Sunday, 23 April 2017 08:55

NZ farmers are making gains in the environment

Written by  Nathan Guy
Nathan Guy says any rules must have the farmer at the centre of it. Nathan Guy says any rules must have the farmer at the centre of it.

Today we live in an age when consumers are growing more aware of the products they consume.

But at the same time they are also more detached from the processes that occur inside the farm gate. 

We all have a role to play in narrowing this urban/rural disconnect. Consumers need to know we are good stewards of our land and we need to understand that we require a social licence to operate.

In my opinion, farmers and growers are naturally environmentalists. They want to leave the land in a better state than they found it – for their children and their grandchildren.ains

The New Zealand government has recently set a target to improve the quality of our waterways. NZ is blessed with beautiful natural resources, but agriculture and urbanisation have had an impact. 

Currently 72% of NZ rivers meet a ‘swimmable’ standard, meaning you can swim without getting sick from bugs in the water.

The government has set a target of having 90% of rivers swimmable by 2040. This will require farmers fencing off 56,000km of waterways to exclude livestock and so reduce levels of E coli. This distance is from NZ to Europe – not once but three times. This follows the great work dairy farmers have voluntarily done for ten years to exclude nearly all dairy cows from waterways.

NZ is also keen to be a part of setting the global economy on a pathway to a low-emission future under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We realise our emissions profile is different from many other countries, with 50% of our emissions coming from animals, although we are only 0.15% of worldwide emissions.

That’s why we supported setting up the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse gases which now has 47 member countries. It’s not a one-size-fits-all work programme; it includes rice paddies, pastoral livestock and cropping.

As a niche producer making a living in global markets, NZ experiences every day the obstacles facing agricultural producers seeking to make a sustainable income from exporting.

We need to move away from jealously guarding domestic markets, and consider how we can best work together to seize the far greater opportunities and challenges being generated by spiralling global demand.

A sustainable global agricultural sector requires stable trade flows between countries, and the increased involvement of farmers, harvesters and processors in the global value chain.  

At the centre of the global food security equation is the multilateral trading system, underwritten by the World Trade Organisation. That institution still sets the rules that govern the flow of food around the world, as it has done for 23 years.

Increasingly though, regional and bilateral trade agreements are forming – coalitions of countries who realise the importance of upgrading the rules of global commerce. 

There are many areas we should be focusing on to address sustainable development. One thing is certain: for anything to succeed, the farmer must be at the centre.

• This is an edited version of a recent speech given by Primary Industry Minister Nathan Guy to the Forum for the Future of Agriculture, Brussels, Belgium.


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