Govt priorities for water don’t include food security
The government’s swimming target is fine, but we need to provide a priority for drinking water and food production. Hort NZ’s ANGELA HALLIDAY argues that water for actual human survival is being overlooked and we should be planning for a sustainable food
Coming up to a General Election and looking at the regulations on land and water use that are being imposed throughout the country, it seems New Zealand planning is hampered by a spoilt population with only ‘first world’ problems to worry about.
Highlighting this is the latest version of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and the pressure in Pukekohe, on both the Waikato and Auckland side, for both land and water. Once again, water use for human drinking and food production has been relegated in priority under the title of ‘extractive uses’.
From an environmental health perspective, I am wondering if we humans in New Zealand who are so well fed and watered are missing the mark by only worrying about swimming and ‘human health for recreation’ as a non- negotiable in the national values and uses for freshwater. Is it because we can get our food at the supermarket that we don’t really consider where it is grown until, like last year, cauliflower hit the $10 mark and everyone was up in arms about it?
The government’s swimming target is admirable despite the fact that they have made it easier to achieve by removing most of the little streams in New Zealand. However, if we are going to look at ‘human health’ in a holistic sense, we need to provide a priority for drinking water and food production. If I was from a developing country and saw New Zealand’s nonnegotiables when it comes to freshwater, I would question where the priorities were for water for drinking and food.The government has assumed that there will always be plentiful fresh produce and has not prioritised land or water for this – however, in an uncertain world, continuing to take for granted the essentials of life is unrealistic. There are of course counter arguments – we can import food, and we export a lot of our food too – which is true, but does this negate the need to take notice of our domestic food requirements in light of natural disasters, climate change, constraints to global trade, and the competing pressure for water and the best growing land?
The old Town and Country Planning Act 1977 had some great direction on matters of National Significance that needed to be recognised and provided for – that included among other things.
(d) The avoidance of encroachment of urban development on, and the protection of, land having a high actual or potential value for the production of food;
(e) The prevention of sporadic subdivision and urban
development in rural areas;
(f) The avoidance of unnecessary expansion of urban areas
into rural areas in or adjoining cities.
These are things that are no longer specifically provided for in legislation and the definition of values is left up to the community and the Council – but who values food until you are hungry and there is nothing in the shops (or cauliflower is $10)? Recognition of crops and in particular ‘rootstock survival water’ to ensure orchards do not die in times of drought, are some of the issues for which Horticulture New Zealand is advocating. In order to get these issues over the line, there will need to be recognition and understanding of the importance of food grown in New Zealand.
As transport and technology has developed, there has been less need for the ‘market garden’ close to main hubs; and our hubs have become larger, more concentrated, and more important in supplying New Zealand’s food. Were Dunedin, Queenstown, Wanaka and Invercargill concerned that they
might struggle for food when the Kaikoura earthquake blocked State Highway 1 last November? Probably not, but they should have been, as a lot of their fresh produce comes from further north. I can understand the general public not being overly worried, but growers and Horticulture New Zealand are concerned, as is the odd journalist who raises the alarm for us, before bigger issues such as Trump and the Kardashians take over. This is not a story unique to New Zealand as Europe and America also have issues with urban development and access to water for crops. They are developing game plans for how to deal with this so that they have a sustainable food supply for the future, and quite frankly if we want plentiful produce at a reasonable price in New Zealand supermarkets, then we should be making a plan too.
It is still vital that the industry embrace water efficient technology and ensure that water is being used efficiently and takes are not threatening the instream values or ecosystems of freshwater. As outlined in a document called “Water in a changing world” by Jackson, et al..: “The ecological, social, and economic benefits that freshwater systems provide, and the trade-offs between consumptive and instream values, will change dramatically in the coming century.” This is what our government is grappling with at the moment and it is not an easy task to weigh up the priorities for water.
We have issues and challenges on many fronts in horticulture in New Zealand, including the threat of biosecurity incursions, the need for labour and experts in the horticulture area, increasing regulations relating to health and safety, food safety and pest and disease control methods. But by far the most vital ingredients for growing are water and land. Without water, land and the right climate, things just do not grow. Hopefully we can get this message across at the next election to make our job advocating for the importance of food production easier at a regional level.
Jackson, et.al. (2001). Water in a changing world. Issues in Ecology. Ecological Society of America (9), 1–18.