The Urban / Rural Divide

11 Sep 2019 The Urban / Rural Divide image

The freshwater consultation launched by the Government last week has illustrated by just how much the urban / rural divide has grown.  For the first time, the degradation to freshwater quality caused by both the rural and urban sectors is being addressed. 

Urban New Zealand has been duped into believing that freshwater quality is only a rural problem – not so.  Urban New Zealand just needs to reflect on how often city beaches are closed by pollution – their pollution – to understand that it is a whole-of-country problem. 

So I think that it’s really important that urban and rural New Zealand work together to resolve our water quality issues, and this is what the Government’s plan is trying to achieve. 

This will not be easy and it will be expensive.  Media attention after the Government’s announcement last week has largely focused on the rural sector.  However, as significant rate increases strike urban New Zealand to fund urban clean ups, everyone will start to realise that the cost of cleaning up New Zealand’s waterways will be borne directly by every household in New Zealand.  Then freshwater will be seen as a whole-of-country problem, and not one where rural vs. urban.  It will also be progressively discovered by urban New Zealand that the rural sector has been cleaning up its water for some time, and that the urban sector is significantly behind in water quality improvement. 

With the Government’s announcement came a range of comments: some supportive, some not so supportive and some not supportive at all.  Here I think the rhetoric used is critical.  The water clean-up is going to be very difficult and costly but we all acknowledge we need to do it.  Whether or not you believe that the current proposals are the right ones, they are a starting point and we have time to make them more fit for purpose where that is required. 

What I need to hear is that there is an understanding that this is a difficult task.  That I’m part of a Team New Zealand that will work together, and support and aid me to adopt new technology.  I need to hear a message that there is a plan for the future and that I am part of that plan.  I believe being told that this is an impossible task and that financial ruin awaits me does not support me, my family and my community to plan for the future.  Such divisive commentary also feeds the urban / rural divide as it becomes a problem for part of New Zealand and not a problem we are all working to address collectively. 

The other point that is really telling is urban New Zealand are our consumers.  Horticulture’s success has been to give the consumer the product that they want, not what we think they should get.  Our consumers are the urban dwellers of the world – more wealthy people live in cities than in rural areas.  The environment is an important consideration for urban dwellers even if they do not understand that they are one of the main pollutants.  When it comes to buying their fresh and healthy food, urban people want to buy from growers who care for the environment. 

Media on the freshwater consultation directly feeds into our consumers’ perceptions.  And not only our New Zealand consumers but consumers around the world.  We are running multi-million dollar businesses and we need to be savvy and think globally to succeed.  As we comment on the freshwater proposals, we need to remember that ultimately, we need urban dwellers to buy our product or else we will be out of business quicker than the imposition of some regulatory requirement.

As this is now a New Zealand wide problem, urban New Zealand needs to think about from where it is going to get its fresh and healthy vegetables and fruit.  On the face of the current proposals, this appears problematic.  One example will suffice: we are losing vegetable growing land to houses and lifestyle blocks. 

Under these reforms as they currently stand, this will mean that vegetable growing is likely to stop in some areas.  Creating new vegetable growing areas, while permitted in what is proposed, is not enabled.  One possible result is our supply of fresh vegetables will reduce, scarcity will drive prices up, and New Zealand will have to start to rely on imported frozen and canned vegetables. 

What we will be proposing – and ask urban New Zealand to support and submit on – is that our vegetable growers are enabled to continue to grow healthy fresh vegetables as close to our major population centres as possible.  We need to act as one urban and rural New Zealand, uniting for the betterment of our country’s health, and ensure that the freshwater reforms also support our vegetable growing industry.

Cleaning up our waterways is a whole-of-country mission and one we can use to unite the country and bury the urban / rural divide.  Let’s all work together to achieve this outcome. 

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive