Land grab Sell­ing out NZ’s food

The Orchardist - - Food Se­cu­rity - By Sue Grant-Mackie

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.

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