Land grab Selling out NZ’s food
Nick Smith just didn’t get the point – it’s not about growers selling land, it’s about what that land means and what it is sold for. It is about protecting that land for future food production.
Certainly he, like the rest of us, takes it for granted that we can pop down to the supermarket and get fresh fruit and vegetables. Carrots, plums, peaches, cabbages, onions, potatoes. These things have always been there and always will be. But will they? No, not unless Nick Smith, his fellow politicians and the rest of us start to get our heads around food security. Because New Zealand is rapidly running out of it and the clock is ticking.
In 2003 agricultural land made up 67% of the total land use in Auckland.That fell to 50% in 2014, and horticultural land use has fallen from 15,000ha to 13,600ha. In total just 5% of New Zealand soil is suitable for high-value vegetable production.
In the next 30 years, Pukekohe’s population is expected to more than double. The issue is not confined to Pukekohe, as Hawke’s Bay, which grows 70% of all the apples in New Zealand, is beginning to feel the cold, dead hand of land banking as developers buy land and take it out of the system. “Year in and year out we, the association, submit to the Hastings District Council and fight against plan changes that allow the good Heretaunga Plains soils to be put under houses. The Hastings township was started on some of the best soils in the world and… we are running out of it” says Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers association president Lesley Wilson.
Food production is under pressure throughout New Zealand. This pressure on high value horticultural land extends around the country, with the main pressure areas being Kerikeri, Mahurangi, Pukekohe, Hamilton, Matamata, Tauranga, Whakatane, Hastings, Gisborne, Palmerston North, Ohakune, Levin, Otaki, Richmond / Nelson, Christchurch,Alexandra and the greater Queenstown area.
“Whose land is it, and who shall own it?” A major report Land Rush – the Sellout of Europe’s Farmland asks this question and goes on to state: “How it is answered will also determine the way in which humankind can cope with the major challenges of our time: climate change, the loss of biodiversity, migration, the distribution of natural resources and healthy food for the world’s population.” There needs to be a “new social contract for the future of our land”.
“When agricultural land, the soil that feeds us…becomes a globally tradeable commodity and an object of speculation, there is a lot at stake: our food security, the viability and quality of ecosystems and natural landscapes…the fertile arable land and grassland are the basis of our existence – in the country and in cities.”
So food security isn’t just about Asia and Africa any more. As our population booms and climate change starts to slap us around here in New Zealand – and it is (see page 14) – it’s about Europe and Canada and New Zealand as well.
Food security, as defined by the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, is “the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.
Over the coming decades, a changing climate, growing global population, rising food prices, and environmental stressors will have significant yet highly uncertain impacts on food security.
“Food security brings economic growth. Not the other way around. Economic growth is only sustainable if all countries have food security. Without country-owned and countrydriven food security strategies, there will be obstacles and additional costs to global, regional, and country-level economic growth,” says the Food Security Centre, University of Hohenheim.
China has been obsessed with food security after suffering many famines throughout its history, and is now ploughing everything it can into protecting the food security of its people.
“The government would love to produce all the food it needs within its borders, but it’s acknowledging that it can’t. So while it tries to increase domestic production dramatically, it also aims to ensure that the rest of the world always has plenty of food and that China can get what it needs, either by buying it or by controlling foreign sources directly through ownership or other deals,” says Geoff Colvin in the article Inside China’s $43 Billion Bid for Food Security on Forbes.com
So the comparison between China and New Zealand’s ‘she’ll be right’ approach is shocking. While China is increasing its domestic production dramatically and buying foreign sources of food, New Zealand is busy and quite happily burying its means of domestic food production forever.
In spite of a global recognition that food security applies to our entire over-populated planet, New Zealand’s politicians appear to think that it’s of no relevance here and it’s really okay for all of our high producing soils to be buried under houses, or to be land banked to be buried under houses in the future. Indeed, a former high profile politician was quoted as saying New Zealand needed to plan for food security like it needed to plan for an attack from Mars.
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy told the nation that we here in New Zealand have “got the balance about right – yes we export a lot of what we produce here, but we import it as well and consumers expect us to do that”.
Actually, no-one knows what supermarket shoppers expect until they withdraw their social licence for producers to operate – the free-range egg scandal for example. Loss of social licence is a road that leads to hell, certainly for some 30,000 caged hens if the rumours are true.
Supermarket shoppers may expect us to provide fresh broccoli from Pukekohe and apples from Hawke’s Bay, with plums from Cromwell. And make no mistake, their right to expect it - “nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences” - is enshrined by the United Nations. China is taking the food preferences of its people very seriously indeed. Colvin explains that pork is now the preferred source of protein for the Chinese people and the government fears millions could rise up in anger if they can’t get, or can’t afford, this choice.
Hort NZ chief executive Mike Chapman argues that if New Zealand should do anything, it should be able to feed its own people as an agricultural country. And this country desperately needs a food security policy yesterday.
“Horticulture in New Zealand grows through exports and therefore a food security policy should recognise this to ensure growth can continue. At the same time, as an agricultural country we should be able to feed ourselves.”
But there can be none of this in a country evidently quite happy to swallow thousands of hectares of high producing soils and put houses on it. If it continues at pace, New Zealanders will be forced to eat imported fruit and vegetables. Is this fair, or even safe from a continuity of supply point of view?
One wonders how Kiwis will react to that, given the reaction to the free-range egg saga and China’s concerns about having enough pork because that is what the Chinese people expect.
Hort NZ has asked for a halt to urban creep and that the government develop a national food security policy. What would such a thing look like? Ironically, it could look like the old Town and Country Planning Act of 1977 which included: not building houses on land good for the production of food; the prevention of sporadic sub-division and urban development in rural areas and the avoidance of unnecessary expansion of urban areas into rural areas in or adjoining cities. All that’s gone now, and these things are no longer provided for in legislation. It’s up to how councils see things. This is a very bad thing indeed because it seems councils don’t see food as much of a priority.
“The government needs to take the lead by putting in place policies that identify where our fresh fruit and vegetables come from, protect the land they are grown on, and provide consistent national policies enabling continued growth of horticulture…” says Mike Chapman.
“There is a balance that needs to be found in streamlining and cutting red tape for urban development and ensuring that councils met community needs, such as the ability to eat domestically grown fruit and vegetables.”
Mark Twain said: “Buy land – they are not making it anymore.” Once our food land is under houses, it’s gone forever and can never be replaced. We can’t eat houses.