Ecologic Foundation
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Sustainable Agriculture

What are the barriers we face in making our agriculture sustainable?

While many landowners care deeply for their land and strive to be good conservationists, some still believe that landowners’ property rights are those of the pioneering era – including the rights to clear native forest, to allow stock into waterways, and to freely graze hill country without first providing soil erosion prevention plantings.

As we try to change these widespread perceptions about property rights, we face another barrier: that many farmers cannot themselves afford to finance the change-over to a new, sustainable form of agriculture.

As a nation, we need to define a landowner’s Duty of Care for the land. The Duty of Care would be a set of principles derived from a widely consultative national process.

We then need to translate those principles into action at the local level. Three tools are available, and should be used in a complementary way: education, incentives, and rules.

Education is about imparting information, motivation and a sense of urgency to tackle the eco-restoration challenge. It should emphasize participatory approaches like Landcare. Incentives are about lowering the financial barriers to action, where this is needed. Rules are about clarifying property rights and obligations, so that disputes can be avoided in future.

To support the offering of incentives to landowners, New Zealand needs at the national level, a generous Eco-Restoration Fund. The Fund would be there to help landowners come into compliance with the standards required by the Duty of Care. The barrier to creating such a Fund is that, at present, urban New Zealanders are too unaware of, and too unconcerned about, the big sustainability issues in the countryside.

Because of our failure to tackle these issues in a realistic way, New Zealand is missing out. We can, and ought to be, the cleanest, greenest and most attractive food basket and produce exporter in the world. Instead, we complacently believe we are already clean and green, while preaching to others about what we think are their failings – on whaling, nuclear power, GE crops, rainforest logging and so on.

Ecologic is committed to challenging the national complacency, and re-focusing people on the search for constructive solutions to New Zealand’s own environmental issues. In particular, we are going to coax, persuade, cajole and entice our fellow New Zealanders to make a tangible commitment to eco-restoration and to sustainable agriculture.

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