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March 8, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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Pure New Zealand?

Pure New Zealand?

Farming is part of our cultural heritage. Personally I wouldn’t know, as my agricultural involvement has, until recently, been limited to childhood holidays where riding in the back of a dusty truck with a sheepdog was a thrilling adventure. Swandris, gumboots and early mornings have never really been my thing. Despite this minimal agricultural aptitude, it’s obvious to me that food production is incredibly important. No golden wedges without potatoes, no delicious cupcakes without wheat. No life without food.

Yes, farming is necessary, but surely we should aim to produce our sustenance in a way that doesn’t mangle the planet. Aotearoa makes a hefty buck from agricultural exports, but hey, it’s also wrecking our country. (Note to farm-raised peeps: I am talking explicitly about large intensive agribusinesses, not small family-owned farms. Please put down your pitchforks.)

Recently, intensive dairy farming has particularly received a lot of flak. This lactose virus has been spreading across the country with a very visible aftermath. In Canterbury one of the most dramatic consequences has been water shortages. Internationally, H2O is a super-important resource, but we in New Zealand love to give out our precious freshwater supplies to dairy farming, the results of which are largely exported.

When I imagine Canterbury I think of long flat southeastern plains, with boy racers nestled between extensive paddocks. Perhaps I also think of high crime rates, but let’s not dwell on that. The land was not always so: a few hundred years ago Canterbury offered a smorgasbord of natural resources to tāngata whenua. One of the items on this resource buffet would have been abundant freshwater. Now agribusiness is the ‘backbone’ of Canterbury. A backbone which is failing the rest of the beast. Canterbury Water Management says “Water is important for everyone in Canterbury,” and that water use should be sustainable and equitable. Oh, whatever. That’s sooo not the way they’ve been walkin’ the walk.

In light of ridiculous past water management, the government launched an investigation in 2009 to review the resource management of Environment Canterbury (ECan). The review panel recently released a report which recommends shutting down the ECan council and creating a new Canterbury Regional Water Authority.

Sounds vaguely boring, yes, but what it really means is, as the Green Party pointed out, there’d be “no democratically elected regional council”. Not only is this obscenely undemocratic, it also means that agribusinesses and dairy will probably have less hassle getting irrigation consents. Not good for ‘pure’ New Zealand.

Our delicious plot thickens when we learn that the review panel was led by former Deputy Prime Minister Wyatt Creech. Creech is the director of a large dairy company which has been fined thousands and successfully prosecuted twice for contaminating Waikato land and rivers. Would anyone like a slice of vested-interest pie?
Immediate water issues aside, we need to question whether we want the backbone of Canterbury to be intensive industrial farming. A backbone which pushes our natural resources to the limit and is unjust to present and future generations. A backbone which focuses on short-term gains to the economy.  Instead, why don’t we focus on sustainable community-orientated food production and sustainable profits. Let’s not focus on a backbone that dismays elderly Dutch couples in camper vans as they scan for green pristine paddocks but find only dirty rivers and dry parched land. At this moment we may be making Dutch senior citizens cry salty tears of disappointment onto their Cantabrian lamingtons.

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