Monday, March 4, 2024

One year on: rising stronger from the cyclone

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Communications, roading, electricity – all these things were taken out by Gabrielle. How do we prevent that happening again when the next ‘big one’ comes along?
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By Sandra Faulkner, Gisborne farmer and Federated Farmers national board member

As farmers, we love what we do and we’re privileged to enjoy a life working on the land.  

On a good day, when you’re out on a ridge watching the sun come up, or you’re admiring your cattle grazing a green hillside, there’s nowhere else you’d rather be.   

But for those many farmers who’ve spent the past 12 months rebuilding their lives and businesses hammered by Cyclone Gabrielle – and let’s not forget the multitude of other damaging rain events last year – it’s been a slog. 

At the time, it nearly broke us. In our community here in Gisborne, there was so much damage to our homes, farms and infrastructure that there was almost a paralysis about where to begin. 

It’s impossible to describe how widely and deeply it affected people. 

I was thrust into the role of Federated Farmers’ adverse events spokesperson early on. It was challenging and we all learnt a lot as we went along, building the plane as we flew.  

The stories I’ve heard, the tales of courage and human kindness, have reminded me time and time again how strong and pragmatic our rural people are. 

One couple walked six hours just to reach a vehicle so they could get to town and let us know what was happening to others in their valley. Then they turned around and repeated the trip home again. 

There are people like Pehiri farmers Sam and Gemma Hain, who, although their farms were grievously damaged, graciously opened their home and freely spoke to politicians, reporters and officials to ensure the rest of the country knew what was happening on the ground.  

That’s how our communities wrapped their arms around each other – and we just kept walking forward.

And we’re still walking forward, one foot in front of the other, rebuilding one fence and one farm track at a time. Every farmer or grower you talk to will have a different story and be in a different space in their recovery, but it’s been long, and it’s been tough.

But now, as we pass the one-year anniversary of Gabrielle and many farming families have returned to some semblance of normality, it’s time for those of us in leadership roles to get truly transformational.

Until now, support has been focused on recovery on a farm-by-farm basis, helping farmers and growers get up and running as quickly as possible. 

We now need to take a less piecemeal approach; we need to get big-picture and look at how to build our infrastructure in a way that makes our region resilient for decades to come. 

Communications, roading, electricity – all these things were taken out by Gabrielle. How do we prevent that happening again when the next ‘big one’ comes along?

What are the aspirational goals that will make a real difference to our rural communities 10, 30, and 50 years from now?

My focus is on working with other business leaders to champion for smarter-built arterial routes and future-proof infrastructure.  

So, we’re asking: why not push for a two-hour road trip from Gisborne to Napier on SH2? What is our electricity demand going to be in 10 or 20 years – actually, how secure is our supply now?   Surely in today’s world we can all have reliable communication connectivity.

Equally, we need to strengthen ourselves in the regions so we don’t necessarily need Band Aid support from the Government when things go wrong but, instead, can work together on solutions in a timely manner – a hand up, not a handout.

It’s about making our own way forward, taking this opportunity to make communities more robust, rather than just rebuilding what was already there.  

Federated Farmers will be working hard at the Government level to better enable our regions and industries, but we also remain committed to supporting at the grassroots. 

‘Commence the Re-fence’, led ably by Ben Moore, to help rebuild fences on farms, is one such initiative. It’s such a simple thing – farmers just need somebody to get in, roll their sleeves up and help them build a fence. At the same time, there is social connection, taking time to talk – simple but deeply valuable.

Lastly, I’d like to reach out to all the spouses and partners, children, in-laws, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends – everyone who helped to carry our communities and families over the last 12 months.

We really owe you, and this is just a small chance to say a huge ‘thank you’ for your support.

More: Listen to Sandra and Pehiri farmer Sam Hain reflect on how the recovery is going a year since the cyclone in the latest Federated Farmers Podcast episode.

 Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.

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