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The irony of coronavirus

What no Government, for all their good intentions could do, what no slew of alarming documentaries, celebrity endorsements or Greta Thunberg's could achieve has been done in a matter of weeks — by a virus.

Planes crouch idle beside eerily empty airport terminals, once heaving highways are bare of commuters and cities under lockdown gradually shrug off great shrouds of smog to reveal blue skies.

For the first time in many decades, we collectively face an uncertain future, one which may not look much like our past.

Not because of the potential health implications of Covid-19, but, a suspicious mind might suggest, rather because this virus has achieved what Governments all over the world have been seeking to achieve for some time.

A world where border controls are reinstated, capitalism is limited to those activities accepted by the state and our global addiction to migration — be it air, land or sea has been severed — cold turkey . . . thereby breaking the stranglehold the oil industry has had on humanity for close to a century.

Admittedly this all sounds like something out of a George Orwell novel — but you have to ask to yourself, will the world really go back to the way it was? And if it does — how long will it take?

These are troubling times, however, few countries are better placed than New Zealand to weather the storm of a global pandemic.

Yes, we are heavily reliant on inbound travel and the tourism dollar. However, this nation has far less exposure to the service sector than many countries and at its heart, we remain a nation of growers — with primary products unpinning the core of our economic base.

It may perhaps be lost on the Government amidst the current pandemonium, but there is likely a wry expression on the faces of those in the primary sector who have spent the last two years defending their right to exist in the face of a Government hell-bent on designing the economy sans farming.

Its relentless emphasis on the perceived shortfalls of the primary sector were increasingly bending the spirit of growers, already fatigued by an endless procession of new regulations, required submissions and loudly hailed as needing to make way for the “transition to a low-emissions economy” otherwise known as the plan to plant 2.8million hectares of pine trees.

The fact that in the face of widespread drought, a somewhat withdrawn Chinese economy and global upheaval — New Zealand food products continue to find ready markets, providing a steady stream of reliable employment and high quality, high value exports should not be lost on anyone.

The brave new world, whatever its shape and however our transport networks, national borders and public health systems evolve in response to Covid-19, will continue to prioritise food security above all. A hungry country is not a happy country, and an unhappy country is prone to turfing out its leadership.

We are uniquely blessed with a climate which, even at its worst, still grows food willingly and sustains not only our domestic population but also those countries who have long since outgrown their capacity for self-sufficiency.

In a time of global uncertainly, trade disruptions and employment upheaval — there is no better time to have growers at your back, feeding both our communities and our economy.

Given the huge scale economic support packages required in the coming weeks and months, all of which must be funded somehow, the ability to lean on reliable taxes earned in the provinces will be a key feature for this and subsequent Governments over the coming years.

The ability to maintain export earnings while supporting those under pressure from the current turmoil will ultimately determine how deeply the Covid-19 wound will cut, and how long it takes to heal.

While there are many choices which can be limited in such strange times as these, thankfully for this country, the need to eat is not one of them.