Friday, December 8, 2023

PULPIT: Time for a whole food strategy

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As the world gazes in awe at New Zealand for its success in controlling covid-19 this moment has been recognised as providing the perfect platform to both demonstrate leadership and share our stories from an elevated global stage.
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One of those opportunities is taking a leadership position on regenerative agriculture. 

Regenerative agriculture is one of the key topics of the Fenwick Forum, co-ordinated by the Aotearoa Circle. It has also appeared in numerous other recent events and publications.

Termed everything from the RA20 virus and complete pseudoscience through to a saviour of our food system and the planet, it’s important to first consider why regenerative agriculture has gained such momentum in a relatively short time.

We have seen the rise and fall of food miles, widespread condemnation of palm oil and hundreds of different labels each with its own set of standards and claims. 

What all these movements have in common is they are intended to meet the needs of conscious consumers. 

Shoppers are seeking to make buying decisions that align with their values and give them the warm and fuzzy feeling from making a positive environmental difference with their dollars. 

To date the organic certification has been a simple method for consumers to make quick decisions at the supermarket shelves and the Organic Products Bill is with a select committee. 

But there are multiple organic standards in NZ, which differ again from the hundreds of standards internationally. 

In addition, shoppers are starting to understand organic can have worse environmental and animal health outcomes than conventional production. 

We are trying to play catch-up to an old trend and, instead, it’s time to leap forward and lead the next one. 

Regenerative agriculture addresses the issue of ever-increasing shoppers’ fatigue, bringing a new opportunity for consumers – a single standard based on environmentally beneficial production, which encompass land, water and air. 

So how do we leverage the momentum that has already gathered under the title regenerative agriculture? 

How can we use this as a chance to pass premiums to producers, provide value to consumers and simultaneously improve the environment? 

We need a NZ regenerative agriculture label, aligning with the values of Te Taiao in the Fit For a Better World vision.

The benefits? 

We can clearly define regenerative agriculture as production systems that demonstrate continuous improvement in their environmental impact on soils, water and air. 

It is achievable and easily understandable to producers and consumers. 

We don’t need to be bound by extreme pseudoscience interpretations of the practices that are not evidence-based. We can use the significant research and tools already developed in NZ to measure performance.

NZ producers have already made significant progress towards this and regenerative agriculture provides a chance to recognise and reward their efforts. 

An additional advantage is that the sector has already invested considerable resource and training into delivering farm environment plans to farm businesses across the country. Leveraging this investment as a platform for delivering a premium label as opposed to yet another regulatory cost is an exciting proposition for the whole sector, from farmers to marketers.

Above and beyond this a clear national interpretation of regenerative agriculture in addition to biotechnology and subsidies and trade would provide businesses the ability to take action without uncertainty and enable real progress. 

It’s time to build on the Fit For a Better World vision and develop a collaboration between the Government and the food and fibre sector for a complete NZ food strategy. 

Who am I?
Jack Keeys is a KPMG agrifood research and insights analyst.

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