One billion trees

The new government want to plant 100 million trees over 10 years to support achieving our climate change commitments. Northland has roughly 5.1% of New Zealand’s land area, so that equates to about 5.1 million trees for Northland per year. Of course we should probably have more, as we don’t have snow here and trees will grow faster than most other places, and therefore sequester carbon quicker.

Northland forest

Northland forest (image credit: Department of Conservation)

Food trees

No doubt many of the trees will be pine and hopefully native trees. I would like to see a commitment that a percentage of the trees are food trees, or trees that support or compliment food production, e.g. shelter belts, farm forestry, manuka and kanuka. There may be opportunities to support such plantings. It would be too easy for the planners to focus on pine trees and reforestation.

It also makes a lot of sense to be planting food trees in parks and streets in urban settings and in schools.

Sequestration rates

If we are planting trees to sequester carbon how do large fruiting plants such as avocado trees, macadamias or bananas compare? This article establishes sequestration rates for macadamias in Australia as 3tons CO2/ha per year. I can’t find data on sequestration for bananas and avocados, but we can compare pasture, native shrubs and trees for a rough estimation. Here are some examples of sequestration rates.

sequestration rates

These numbers are from this webpage and the Tane’s Tree Trust website. They are sometimes aggregated to establish a range and variables include tree age – the max figure for totara is from a 102 year stand. Notice the graph below indicates a higher value for pine.

From this table, we can surmise that bananas, for example would sequester at least as much carbon as the minimum numbers for manuka/kanuka. If anyone has data on banana or avocado biomass, please let me know.

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This graph, from the Tane’s Tree Trust website reveals the growth and sequestration rates of different species. Notice that in the short term, native shrubs out perform native trees. We can assume bananas in Northland might follow a similar trajectory to native shrubs as they quickly bulk up.

Pine trees offer rapid growth rates, but harvest processes remove the above ground biomass and can create significant erosion of topsoil and therefore soil carbon, especially on steep land. On the other hand, as with any timber, incorporating wood into constructions sequesters that carbon for decades.

Other values

Timber plantations are important, but we need a broader assessment of their environmental, social and economic value. For example for every 1000 hectares forestry and logging employs 3 people. By contrast, for the same area, dairy employs 19.1 and horticulture 101 people. Thus, monocultural forestry depopulates while horticulture can repopulate rural Northland.

Michael Pollan charts a pathway to good health “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. If we help  Northlanders to have plenty of access to food trees, and some of it free in schools and public spaces, we can support better health.

How you can help

I would like to see a message sent to the relevant Ministers, and the Regional and District Councils encouraging a target for food trees as a percentage of the 100 million trees to be planted annually. Ideally it will co-signed by relevant organisations, eg, Tropical Fruit Growers, Tree Crops Associations, Enviroschools, Health agencies (fruit trees for schools, parks and streets), and marae.

If you know of organisations to approach for support for this message, please provide the name and the name and email of a contact person.

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Power Plant opens

A couple of years ago it was difficult to find any restaurants or cafes who proudly proclaimed their support for local produce. Things have changed. This month two new Whangarei food sellers advocating for local food have opened. “Down the Road” featured in an earlier post. Around the same time “Power Plant”, a wholefood and organic store in the Civic Arcade opened.

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Power Plant is a family business run by Mark and Angela Fuller and their daughter Jasmine. They are all still working other jobs and businesses while running Power Plant. The food is vegan and Mark and Angela are working hard to find local supplies of organic produce. At present they can source enough for the kitchen, but not to sell as fresh produce.

Please support food sellers who strive to sell local food.

Here is Power Plant’s Facebook Page.

Feeding the world

The convergence of rapid population growth and climate change threaten our ability to feed everybody. But our thinking about solutions has been a monocultural reflection of how we grow our food. A recent Guardian article suggests switching to organic farming could cut greenhouse gas emissions and still feed the world.

What we don’t need

We don’t need more “business as usual agriculture”.  The 2016 IPES-Food report (page 54) warns us that “feed the world” narratives are one of eight “lock-ins” that inhibits our collective ability to rethink the way we grow food. Advocates of current industrial food systems claim that massive monocultures, synthetic fertilisers, genetically modified crops and toxic chemicals are essential to feed the world. But if we follow the money we are more likely to find they are serving their financial ambition rather than any altruistic concern for the greater good.

But we also don’t need purist ideologies about how food should be produced. Rather a diversity of solutions should be explored with each assessed on its own merits.

Here are some solutions. Some will work better in a country such as mine (New Zealand) where population density is low, but every bit of food grown (and not wasted) helps.

1. Rethink what it means to be “organic”

Can food only be called organic if it is grown in the soil? Can organic food be grown hydroponically? When I first studied soil science about 40 years ago, conventional horticulture relied on a handful of macronutrients and micronutrients. Now high quality products are available that supply nutrients and important microbial constituents (Rok Soild is my preferred fertiliser). USDA organic certification is now available to qualifying hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic crop systems.

Since the early days of hydroponics, growers have learned how growing in a more controlled environment can reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides. And in these systems herbicides just aren’t needed.

