Friday, July 1, 2022

NZ can lead food evolution

While New Zealand’s food and fibre sector is facing a number of challenges there are opportunities that if realised, will ensure the sector is fairly rewarded, Lincoln University Agribusiness and Economics Research (AERU) director Caroline Saunders says. 

Targeting consumers who share NZ food and fibre producers’ values is key to capturing premium returns for the primary sector.

“Nothing should be low cost in NZ,” Saunders said in her opening address of the E Tipu Boma Agri Summit in Christchurch.

“NZ’s early prosperity grew out of exporting three land-based commodities – meat, dairy and wool  – to the United Kingdom.

“The agricultural sector saved us through the [covid] pandemic so commodities might look quite good at the moment but we can’t use commodities into the future,” she said.

Right now there are many initiatives that aim to create and capture greater value from food and fibre exports which remain vital to the economy.

“My vision for the country is nothing is low cost for NZ, what we do for NZ should be high value.

“As we face a lot of challenges, we are looking for opportunities to capture premium value into a move away from volume to value in a value chain space.”

The opportunities need to celebrate the sector and ensure it is fairly rewarded.

“What do consumers value, what are they willing to pay for and how does that resonate with what is important in the collective values up and down the value chain, the attributes of foods we can’t see or touch but assurances consumers know are there.”

As well as producing food that tastes and looks good, NZ products have great credence attributes such as animal welfare, health benefits, environmental stewardship, cultural authenticity and country of origin.

“Agriculture is not under pressure yet from climate change policy, but it will be as consumer awareness continues to grow but there are huge opportunities to come from that as consumers want meat, but they want it more sustainable.“

Ramez Naam
Climate technologist

The AERU has provided evidence for this in commodity and country studies, Saunders said.

“By targeting consumers who share our values we can get win-wins, higher prices for our produce that reward social, cultural and environmental standards.

“This requires creating value chains that communicate our values to consumers and delivers premiums to producers and what we target will vary by country and commodity,” she said.

Director of UK-based Balance Point Advisory Hannah Tucker says many of the foods we love and depend on are becoming an endangered species in the food system transformation from industrial to a modern economy.

“Such foods are highly vulnerable to drought, floods – victims of a crisis, and if food is endangered then everything is endangered including our lives,” Tucker said.

So how will food change in the 2020s?

“The modern food system is both synthetic and regenerative, combining control of nature and collaboration with nature.”

What’s for dinner in a regenerative world approach is based on more than a piece of meat.

Synthetic versus regenerative is competing in many ways but also with many complementary approaches.

“The modern food system aligned with the capabilities of the 2020s technologies and how we combine modern philosophies, growing opportunities and shrinking risks, will create the 2020s food and beyond,” Tucker said. 

American climate technologist Ramez Naam says while there’s challenges now for all on planet earth, the good news is we are making progress.

“I believe we are headed for a brighter future. This is the best time to be born on the planet ever.

“The number one driver for the global rise out of poverty is agriculture; the world is heating up but the world wants more meat.

“Agriculture is not under pressure yet from climate change policy, but it will be as consumer awareness continues to grow but there are huge opportunities to come from that as consumers want meat, but they want it more sustainable.

“That’s where there’s opportunity for NZ,” Naam said.

“NZ producers, both food and fibre, legitimately claiming to be sustainable producers can tap into this market.

Naam said the major culprit for NZ is methane emissions from livestock.

“Saving the climate one cow at a time,” he said.

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