Under the Mikeroscope
Telling our story to bridge any urban-rural divide
Back in 2008, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) commissioned a survey to look at the reality of this divide and the survey was updated in 2017. The recent results make very interesting reading. As the Minister for Agriculture noted when releasing this report on February 26, 2018, the key findings of the 2017 survey were that “the views of rural and urban New Zealanders are very similar across key topics in the primary sector including water quality”.
The Minister noted the survey’s findings were very different to what was being reported in the media, where it has been suggested that there is a growing divide and polarisation between urban and rural New Zealand. A copy of the survey can be found on the MPI website https:// mpi.govt.nz/dmsdocument/27582new-zealanders-views-of-the-primarysector
While the survey had some positives to report, we have all experienced a lack of understanding from urban New Zealand about how the rural sector works, and what it contributes to the country. This is evidenced in many ways including a lack of understanding about how the weather and climatic events affect production, about our focus on sustainability, and about how fruit and vegetables are seasonal, for example. But what the survey shows is that when it comes to views on the key issues affecting all of New Zealand, urban and rural people are thinking much the same way. I do not find that surprising. What I remain concerned about is many urban people have a real lack of understanding and appreciation for what the rural sector does and how their food is grown.
One of our key Horticulture New Zealand goals is to tell the horticulture story, as this underpins everything that we do. We need to tell urban New Zealand, politicians, and other government decision-makers about horticulture. In my experience, there is a distinct lack of knowledge and understanding about horticulture. Every day, we are looking for ways to bridge that gap and increase awareness, knowledge and understanding. This is so that when we ask for support for labour; support for protecting high quality land; for mandatory country of origin labelling; and for water storage and irrigation, those who make the decisions can understand the importance of that support.
We also have a very good story to tell. This is a theme that will be continued at our conference this year in Christchurch, from July 23 to 25. We can build on this survey and use it to help inform our campaigns to increase understanding about the horticulture sector. Encouragingly, one of the survey’s findings was that both urban and rural respondents were most positive about the horticulture industry. This was an increase on the number of respondents that were positive about horticulture back in 2008 for both those in urban (up 6%) and rural (up11%) New Zealand.
It is encouraging that the majority of both urban and rural respondents agreed that expansion of the primary sector is good for New Zealand. Everyone also agreed that water pollution and quality are the most significant environmental issues facing New Zealand and the primary sector. Concern about the biosecurity threat from pests and diseases also rated highly across the board. It was pleasing to note that a majority of the respondents were of the view that a wide range of skills are needed to work in the primary sector and that the primary sector involves cutting-edge thinking and technologies. Unfortunately, under half of all respondents agreed that primary sector businesses are good employers.
The issues identified in the survey are where we at Horticulture New Zealand are focusing our efforts to create an enduring environment where you can prosper. To this end the survey has endorsed what we are doing.