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Food production vital for country

AT our Federated Farmers AGM on Tuesday night I was rather dismayed to hear a great young farmer say he felt like he was piloting a ship in a sea full of troubles.

I then read through a raft of emails from New Zealand’s food production leaders as they grappled with the Zero Carbon bill announcement.

They were struggling to defend New Zealand’s food production from yet another huge disruption while, on a personal level, assuring their own families that there was a future in what they do.

Add to that the fact that we are, once more, losing productive land to plantation forestry at an unprecedented rate in the Wairoa district and you can appreciate the level of anxiety being felt in our rural communities.

Here in Tairawhiti we have the opportunity to be global thinkers — we have the luxury of abundant resources feeding and clothing our population so we can take time to consider our impacts on our planet.

As stewards of the land we have an innate understanding that what we take out must be put back in — it’s all about balance.

I am a fairly simple, black and white thinker — this is my take on these things.

Here in New Zealand, we all pay into the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) — farmers are large users of electricity, large users of petrol and diesel and the likes, so to argue that they’re not paying something towards emissions trading at the moment is just simply not correct.

New Zealand’s food producers are feeling aggrieved by the regulatory and economic realities that see farmers unable to offset their animals’ methane emissions (sheep and cow burps) by planting trees which then capture the CO2 converted from methane in the air.

Why then, is it OK to subsidise offshore investors to bury Tairawhitis’ productive land under plantation forestry and give the global fossil fuel industries free license to keep on belching long term, damaging carbon into our air?

The farming of animals is hugely (and I would suggest, mischievously) misunderstood by activists.

The reality is that more than 600 million of the very poor are critically reliant on food animals for meat, milk, fertiliser, and dung for fuel.

Animals are a treasured currency as they are soil stabilisers.

Fowl are valued as they provide eggs, meat, and fertiliser, and can be used for weed and insect control.

We cannot do what we do without food production. We cannot have stability or peace without food.

It takes four days to anger a man to violence if he is hungry and only 10 days to starve out a city.

The way food flows and the dependency on food is a short and tight timeline.

In far flung parts of the world our consumers literally wait for their ship (carrying food) to come in.

This is true for trucks, trains, air transport, donkeys, camels, wagons, oxen, and human backs as well.

Globalisation of food distribution has not fixed this critical problem, but actually may have made it more fragile because of the consolidation of all those essential delivery services and the loss of the general population’s capability to grow its own food.

What the pastoral communities understand is the importance of animals in building soil. Our use of rotations and zero till, and the focus on building soil is part of a greater goal towards ecological balance.

It is an accepted fact that soil health is also a complement to healthy air and clean, fresh water, which are recognised as growing challenges in the world today.

Around the globe in places of conflict and displacement, not only are human lives interrupted, but so is the landscape including the soil, air, water, and complementary species (including wildlife and domesticated animals, birds, fish, and fowl).

This means that what we can do, here in Tairawhiti, in terms of plant, soil, air, and water health contributes to the overall stability in global human health — ethical, extensive animal production systems are healing and critical to the Earth’s soil, air, and water.

Not all governments provide their people with basics, even basic access to food.

As for the food that we produce, it may end up directly in the hands of those who need it or it may be used as currency to fund new farms for those who are forced to start again.

Food is first in establishing peace, schools, health, live birth rates, growth, communities, and economies.

Directly or indirectly food is the economic, social, health, ecological, cultural, community, and justice connector.

It has been said that history does not look like history when we are part of it.

But what we do today feeds our community and communities a world away — for generations.

We will not have peace or settle unrest, build healthy resilient communities or economies, nor see social justice without food.

At the heart of New Zealand ‘agri-culture’ is the honourable art of producing food.

As a producer or food processor, one who transports food, or the scientist behind new technology — whatever our role in food production, we are a link in the chain of events that in the end, benefits those who cannot be part of the solution.

Sandra Faulkner