The 2020 Budget left $20 billion to be allocated for future investment. How should the Government invest the remaining $20 billion? 

This three-part series argues that the Government should invest in projects that address New Zealand’s most pressing intergenerational challenges: Inequality, climate change, and infrastructure.

The previous article examined some ideas for sustainable and equitable energy generation. This article looks into regenerative and distributive farming. In New Zealand, agriculture consists of horticulture and fruit growing, sheep, beef cattle, and grain farming, dairy cattle farming, poultry, deer, other livestock farming, etc. In 2018, the sector was responsible for 48 percent of New Zealand’s gross greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions included the following greenhouse gases: methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.  They came from came from livestock, fertiliser, energy, and waste.

The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Act 2019 sets a target for New Zealand to reduce net emissions of all greenhouse gases (except biogenic methane) to zero by 2050, and to reduce emissions of biogenic methane to 24-47 percent below 2017 levels by 2050, including to 10 percent below 2017 levels by 2030. There are numerous arguments in New Zealand about methane emissions and whether the Zero Carbon Act is sufficient. This article doesn’t cover these discussions. Rather it considers the role that regenerative and distributive farming could play in meeting the Zero Carbon Act targets and its role in supporting a flourishing social foundation and a healthy planet. 

If all New Zealand farmers were to shift to regenerative practices it would enrich our waterways, biodiversity and soil. It would also help to mitigate the negative effects of climate change.

Regenerative agriculture is a holistic, systematic approach to farming which mimics natural processes. In addition to omitting chemicals, regenerative agriculture actually replenishes and strengthens plants, soil and fauna. Some New Zealand farmers are already moving towards regenerative practices, but Government funding would enable all farmers to shift to regenerative agriculture. If all New Zealand farmers were to shift to regenerative practices, it would enrich our waterways, biodiversity and soil. It would also help to mitigate the negative effects of climate change.

Regenerative practices often involve weaning farms off fertilisers, waste and fossil fuels. It can therefore help us reach our Zero Carbon Act targets. Biogenic methane also needs to be reduced by 24-47 percent to reach our targets. This can be achieved by reducing waste and livestock numbers. Farmers are unlikely to lose profit by reducing livestock because premium prices can be charged for regenerative products in the same way that many organic products already command premium prices.

Regenerative practices can also be applied to the marine sector. Marine permaculture, the ocean farming of kelp and seaweeds, can counteract ocean acidification, climate change and loss of biodiversity by setting up the conditions that are needed for natural process to take place to restore balance to oceans. 

Māori need to be decision makers, and have self-determination of their own projects.

The Government should fund regenerative practices as they are vital in creating an agriculture sector that supports and nurtures a healthy planet. However, the production of food is only a portion of our food system. Another important aspect is the distribution of food. Distributive farming projects can support our people and reduce inequality. Distributive farming is about increasing food production within communities through networks; it is about the localisation and accessibility of food. Distributive farming in practice could take various forms, such as peer-to-peer trading through apps, community gardens, green/garden playgrounds, rooftop gardens, or urban farming. As outlined in the previous article, whatever approach is taken, it is important that it honours Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Māori need to be decision makers, and have self-determination of their own projects. Government could fund iwi, local councils or other community entities to implement projects that enable the community to produce their own produce in a manner that suits the local context.

The Budget allows for a $232 million investment to boost jobs and opportunities in the primary sector and rural New Zealand. As argued in the first article, it is important that these jobs and opportunities are future proof. The funding should equip people with regenerative organic training and jobs opportunities. Doing so would also demostrate that the Government is serious about applying a climate change lens on major decisions.

Investing in regenerative and distributed farming in a way that honours Te Tiriti o Waitangi would support a wellbeing-based economy that creates valuable markets and jobs that value our people and our planet.

The final article in this series – dealing with the circular economy - will be published shortly.