Federated Farmers are currently working with a wide range of stakeholders on how to best develop an appropriate pricing mechanism that achieves a wide range of outcomes. This partnership is called He Waka Eke Noa, or The Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership and the outcomes sought include reducing emissions, maintaining food production, and protecting the wellbeing of rural communities. A core challenge we have faced is that these principles conflict with each other at times. As the Federation undertakes consultation with its members, we have heard from a number of farmers who are frustrated that the Paris Agreement is not being promoted by He Waka Eke Noa as clear reason for why New Zealand should not cut food production to meet climate targets. The two points most often cited by farmers in consultation so far are:
In the Preamble:
“Recognizing the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change…”
In Article 2:
“(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production…”
To put it simply, we agree. At Feds, we agree with farmers who point to these sections of the Paris Agreement as text that should be carefully considered when attempting to develop an appropriate pricing mechanism for the New Zealand agriculture sector. We have referenced these sections of the Paris Agreement in numerous submissions, most recently in our submission on the Government’s Draft Emissions Reduction Plan.
However, the He Waka Eke Noa partnership has not promoted these sections of the Paris Agreement because of differing interpretations of the text. He Waka Eke Noa is a broad church, with many members, and unlike Feds, some partners view these sections as only being applicable to developing countries or as not being important at all in the short term.
While at Feds we disagree with these creative interpretations, maintaining food production and promoting global food security should be goals pursued regardless of whether they are supported by the Paris Agreement.
The issue shouldn’t be one that is terribly complicated, global food security is important and reducing emissions is also important. It’s just like walking and chewing gum at the same time, two goals can be important at the same time and efforts to improve one should not compromise the other. There are seventeen United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and 169 targets. The goals and targets are not ranked in terms of importance, cover a wide range of issues and apply to all countries.
Globally, there are currently 690 million people who are hungry, with more than 250 million people on the brink of starvation according to the UN. The COVID pandemic has made food security worse, with the world not only failing to achieve a goal of zero hunger by 2030, but also failing to decrease the number when you consider that the amount of hungry people is an expected increase by millions by 2030. To further complicate this tragic issue, the world’s population is expected to increase to over 9 billion people in 2050 and will require global food production to increase by about 70%. This is a crisis that we have a moral obligation to fix, or at the very least not make worse. If the world is to have any chance of reducing hunger to zero countries, such as New Zealand, cannot cut food production in search of meeting other goals, even if these goals are as important as climate change.
New Zealand farmers should be proud of exporting large amounts of food and fibre to hundreds of countries, some developed and some developing. Nutrient rich New Zealand products, such as dairy and red meat, play a pivotal role in the diets of millions globally. Many in the agriculture sector are striving to sell more of our products to wealthier countries, working to de-commoditise their products and seeking increased margins. Even if New Zealand decides to, and manages to, exclusively export to wealthy international consumers from developed countries (and they are two big ‘ifs’) we will, however, still be contributing to the global food system and global food security.
The claims that New Zealand farmers are only feeding the part of the world that won’t go hungry is like saying we are only taking water out of one side of the bucket, and there will still be water on the other side for the other people. If we decide to reduce the world supply of food in search of meeting emissions reduction targets, food prices will likely go up, but wealthy consumers will likely still be able to afford food and will likely purchase from the next supplier on the list if New Zealand reduces exports. Unfortunately, it will be those able to pay the least who will feel the shock of reduced demand in global food markets the most. It’s basic economics and it will ultimately be the world’s poor that will suffer the most from reduced food production.
I am not saying that New Zealand farmers should do nothing to reduce emissions, we should all strive for better, but it’s important that as we do so we do not put global food production at risk. No matter where you farm in the world, by producing food you are contributing to the complex global food system and helping to feed a growing global population. In order to play our part in taking climate action while also supporting our critical goals such as reducing global hunger, New Zealand farmers need to be farming better but not less.
Whether or not supporting global food security while also reducing emissions from food production is explicitly spelled out by the Paris Agreement, it is the right thing to do. My reading of the Paris Agreement is that it makes it clear that food production and food security are important and should be treated as so while the world transitions to a warming neutral economy. If others disagree with this interpretation, I honestly don’t think it matters, protecting global food security is an important and worthwhile goal that New Zealand farmers should be proud of contributing to, regardless of an international agreement demanding we do so. Let’s show some actual leadership by demonstrating how to innovate and farm more efficiently, rather than simply cutting production to be able to say we have reached climate targets when we’re simultaneously harming global food security.