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.

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Sugar feeds cancer and addiction

Sugar feeds cancer cells. This is the key finding of a nine year research project published in Nature Communications. This article summarises the findings.

And today on Radio NZ Jesse Mulligan interviewed Robert Lustig about the various ways that we are addicted, and sugar is possibly the most ubiquitous addiction. Here is the interview. Robert Lustig’s new book, The Hacking of the American Mind discusses the influence of the food industry in promoting addiction.

He is down on dopamine. We seek a dopamine by feeding our addictions. He suggests we need more serotonin instead.

Robert Lustig promotes his four Cs to resist addictions and support our happiness.

CONNECT – face to face connections fuel our empathy and build community.

CONTRIBUTE – to friends, families, others and your communities.

COPE – exercise, practice mindfulness and get plenty of sleep.

COOK – real food and avoid processed food.

We feed sugar to our children. We continue to allow it to be promoted widely. This has to change!

 

Let me count the ways… food makes us sick

A new report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food (IPES-Food) outlines how industrial food and farming systems are making people sick in a variety of ways. An Overwhelming Case for Action lead author Cecelia Rocha says “Food systems are making us sick. Unhealthy diets are the most obvious link, but are only one of many pathways through which food and farming systems affect human health.”

This infographic from the report summarises the carnage and the resulting economic impact.

IPES Food costs of health impacts

In addition to highlighting the perils of the industrial food system, the document identifies five co-dependent leverage points for building healthier food systems. Among these are lines of action we can all champion.

  1. Promoting food systems thinking.
  2. Reasserting scientific integrity and research as a public good.
  3. Bringing the alternatives to light.
  4. Adopting the precautionary principle.
  5. Building integrated food policies under participatory governance.

This report follows on from their ground-breaking first report From Uniformity to Diversity: A Paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. 

 

Miraka milk showing the way

New Zealand has just been through a parliamentary election and elections breed dichotomies like still water breeds mosquitos. We saw the town/country, farmer/environmentalist, economic growth/environment dichotomies in play. If you are the champion of one side, dichotomous thinking encourages you to be the enemy of the other side.

One of the biggest issues was around water quality with the focus on dairy farming. Its clear that we have too many cows in many catchments. The negative impacts are outlined in this Greenpeace report. But does this mean we will see the slaughter of dairy cows as one politician wanting to fuel fear declared? (There is some irony in this, because all cows get slaughtered eventually – so the more you have, the more slaughter you get).

So can we break the dichotomy? Can we have fewer cows and still have profitable farms and a better environment? Part of the answer must lie in diversification.

Miraka Milk

Miraka is a Māori owned dairy processing business in the Mokai Valley in the central North Island. As a Māori business, principles of kaitiakitanga (guardians of the land) and tikanga guide the business. The factory is run on geothermal power and milk waste is processed through a giant worm farm. Miraka is one enterprise of the Tuaropaki Trust. In addition to dairying, the geothermal power is used to heat greenhouses and the trust has several other enterprises.

This September 2017 audio from Radio NZ features Kim Hill interviewing CEO Richard Wyeth.

Miraka has maintained good payouts to farmers and is driving up the value chain reducing the need for intensification. There is diversification in the parent trust, but individual dairy, horticulture and pastoral farming units appear to “stick to their knitting”, essentially monocultural.

Diversification

Simply reducing stocking rates may not be the answer. The Lincoln University demonstration farm has managed to reduce nitrate leaching by 30% by reducing stocking numbers, but extracting more production from the remaining cows.

We are in the early days of exploring diversifying income streams from the land. Where are those farmers that work the land to optimise returns by nurturing the diverse niches that the land inevitably provides – the lean steeper country, the riparian margins, the manuka groves and the totara remnants? Farm foresters utilise steeper country for tree planting. Riparian plantings that protect waterways from sediment runoff and capture some nutrients also offer the opportunity for crop diversification – notably, bananas in some Northland sites. Manuka groves supply income from honey and support bee populations for important pollination work. The Northland Totara Working Group is promoting the sustainable management of the totara groves that pepper Northland farms. One benefit is timber production. Examples abound – but where are those that integrate options in a way that optimises the health of the land and its ability to produce sustainably?

