so if those bonkers greens actually get their way.

And conversely, the environment and our ability to sustain ourselves has some challenging times ahead, more so if those bonkers farmers actually get their way.

So you don't eat anything that is at all associated with farming, don't care that farmers employ people, don't care that farmings exports add to the NZ economy....... no?, sounds about right from someone who believes wholeheartedly their parties mantra...farmings bad mkay....

In response to nivaman's comment. I have no problems with farmers and, although I grow most of my own vegetables and fruit, I do purchase meat. But I buy it from processors who advertise that their products are sourced from those following sustainable practices.
However, the point is that unless the agricultural industry as a whole adopts sustainable practices, they will ultimately put themselves out of business. The customers they export to are increasingly demanding evidence that the products we are selling are produced from sustainable practices. Some countries are already sending their inspectors to NZ to carry out field visits to farms to verify that they are meeting sustainability and animal welfare standards. This will become more and more common as other countries try to meet their commitments to the Paris Accord and other climate change international treaties. It is one of the factors being currently negotiated with the NZ/EU free trade agreement.
I stand by my claim, this country faces a greater threat from bonkers farmers than it does from greenies.

Eating meat could cause a world-changing pandemic ‘that makes COVID-19 look like a dress rehearsal’, scientists warn. With this in mind together with the biodiversity and climate crises it is essential that we have sustainable farming at a national level. If traditional international supply lines or economies fail we will need an efficient and varied food system to meet the nutritional needs of the nation while doing what we can to help others.
Intensive animal farming is not only putting our health at risk but is also extremely inefficient. For example red meat supplies only about 1 percent of calories produced globally but it's responsible for up to a quarter of the world's land-use greenhouse gas emissions. We need to farm smarter, maximising land productivity, feeding local communities and securing national interests but not at the expense of our health and environment.
As for those non edible trees, well they might just save the world from catastrophic global warming or a complete collapse of the world's ecosystem!

The key to this article and the problems it outlines is contained within the last three paragraphs.
Sustainable and resilient food production is needed
Like it or lump it, we are all in this together, it's a global issue.
Access to food is a right to all.
Watch those with a vested interest (that is, maintaining exorbitant profit levels) whine about the injustice of it all.

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