Ok, time to get back on my high horse and give my side swipe at the food industry. Today’s topic is what have we done to our food supply and is there any hope?
In the words of Winston Churchill, To understand our future first we must first understand our past, which where food is concerned is a long and illustrious past. Throughout history control over our food supply has been the foundation that built economies and empires, the moving fortunes of our societies have been directly linked to their ability to control not only their but also their enemies food supplies. It’s sexy to believe that power and wealth lay in control of diamonds and precious metals, however the reality was that real power came from the control of salt, spices and food in general. The ability to produce salt led to the early empires in Venice and Rome, while the spice trade was fundamental to the rise and fall of the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and English. Even the most despicable parts of our history are linked to the ability to increase our food supply and therefor our power, take slavery for example, the need for cheap labour in the sugar plantations of the Caribbean facilitated the exploitation of an entire continent in the name of wealth and power. So as you can see food and human beings are connected in the most fundamental ways possible.
You’d think that this would make people like farmers the most important on earth wouldn’t you, after all they do the growing thing. Well in the past that might have been true and in New Zealand you see an economy that is still rooted in agriculture, however that has changed throughout the so called western world where the focus has moved over the last 30 to 40 years from food production to that house of cards, making money. We’ve forgotten our most basic needs in the pursuit of the mighty dollar.
I’ve waffled on enough about the past, lets look at today and a real example. Ireland, the land of green green grass and generations of farmers until the 1990’s when it jumped on the finance and property merry go round. Life was very rich indeed, there was money to be made but not in farming, the financial and property sectors sucked the brightest and best away from the land, the agricultural colleges could no longer get students but so what? life was great and surely the bubble wouldn’t burst? Unfortunately burst it did, a couple of years ago as the world was forced into recession, Irelands society was proved to be as unsustainable as many had feared.
So what now for poor old Ireland? they’ve been through it before so they accept the loss of a generation as they leave the country in search of a better life. Well actually maybe not this time, you see the Irish people are trying something a bit off the wall. They figure that they can pin their economic survival on the one thing that can’t be taken away from them, that being the land. This means that they need to outperform all previous models with an aging workforce and a land limit, so how do you raise revenue per acre when the area of mass production is probably closed to you? The maths is simple if you can’t produce more then you need to make more for what you produce. This beautiful country is staking its future on producing high quality, high value food product with the aim of being the aspirational product on the export shelves. Suddenly the colleges are full as the people return to the land and its starting to work with their food exports increasing in monetary value by over 3 billion euros in a year and some of the biggest companies in the world starting to take interest, Danone one of the biggest in global dairy corporations have raised their investment rate in Ireland on the back of the raise in quality.
Ireland you are my heroes, you’ve abandoned the American economic of model make more/cost less and replaced it with make better/charge more. Please let this be the sign of things to come.
So what about New Zealand, we too are a country that is small with a limited land supply and an economy that relies heavily on exports. Do we carry on with the American model and hope that nobody notices that it’s not sustainable or do we grab the bull by the horns and exploit the one true competitive advantage that we have on the global market place. We have probably the most perfect growing conditions of anywhere and rather than producing more for less we should be following our clean green image and creating a niche market for the highest quality and most sustainable. As the Irish are proving there is a need.