New Zealand's agribusiness sector has exciting opportunities if initiatives such as a national food strategy, regenerative land use and new ocean-based sunrise industries can get momentum.
The Aotearoa Circle's Fenwick Forum, a virtual meeting of some 75 corporate and public sector leaders, has pinpointed substantive ideas to position the country's agribusiness sector for the post-Covid era.
The pandemic highlighted how dependent the economy is on nature — with global business and trade taking the biggest hit this century from a natural pathogen. Similarly, New Zealand's agribusiness sector is dependent on the natural environment to grow and harvest the food and fibre products we sell to the world.
The forum emphazised some current farming, horticulture, forestry and fishing practices have had negative impacts on NZ's water sheds, soil quality and surrounding oceans.
These issues are being exacerbated by climate change. There is a need to shift to practices that regenerate the health of the entire system — including NZ's own domestic food security with a focus on creating a food system that is both sustainable and creates value.
The forum highlighted three broad initiatives — the food innovation system, regeneration hubs and access to transition finance, and a national strategy for a secure regenerative food future. It highlighted six actions that will require investment by Government and the industry:
1. Research on regenerative and integrated land use practices to build a robust-evidence base of the benefits in a New Zealand context.
2. Identify 'sunrise' sectors — including opportunities to utilise our oceans.
3. Research and innovation on agritech and circular economy solutions to increase sustainability throughout food and fibre value chains.
4. Locally based hubs providing services and access to finance for food and fibre sector producers to transition to regenerative practices and/or sunrise sectors.
5. Develop a whole systems national food strategy based on the concept of Taiao, with a long-term outlook — encompassing land, oceans, export resilience, and domestic food security.
6. Engagement with stakeholders including farmers, growers, and foresters, Māori food and fibre leaders, and the science and research community to inform long-run strategy.
The forum identified there is a lack of robust research on integrated land use, poor tools to measure and manage impacts on natural capital, inadequate financial support, a lack of forethought on what the food system will look like long term, and equity issues with access to affordable and nutritious food. A national food strategy should have a parallel and complementary ocean strategy. Such strategies must address climate change and also how NZ tells the story of sustainability in our value-based food system — not only care of the environment, but also for workers and their communities.
The forum identified players who need to be involved in the transition including consumers and businesses from across the food system, government agencies, iwi, academia, industry bodies and research and innovation organisations.