Posts that follow this one will hopefully surface examples of farms exemplifying income diversification and kaitiakitanga. Congratulations to Miraka for pointing the way.

 

 

 

Reclaiming our waterways

Only San Francisco harbour is bigger than the Kaipara Harbour. And the Kaipara has the longest shoreline of any harbour in the world. I grew up near the Northern Wairoa river that flows into the north end of the Kaipara. The water is brown, drenched in colloidal sediment that doesn’t settle. I was told the sailing ships used to access fresh water from the mouth of the Kaihu stream at Dargaville, but those days are long gone.

Kaipara harbourForests have been stripped off the lands in the Kaipara’s massive catchment leading to erosion that continues today. Thankfully we have moved beyond the days when farmers could get subsidies for breaking in marginal land. But the sediment loads in the Kaipara continue to increase by 10mm a year according to this excellent article by Lois Williams.

As a consequence, snapper in the harbour are mutating as their gills adapt to handle the heavy loads of sediments. And the Kaipara harbour is a snapper nursery for the whole of the west coast.

The Kaipara catchment, stretching from the Waitakeres in the south to Waipoua in the North and the eastern hills to the north of Whangarei. (image from the Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group website).

The sediment problem was reversed in the Whāingaroa (Raglan) harbour. When streams were fenced off and planted, sediment flows slowed down. The invertebrates at the base of the food chain returned enabling the repopulation of kaimoana.

Revegetating the huge Kaipara catchment is a much more daunting task, but progress is being made. The Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group has overseen the planting of 2 million trees over the last decade. This is a impressive partnership of local government, Iwi and hapu (Ngati Whatua and Te Uri o Hau), Fonterra, Government Agencies and NGOs. There efforts will also be sequestering a significant amount of carbon. Their guiding principles are:

  • Kaitiakitanga
  • Integrated Ecosystem-Based Management
  • Manaakitanga respect
  • Co-management.

Kia ora and thank you to them!

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The Pouto lighthouse at the mouth of the Kaipara harbour (photo by Joanne Watkinson)

 

Bananas and climate change

Northland bananasThe question is not “is climate change happening?” The question is, “what are we going to do about it?” Some people continue to deny it, others choose to look the other way and hope it will go away, and another group only want to take action if it doesn’t interfere with economic growth.

In his book Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell described a similar scenario. It was the early 1400s and the world was getting colder, not warmer. In Greenland there were two populations – the Vikings and the Inuit. As temperatures dropped, the Inuit were OK, because their staple was fish. The Vikings liked their meat, so when grass growth slowed down, they first ate their mature animals, then the young, and then their dogs. Archeological evidence reveals that the population crashed – and it happened rapidly. The lesson for us is our adaptive capacity.

Bananas as one of many climate change solutions for Northland

The Drawdown project as described in this post, identifies reductions of 1,051 gigaton of CO2 that can be achieved by its top 80 solutions. Food solutions account for 31% of these reductions – 325 gigatons.

Number 14 on the list are tropical fruit crops (including bananas), accounting for a reduction of 20.19 gigatons of CO2 globally, over 30 years.

Tropical staple crops currently grow on 116 million acres, mostly in the tropics. Their rate of sequestration is high at 1.9 tons per acre per year. Expand this area by another 153 million acres by 2050 and they can sequester 20.2 gigatons of additional carbon dioxide. Our analysis assumes that expansion only occurs on existing cropland, with no forest clearing. Because their yield is 2.4 times higher than annual staples—at 60 percent of the cost—savings are signicant, while cost to implement is low. (Drawdown)

New Zealander’s consume about $18 kgs of bananas a year, mostly all imported. If we can grow our own bananas, we would need about 7,700 hectares of bananas to meet our own needs. Northland is great place to grow bananas. We are at the warm end of the temperate zone, but as we are a long skinny peninsula surrounded but the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea, our climate is benign enough for some tropical crops, especially those from higher tropical altitudes.