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These containers are “vertical farms” used by food banks. Crops are grown inside using LED light and energy efficient heating enabling year around production.  Aerofarms farms vertically on a bigger scale.

This system has detractors but it seems a good option for growing food close to where it is needed without nasty chemicals.

2. Try aquaponics

Aquaponics is another option – combining fish and produce production.

Ben Smith is a local advocate of aquaponics.

3. End our obsession with lawns

Lawns are beautiful additions to the landscape and great places for children to play. But in our towns and cities (especially in New Zealand) we waste too much energy mowing lawns when we could be growing more food.

Here is a kiwi example of optimising urban lawn space to create lots of food.

4. Collapse the ornamental/food dichotomy

Most of us have grown up in the traditional garden where food production and ornamentals have there own space. Municipal parks departments also have difficulties coping with the concept of mixing the two. After all fruit trees drop fruit and can be messy! But imagine a landscape where children can eat feijoas, citrus and passionfruit on their way to school. For some, it might be the most nutritious food they get that day. This video shows how a group in Portland Oregon, “glean” fruit to distribute to the needy.     Couple this with an intensification of fruit tree plantings in public spaces and we bring good food closer to those that need it.

5. Diversify protein

I’m not sure how I feel about lab grown meat, but it gets around some of the environmental problems that are presently coupled with intensified agricultural systems.

A new initiative in New Zealand produces a “chicken free chicken” out of pea protein.

 

So here’s a diverse range of approaches to getting food to people. What is most important is for people to make their own assessment about what works best for them and their communities and to have a whole lot of tolerance for other ways of growing food.

 

Trees and dairy

We have to deintensify dairy for a whole lot of reasons. Uppermost in public discourse is water quality, but also intensification has to be sustained by increased inputs that place a burden on the environment. For example, imports of palm kernel meal has risen from 96 metric tonnes in 2003 to 1,600 metric tonnes in 2017 [1]. This 2011 Greenpeace report outlined the carbon footprint of palm kernel.

In a similar timeframe, the use of nitrogenous fertilisers in New Zealand has increased from 231 kilotons (kt) in 2002 to 428 kt in 2014. [2]  Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas that, according to MPI, “comes from the conversions in the soil by microbes of nitrogen in fertiliser, urine and dung”. Nitrogen is especially needed to pump up grass growth where stocking rates are high.

Transitioning to sustainable stocking rates

Farmers are impelled to increase stock rates for farm viability, so to deintensify, how are dairy farms incomes sustained? There are four pathways:

  • reduce input costs
  • increase per cow productivity
  • create other income streams
  • reform economic practices to deflate speculative practices.

Fortunately there are farms that are showing the way.

Paulownia NZ

Graham and Tess Smith of Paulownia NZ  have a small dairy farm in the Waikato. They have two income streams, dairy, and Paulownia timber.

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They now have 500 paulownia’s planted and are harvesting wood. This image shows how the paulownia canopy still enables reasonable light penetration to the pasture. When the trees drop their leaves the cows love to eat them and the roots penetrate deeper into the earth than pasture roots. The Paulownia NZ website cites Canadian research that shows that trees in pasture (agroforestry) reduces “farmland nitrogen losses by 50 per cent, compared to conventional farming methods”[3].

Paulownia is a remarkable tree, capable of growth rates of 6 metres per year, and has an expanding market. According to the Farm Forestry New Zealand website, the wood was selling for between $1,750 and $2,450 per cubic metre in 2007.

Paulownia

Graham and Tess Smith sell their paulownia for $11 per lineal metre for 100 X 50. The timber is very light, second only to balsa wood and in New Zealand is used for boats, surfboards and skis. Here is an example of a surfboard blank.

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Paulownia need a free-draining soil, so are not a solution for every dairy farm , but it is great to see examples of diversification. We will look at more in future posts.

Footnote:  I am not a dairy expert, but coming from a rural background and living in Northland I am very interested in how we navigate our way to a post-carbon world, and they way we grow our food is a big part of that.


[1] from Index Mundi

[2} from Australia and New Zealand Fertiliser Market and Fertiliser Usage Status, the International Plant Nutrition Institute.

[3] from Agroforestry: A New Approach to Increasing Farm Production. A Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust report by Stephen Briggs.

Local food at Down the Road

Yesterday saw the opening of “Down the Road” in Kensington, Whangarei. Justine and Joseph Start have spent recent months preparing their new Eatery and Deli and the food is proudly local.

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Down the Road is about celebrating the local treasures of Northland. The inspiration behind the name is that we love this beautiful country for all the quintessential elements that make it unique. We know that wherever we find ourselves, there is a wonderful bounty to be discovered just ‘down the road’. (from the website)

When you choose to eat at Down the Road you are also supporting a lot of local producers. These include Grinning Gecko Cheese, Mahoe Farms Cheese and Hydro Healthy to name just a few.

If you support local food, eating at “Down the Road” is a great option.

Are we moving to a more local democracy?

The New Zealand Initiative (NZI) released their Go Swiss report last Monday. The NZI is a right leaning think tank, but the Executive Director, Dr Oliver Hartwich identifies subsidarity, exemplified by Swiss governance, as a feature of our new coalition government.

