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Land-use and economics: coherent vision and planning or disaster?

Many New Zealanders grew up with a sense that the land would provide abundant food and a great wilderness for play and recreational activities.

In 1972, New Zealanders (even the poorest) were described by a political scientist Austin Mitchell, now a British MP, as living in a ‘quarter acre pavlova paradise.’(Wikipedia definition of this phrase)

Although the Western and Maori cultures had differing attitudes to the land, this freedom to grow and gather food and to play in the wide open spaces was a shared reality for both.

Pressures in the 1980s and 1990s arose on the availability of land with the opening of the New Zealand economy to global forces, an increased population, and changes in consumption patterns.

In New Zealand, constant restructuring of the economy has been paralleled by major restructuring of land use – lamb, apples, kiwifruit, timber, and now dairy.

Corporatisation of orchards, forests and farms – in particular dairy farms in rural New Zealand – and intensive urbanisation of food producing soils in and around cities has come at a cost to land for local food production, and wilderness, and with this of non-commercialised forms of play and recreation.

While the current government (October 2008) has brought more land into National Parks and reserves, the reality is that only a small proportion of New Zealanders, those who have sufficient income and time off paid and other work, get to experience these places.

Attention is currently focused on global economic turbulences and the need for economic security. In many places food security is also a major issue.

At international government and corporate levels, conversations are taking place about access and security of access to food, water and oil supplies in a context of looming scarcities.

For instance, New Zealand itself is being positioned, and is positioning itself, to become a “food basket for Asia.” The corporatisation of dairy farms is being geared towards this outcome.

Land use and changes in this use have tended to be contextualised from above – from outside of the localities and in some cases, even outside of New Zealand itself.

However, we (in New Zealand and elsewhere) also need food security in the regions and localities where we live.

New Zealand is vulnerable with a very high overseas debt. It has traditionally relied on income from the export of bulk food.

Is there enough public discussion – and thought being given at policy levels – on how to ensure local food producing soils are retained for sustainable local food production and for localised forms of play and recreation?

Is thought also being given to how to create and access adequate income in ways that do not threaten the human and physical environment?

What do you think?

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1 Comment

  1. Peggy Kelly says:

    Thank you Hazel,

    It’s a good time to raise again into community consciousness the idea of the preciousness of versatile soils – high class/grade 1 and 2 soils…….however they are currently described…..they have taken millions of years to manufacture (if they were cheese or wine or even diamonds they’d be treated with more respect!!) and very importantly, hold water and are close to the “labour market”…..