Agriculture is a cornerstone of both our national economy and our national mythology for the same reason; we’re really good at growing things. It’s the backbone of the country, we are told, but both our economy and our environment would benefit if we focused less on sausages, and more on sirloin.
According to our Prime Minister of Tourism, our “100% Pure” brand is an aspiration, a marketing slogan that nobody seriously expects to take seriously. Environmental complacency aside, this provides a pretty big obstacle for businesses who are, legitimately, 100% Pure. In 2010, the global market for organic food and beverage was worth US$59 billion. Organics Aotearoa New Zealand (OANZ)’s Brendan Hoare predicts this will be grow to US$105 billion by 2015. In 2012, New Zealand’s organics market was valued at just NZ$350 million. You don’t have to be a master of the pie graph to realise that there is potential for that to grow exponentially.
So, how is our tourism strategy standing in the way of this rapidly expanding international market? Well, when your regular meat & vegetables are trading on the clean and green image, then you put something certified organic next to it on the table, people start to ask questions. Nothing shows up our aspirational clean, green brand better than a quantifiable clean, green brand. The potential for New Zealand to be a world leader in this lucrative international market is being held back because the old guard of agriculture are trading on a lie.
Any government with a long term vision for our country’s economy, and environment, would be doing whatever it could to capitalise on this trend. The wine industry already have a strategy in place to make 20% of its product organic because they see the demand, and the value, and they’re filling it. Pretty basic business, really. Currently only around 1% of our agriculture sector is Certified Organic. Every step we take to increase this adds value for the farming community. Even if we can’t get people on board to save the planet, surely we can convince them to make more money!
Farmers cop a lot of flak from the Green movement, but it is unfair to tar them all with the same brush. Yes, overly intensive farming practices, particularly dairy farming, are bad for the planet and incredibly short-sighted economic development strategies. But there are still a number of farmers capable of seeing the bigger picture, and take their responsibility as guardians of the land seriously. Organic farming is 30% less fossil fuel intensive than industrial agriculture. Fewer toxins on the farm mean fewer toxins leaching into our waterways. There is more money to be made, it future proofs the industry, and it helps give our grandchildren a better shot at being able to live and play on the land.The sooner our government, alongside the farming industry and agricultural scientists, pick this up and run with it, the better off we will all be.