Subsidiarity means that problems should be solved at the lowest possible level. Where a city can deal with an issue, a region should not do it. And where a region can tackle it, national government should stay out of it. Dr Oliver Harwich

Switzerland

Switzerland is remarkably decentralised. A lot of decision-making happens at the local level. Switzerland is divided into 26 Cantons (regions) and 2,294 communities. This video elaborates on their democracy, highlighting its strengths and some deficiencies.

Note that the 2016 democracy rankings place Switzerland second (after Norway) and New Zealand seventh.

Dr Hartwich notes that both Labour and the Greens have a common tradition of subsidarity and New Zealand First is strongly focussed on the local and regional. By contrast, the National Government was very centralist.

The previous, National-led government was the party of traditional, New Zealand centralism. Its view of the world was hierarchical, looking from the capital to the regions.

No wonder that National was fond of council amalgamations. It did not trust local government, least of all smaller councils. Dr Oliver Hartwich

Our increasing trend towards centralism inhibits the innovation that can occur in a more decentralised governance design. The “one size fits all” regime concentrates power in the governing cabinet and fosters dependance on government largesse – very dangerous when moneyed vested interest is eroding democracy around the world.

Partnership

Hopefully this coalition will pathfind an evolution of our democracy. We will not become a South Pacific Switzerland -– we can evolve a democracy unique to us and based on the as yet unrealised partnership embodied in the Treaty of Waitangi. While our former Government consolidated centralism, an alternative was in plain view for those that wanted to see. In the Māori world subsidarity is alive and well. Hapu form around age-old patterns of the movements of people into new territory.

The tension between local autonomy and Iwi based leadership is playing out in Tai Tokerau as Ngapuhi work to secure a Treaty settlement. There is still much raruraru, but there is also much promise.

Perhaps we will see a time when rural communities are reborn. Perhaps the marae will be integrated into an evolution our democracy. They are well situated to become kaitiaki of the catchments they are situated in. It can be achieved through mutual respect between the marae and locals.

Maori values of kaitiakitangi, manakitanga and oranga are more fit for purpose for a prosperous post-carbon world than our prevailing governance norms. The model below, from Amokura Iwi Associates, He Tangata, He Whenua, He Oranga is the best model of sustainability I have seen.

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Local and global

A seventh placing in the global ranking is something to be proud of. For example, we led the way with universal adult suffrage and as social innovators. Devolving to a greater level of local autonomy and learning from good practice globally will move us up the ranks. Besides the Swiss example, Otto Scharmer’s thinking about co-creation and collaboration are worthy of consideration.

Lets be cheerleaders for governance change. And we can also work to inculcate these changes in the organisations we work in and volunteer for.

Election outcome a great result for MMP and sustainable food systems

Our new government, led by Jacinda Adern is a win for MMP and sustainable food systems.

A win for MMP and the evolution of governance

To form a government in New Zealand a party has to obtain a majority of seats. In a mixed member proportional (MMP) government, any party will need to work effectively with smaller parties to sustain their government. Our new Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern has skilfully woven a coalition agreement with New Zealand First, with support in supply and confidence from the Green Party.

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Winston Peters and Jacinda Adern signing the coalition agreement (source RadioNZ)

This result represents another advance in our political system. It is fitting that 124 years after Kate Sheppard led the fight to win the vote for women, a female Prime Minister is the first leader who has only voted in the MMP electoral system. Ms Adern must be aware that the continuation of her government can only be achieved by the continued success of her coalition partners. Early signs are that she has the skill and awareness to lead us to a new style of co-created governance based on strong consensus.

A win for the environment

The new government also represents a win for the environment with the three partners supporting the establishment of a Climate Commission and agreeing to legislate emission reduction goals to comply with the Paris agreement. Climate change action is touted as a clear winner in the Labour, Greens agreement. Climate change was on the agenda this election and we can be sure that it will be even more prominent next time, so it will shape future governments. This will cause the National Party to rethink its stance.

For the first time the Green Party will have ministerial roles (albeit outside cabinet). These roles include climate change and conservation.

A win for a sustainable food system

A feature of the coalition agreements is the commitment to regional development. Both New Zealand First and the Green Party are champions of local economies. The agreements also include the intention to prevent foreign ownership of farms.

I have no doubt that we need to turn back dairy intensification and diversify farm incomes to reduce environmental impacts (more about this in future posts). The new government will discontinue subsidies of irrigation that fuel intensification.

The plan to increase the minimum wage potentially has a benefit for regional economies. We are a low wage economy and government assistance for wage and salary earners enables employers such as the foreign owned fast food chains to keep employment costs low. In effect this is a tax payer subsidy for these employers, and in the case of foreign-owned corporates, part of our taxes disappear off-shore.

Engaging with Government

According to the Drawdown Project, the 31% reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions can come from food system and a further 14% from land use. We need to engage with government to ensure that the synergies between climate change action, their new forestry programme, and regional development aspirations are realised and support the development of sustainable food systems.