Friday, December 8, 2023

No room for a too-hard basket

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The role of primary industries will be more acute than ever as the nation looks to future-proof its economy, International Network of Government Science Advice chairman Sir Peter Gluckman says.
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With tourism in big trouble for the foreseeable future the role of the primary sector in food and fibre production will be critical for New Zealand’s future both short and long term.

How to get more value out of the agricultural sector and make it more efficient is the challenge ahead, Gluckman said.

But the long-standing issues of land use, water, the environment and soil quality become even more important.

“If NZ is to take advantage of the covid-19 crisis then these long-standing issues must be addressed once and for all.

“They can no longer be in the too hard basket.

“The rural economy will be so much more important for many years to come and collaborative solutions need to ensure now that these long-standing issues are more sustainable and environment focused.

“Marketing will align if we do that because the consumer we will be going for includes recognition that we are very sustainable.”

To get there it will be more about high-speed technology and connectivity.

“These are infrastructure issues that farmers will need.”

As consumer demand changes there will be a move away from commodities to higher-level food and fibre production.

And that is not about a top-down focus.

“Everybody’s enthusiastic about how we take this country forward but it will take several years, a lot of change and a lot of time to reset.



“Farmers want systems that are best by the land, families and the economy.

“Systems of knowledge, data and ideas so farmers can shift to a higher-value, sustainable footprint in a way that fits for farmers, respects the investment farmers have already made while developing and building the infrastructure more in a way that is wise and sensitive.”

But NZ does not have that level of support.

“And that, being straight up, is because a lot of the agricultural science sector is not in very good shape.”

Research and education are needed right across farm-based agriculture and the food production sector, including horticulture and aquaculture, where Gluckman believes there are huge opportunities.

“We need a well-trained workforce designed for the 21st century and good infrastructure so we can be diverse in the food we produce.

“Farming will change. There will be more need for water storage. We need more planning now.


“Our potential is diverse landscapes and waterscapes to meet the growing diversity of products.

“We will need critical thinking, empathy and sociological thinking for rapid change.

“It will be all our jobs to shape the future. Change takes time, change will take part of a generation in some areas – a lot of countries are a lot more advanced on this than we are.”

NZ will need to invest a lot more in research.

“To grasp the opportunities ahead we need to think so much more on what it takes to be an advanced, global, functioning economy to be better than global commodity chains.”

Genetic modification and plant-based foods should not be dismissed.

“I think there is a space for NZ in plant-based foods and I think we should be very wise to be thinking now of the higher-value products the consumer is prepared to pay premium dollars for.

“I remain bemused over this debate around genetic engineering and genetic modification. It’s become a rather sterile debate.

“As NZ continues to advance our biological systems we are advancing with one hand behind our backs when biological is alongside some forms of genetic modification.”

There is no way NZ can do what it will take on its own.

“We will need overseas investment and if we do the planning, have the people and the infrastructure in place, look after the farmers and the environment, we will attract overseas companies and investment.

“Then we can be safe not just in terms of being covid-free but also to attract the think-rich companies to insert their most valued assets and highly valued people to work in the safest place on the planet.”

The bottom line is recovery will not happen until people feel back in control of their lives.

A lot of people are affected and it could take a long time to see the social effects on the more vulnerable and farmers, already facing compounded problems with debt, drought and lower commodity prices, are among the vulnerable.

“Farmers are doing their bit but they can’t do it all on their own.

“It’s time to turn to national cohesion, psychologically that is very important for rural communities given food and fibre production will be the backbone that pulls the economy through,” Gluckman said.

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