Grappling with what to have for dinner is something most of us can relate to, whether standing staring into the fridge or pantry, or in the aisles of the supermarket.
Alarmingly, that combined household ‘grapple’ appears to dwarf the thought that successive New Zealand governments have put into what to feed the country over the next 10 to 40 years. Given the world’s population is expected to grow by over 2 billion, to 9.7 billion, by the year 2050, demand for food won’t be letting up any time soon.
Food security means ‘access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life’. It’s at the forefront of many countries’ long-term planning and legislative reform. It recognises that growing populations and climate change not only put huge pressures on food supplies, but also pose future risks for prosperity and stability.
In New Zealand, we’re fortunate. Producing food is something we’re really good at. In fact, we’re one of the most efficient food producing nations in the world.
Importantly, our food producing industry is also putting huge focus on reducing our environmental footprint, while addressing animal welfare, health and safety, climate change and other issues. In fact, we now produce more animal protein per kilogram of greenhouse gases than almost any other farmer on the planet.
So does that mean New Zealand’s future is looking rosy? Not quite.
There is a virtual avalanche of central government legislation and regulation coming out of Wellington. Decisions based on ‘public perception’ are also increasingly putting pressure on farmers – whether farms are dairy, sheep and beef, deer, poultry, grains, pork, salmon or other.
Significant money, time and resources are going into improving the footprint of the food producing industry, but that’s often hard to get through to those who refuse to listen to facts, or the good news we celebrate.
Under the Zero Carbon Bill, a sizeable reduction in livestock numbers may be needed. Even James Cameron is getting involved in the debate, suggesting New Zealanders should become vegan.
Unfortunately, it’s a bit tricky for the majority to become vegan, given pressures from increasing local regulations and urbanisation are also pushing fruit and vegetable growers out of the industry.
Our high-class soils continue to be encroached through urban sprawl, with new residents often then complaining about the typical noises, smells and lights from rural activities.
The answer doesn’t lie in vertical indoor farming quite yet either, unless you’re fine with a diet of strawberries, herbs and lettuce.
Meanwhile, the One Billion Trees programme continues to promote land use change from farming to forestry.
Across the country, we are hearing of entire farms being sold to forestry. Thousands of hectares taken out of food production and active farming, and instead locked into the long wait for trees to reach maturity. This is not the greatest way to keep rural communities vibrant, and local schools open.
Ultimately, when it comes to food, most Kiwis prefer a quality home-grown New Zealand product to an import, particularly if we know our products’ environmental and climate change footprint is lower. However, that may simply not be an option into the future, leaving us more to the mercy of international markets.
If child poverty and ‘wellness’ are issues now, they won’t look any better with less secure access to healthy, fresh or sufficient food in the future.
The New Zealand government needs to plan for our future food security now. It also should start to think about the wellbeing of the country’s food producers.
We don’t want our future grappling for dinner choices to end up falling between pine needle soup and roast pinecones.