Bananas vs. white bread

So can we adapt or are we the 21st Century Vikings? One thing we could do, is to plant and eat more bananas (grown as a perennial crop), and eat less white bread (using wheat derived from an annual crop). Here are some comparisons.

Growing and eating bananas

Buying and eating white bread

Carbon consequences
  • perennial crop with a longer-term presence, building soil carbon
  • large biomass per hectare
  • suits mixed plantings and permaculture approaches
  • grown in Northland, and consumed in Northland
  • minimal to no processing
  • made from wheat, an annual crop with disruptive impacts on soil carbon
  • less biomass per hectare
  • grown as a monoculture sourced from the South Island or imported
  • significant processing
Nutrition consequences
  • Nutrient density rating: 30[1]
  • Glycemic index: 52 for 136 grams[2]
  • Glycemic load: 14 (medium)
  • Higher levels of vitamins and minerals[3]
  • no dodgy additives
  • nutrient density rating: 9
  • glycemic index: 70 for a 30 gm slice
  • glycemic load: 10 (low)
  • generally lower levels of vitamins and minerals[4]
  • additives including possibly canola oil, sugar, acidity regulator and emulsifiers
Economic and social consequences
  • locally grown
  • can be grown in home gardens and by small holders
  • imported from out of region
  • production dominated by large companies

Go bananas!

In another lesson from history, The people of England were collectively traumatised by the First World War and didn’t want to be involved in another. They tried to ignore the threat that Adolf Hitler posed in a “fog of denial”. But Winston Churchill persisted in raising the alarm.

“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

Winston Smoking a bananaBananas are part of our Northland climate change solution, so to paraphrase Sir Winston, … we shall plant them near the beaches, we shall plant them in the school grounds, we shall plant them in the fields and in the streets, we shall plant them in the hills; we shall never surrender.

 

 

 

[1] from  Dr. Furhman’s Nutrient density chart https://www.drfuhrman.com/content-image.ashx?id=73gjzcgyvqi9qywfg7055r

[2] from SelfNutritionData: http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/glycemic-index lowest number is best

[3] For additional nutritional information about bananas: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/baked-products/4872/2

[4] For additional nutritional information about white bread: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/baked-products/4872/2

[1] from  Dr. Furhman’s Nutrient density chart https://www.drfuhrman.com/content-image.ashx?id=73gjzcgyvqi9qywfg7055r

[2] from SelfNutritionData: http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/glycemic-index lowest number is best

[3] For additional nutritional information about bananas: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/baked-products/4872/2

[4] For additional nutritional information about white bread: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/baked-products/4872/2

Food policy from our election candidates

The Northland Food Policy Council is asked political candidates from the Far North, Rodney, Te Tai Tokerau and Whangarei electorates five questions. Their responses are published here. Please pass this link on through your networks.

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Here are links to the candidates’ responses. Each electorate has its own webpage.

The questions

1: What do you think your role as an MP or potential MP is in our region’s food system?

2: Should NZ be protecting prime agricultural/horticultural land from urban sprawl? What’s your position on how best to do this?

3: The World Health Organisation recommends implementing a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages as a measure of reducing childhood obesity. NZ has the third highest rate of childhood obesity in the OECD.  Are you in favour of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages?

4: Do you support Local Councils having the power through the Resource Management Act to declare Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)/Genetic Engineering (GE) free growing zones in their regions?

5: How will you ensure that food system policy, such as the Food Act is scale-appropriate for small and medium scale farmers, growers and producers (e.g. on farm meat processing).