New Zealand farmers have the unique opportunity to contribute to sustainably feeding global communities while producing far lower carbon emissions than elsewhere due to our innovative farming practices.

We have strong leadership, and continual improvement, in land and water use, with farmers and growers across New Zealand adopting practices to reduce water contamination and lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

This focus enables us to produce enough food to help feed a global community. 

Here in our little home of 5 million we punch well above our weight, growing sufficient food to feed more than 40 million people – and when it comes to protein, we double that success to over 80 million people. 

With a world population of 7.8 billion that is projected to go beyond 10 billion by 2050 (an increase of 80 million a year), demand is only going to continue to grow. To meet the needs of that growing population, the world will need to produce 70 percent more protein than we do today. 

The challenge ahead is how we satisfy that food need in the most environmentally sustainable way, at a global scale. 

Aotearoa is known for quality food production and our Ministry of Primary Industries has a vision to establish our country as “the world’s most sustainable provider of high-value food and primary products”.  In dairy alone we are one of the world’s most efficient producers. Every kilo of milk produced on New Zealand soil produces just one third of the greenhouse gases of the world’s biggest dairy producer - India. 

But with rising concern around the environmental impacts of food production, the pressure is on to protect our slice of paradise. 

Regulatory proposals are moving us in the direction of lowering our protein production, and the Climate Change Commission has recommended reducing livestock numbers by 15 percent by 2030 to achieve methane emission targets.

However, when we reduce our supply of valuable and environmentally efficient food source to the world, we push countries who rely on imported food to meet the nutrients needs of their communities to source their food elsewhere. And often “elsewhere” means developing nations who have limited access to the same technology and resources, and are less efficient, or able, to meet environmental regulations. 

The knock-on effect is a great example of unintended environmental consequences and wider degradation to the natural environment. Whether climate emissions are made here or in Russia or Africa, they will eventually impact us in the same way.

Before we answer immediate questions about what is happening in NZ, it may be necessary to step back and consider the consequences of trying to solve a global issue with a local solution.

Should we instead be considering our role as global citizens? If we are considering climate change worldwide, would we be better building on our strengths and producing more food, for more people, in an efficient manner?

A lesson on a smaller scale could be drawn from looking at the degradation of Lake Rotorua after decades of treated sewage disposal. While the short-term sewage problem was resolved and those living in Rotorua benefited from cheap and easy disposal, those actions risked destroying the very thing that attracted people to the area – the lake. The downstream pollution effects on connecting lakes and rivers, has created a legacy with a far wider reaching impact. 

In the same way, are we risking greater long-term harm by taking an insular view and only considering our backyard in matters of climate change? By downsizing production to feed only those in New Zealand, are we creating an even more significant worldwide problem? 

Why, do we take a global stand on accepting refugees, but we take a nationally focused viewpoint when we consider food production?

Further afield, Europe has passed legislation that mandates 25 percent of agricultural land be used for growing organic food by 2030. With research showing that converting to organic leads to a 20 to 50 percent reduction in productivity, observers have noted that developing nations, such as Africa, will have to pick up that production. 

The result? Food production is driven to the cheapest area rather than looking to more efficient production through innovation - negatively impacting on biodiversity and waterways as developing nations convert land to produce food for Europe. In short, a modern-day version of eco-colonialism.

A global, holistic view is necessary to reduce greenhouse gases emissions worldwide, with NZ a good choice for technology-driven, innovative, sustainable and efficient food production.

Ballance is a New Zealand farmer-owned co-operative, supporting Kiwis to farm productively, profitably and sustainably.