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

The Orchardist - - News - An­gela Hal­l­i­day is nat­u­ral re­sources and en­vi­ron­ment man­ager for Hort NZ

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.

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