By Bernadette Hunt, Vice-President Federated Farmers Southland
It blows my mind that here in New Zealand we seem to be utterly oblivious to the impending international food crisis.
Farmers were feeling the impacts of rapidly increasing prices long before Russia invaded Ukraine. Fertiliser prices have jumped 200-300% in the last year or so, plus fuel and most other inputs are heading the same way – it’s pretty hard to ignore.
But most Kiwis didn’t notice until the rapid rise in petrol prices brought about by the war. And when asked just recently, our PM still brushed off the likely impact of global events on New Zealanders’ access to food.
Meanwhile our Government, levy bodies and many primary sector organisations are still blindly suggesting that farmers take on another regime of taxes and regulation that will knowingly reduce food production. This despite the fact that the food produced here has among the lowest emissions footprint of equivalent products globally, even after transport across the world is factored in.
This when Germany has recognized its own impending food crisis, removed green subsidies on 1.2 million hectares of land currently out of food production, and is encouraging its farmers to maximise production of cereals and pulses.
But here, as well as regulatory and financial handbrakes, we are constantly having the virtues of regen and organic farming fed to us as if they’ll be the saviour of NZ’s primary sector.
Surely Sri Lanka is a good rebuttal of that message. One year ago, Sri Lanka banned the importation and use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and ordered their farmers to go organic, claiming that yields would be comparable to their conventional systems. Twelve months later, the country has gone from being self-sufficient in rice to importing $450 million worth; and tea, its primary export crop, has also been devastated. Four months ago the Sri Lankan Government reversed its decision on some key crops and has made compensation payments to farmers who incurred losses.
New Zealand is onto a pretty good thing with its internationally envied farming system. Sure, there has been a long history of resource use without appropriate consideration of costs that can’t be measured in dollars. Addressing that is happening already – perhaps not fast enough for some. But generations of development cannot be responsibly turned around in a matter of 20 years. Especially in the face of what is going on worldwide right now.
We certainly don’t need to “reinvent ourselves” as seems to be continually suggested by some industry leaders and Government officials.
Peer-reviewed statistics show that 1.9 billion of the world’s population are going to experience chronic food insecurity in the next 12 to 18 months. That’s a quarter of people worldwide. Even in New Zealand, many people are already having to make choices between things that have long been considered “the basics”.
And it is only just beginning here. Soon it will be less about fertilizer and energy prices, and more about availability. Then we’ll really start to feel it. Many countries have few options in the face of all this. We have options but we’re looking to undermine them.
We all need to continue to highlight the issues and risks that are being brought to us by over-reaching Government regulation, at a time when neither Kiwis nor the rest of the world need any more barriers in the way of food production. I encourage you to do your own research and bring it to the attention of those who still have their heads in the sand.