24 September 2019

Make New Zealand Great Again!

*Cheers Peter Roband for the artful ‘Hats Off’ blog header image

This past month we have made definite strides to copy the United States and divide the country between rural and urban. It worries me that propaganda has been used to stir up and isolate farmers throughout the country.

Before I dive into that subject, let’s look at some background to my concerns.

How many of us have heard of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s)?

I have been shocked to find that many New Zealanders I’ve spoken to have not even heard of these targets which came into force on 1 January 2016.

Image Credit

There are 17 of them and they are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. “Leave no one behind” is the SDG tagline.

These SDG’s address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, peace and justice. These goals interconnect and in order to leave no one behind, it is important that we achieve each goal by 2030.

I got the opportunity to attend the New Zealand Sustainable Goals Summit conference in Auckland recently to find out how we are tracking as a nation, and how others were doing too.

We had an excellent range of speakers, with the impressive Dame Helen Clark opening the day. I always look forward to hearing from her, as she has so much international experience and is very brave in calling out bullsh*t. Clark emphasised that the voice of small progressive countries is needed, and that we should use our privileged lives to good effect.

Then we had Jeffery Sachs patch in from New York. This guy is a world-renowned professor of economics, leader in sustainable development, bestselling author, and syndicated columnist whose monthly newspaper columns appear in more than 100 countries. He knows his sh*t.

In seven minutes, we learned from Sachs:

  • No country on the planet is up to date with their SDG plan.
  • The world looks to Aotearoa to lead change and we are #1 on many of the United Nations SDG indicators.
  • Jacinda Ardern is highly respected globally for her Wellbeing Budget.
  • Globalisation has worked well for the rich, but not so well for the average citizen.
  • As a result, many countries are now turning to Nationalism, which he believed is a dangerous paradigm shift internationally.
  • In 2019 globally, there are 200 million children who are not at school that should be.

The problem with speakers of this calibre starting the day, is that the poor locals who follow can struggle in their wake, however many were exceptional.

I’m not going to do a blow by blow of the speakers, but what was obvious was the fact that the activists who were speaking were very eloquent. Forest and Bird and Greenpeace representatives were both compelling speakers for example. Why? Because if you can’t present your cause you are toast.

Conversely, the speakers from the farming industry were… not there…at all! Not one. In fact, I was the only person there from a farming background! I was totally surprised by this.

Why is this important? Because 11 of the 17 United Nations SDG’s are related to farming, either directly or indirectly, and yet not one farmer representative was in the crowd of 422 present. When we went into our individual breakout sessions, the regenerative farming group was very, very small i.e. just me!

So, what a pleasant surprise to go along to the Ministry for the Environment’s roadshow, the following week in Palmerston North, and see hundreds of farmers and farming representatives there. They turned up to listen to the new clean water legislative proposals that the Labour Coalition Government are going to roll out, and this was part of the consultation process.

The National Government had proposed their own plan back in February 2017, to line up with SGD’s 6 and 14 that the National Ministers had signed up for in 2016. Both parties want clean water in our lakes and rivers so that we can swim in them! Boom. Love it.

Back to the roadshow. This was for both urban and rural audiences and the speakers were to cover all aspects in the proposal.

What transpired over the next two hours was a huge outpouring of emotion from the farmers present. It wasn’t fair that they needed to clean up their act, and fence streams, and review farming practices. They knew best, on how to look after the environment, oh, and don’t tell us what to do. Besides, the cities are disgusting polluters, and the townies need to sort themselves out before telling us what to do.

Well on that night the townies may as well have not turned up, because they only got five minutes at the end to discuss the impending changes to their new world order.

At the end of the night I ventured up to some of my old colleagues who I know and respect from the farming days, and asked, ‘Is this such a big deal?’ They both replied, ‘nope, the informed farmers are heading in this direction already.’

I left the roadshow slightly bemused by the bloodletting and thinking…that was a lot of hot air, but okay, time to get back to work.

But no. I then start noticing on social media that apparently poor farmers are being vilified (had to look that word up). Open letters were being penned to Prime Minister Ardern:

  • Come and look at my farm and I will show you what wonderful custodians of the environment we are.
  • Don’t pick on us – we’re vulnerable.
  • We are the backbone of the country; how dare you tell us what to do!
  • Farmers deserve respect.
  • Ardern hates farmers.
  • Oh, and we are going to vote you out!

All good stuff.

However, my concern is these posts are bordering on, or in fact are, a concerted propaganda ploy by right-wing lobbyists and politicians. And that my friends, is not okay.

Spreading misinformation for political gain is not democracy. That’s being very naughty indeed. We have seen what happened in the United States when Trump started using these tactics. The isolated get confused and start believing the misinformation.

So, let’s explore what is real.

1) Firstly, very few people (counting on your fingers) are vilifying farmers:

What is happening? Farmers are being scrutinised and found wanting across a number of environmental indicators. Not all farmers, but enough to raise alarm. It has happened because water quality in rivers and lakes (of which 98% run through rural New Zealand) are in decline. Also, drones have been used to film the appalling practices of winter grazing of cattle, and this has been broadcast at home and around the world.

Scrutiny is a wonderful thing, but it is really uncomfortable, even when you are used to it. New Zealand farmers are not used to it. This is their new norm and finding a way to cope is going to be important.

However, they are not alone. There are many worthy professions that come under regular scrutiny:

  • Doctors have had to bear scrutiny following two major cervical cancer screening enquiries – one of which resulted in a royal commission after a damning Metro magazine article. This addressed issues of consent – now a major cornerstone of medical practice.
  • The health system (which is arguably vastly under-resourced) as a whole is frequently (and often with cause) criticised. Doctors, nurses and midwives are frequently being reported to the Health and Disability Commission, and Medical Council.
  • Police bear regular criticism from the public – in the face of an extremely challenging task. The IPCA does not shy away from robust investigation of police incidents and making public its findings. Police will also prosecute their own in a courtroom.
  • Now the banks are starting to feel the pinch of public scrutiny. Just recently the banking ombudsman has announced a dramatic increase in complaints about banking – following on from the commission of inquiry into banking in Australia.
  • Civil engineering has been the subject of inquiry since the Christchurch earthquake.
  • And spare a thought for the poor old Pope. He would have preferred that his priests weren’t scrutinised. But, due to the dogged determination of dedicated activists and journalists, many less children are being raped and molested every year. Not all priests molested children. But enough to bear scrutiny.

The list goes on, but you get the drift peeps. The point is every one of these professions is better off as a result. Farming will be too.

2) Secondly – Jacinda Ardern does not hate farmers:

That’s just being silly, as I doubt that she actually hates anyone. But go ahead and vote her out by all means. It’s not going to change the future of environmental scrutiny of farmers at all. Do you think National are going to repeal this legislation? Why would they? They were the party that signed up to the SDG’s in the first place…remember??

And yes…the cities are polluting our waterways too. Yes, they are and it’s their job to sort it out. And just like the informed farmers, some of the towns are on their way already.

Wanaka, for instance, has a grassroots group who are working towards making the town carbon neutral and they plan to hold a 6-day conference around this subject. And guess what? They are all volunteers.

Meanwhile, in Christchurch city they are facing the prospect of having to deal with nitrates in their aquifer system, caused by dairy farms.

So, what is the real reason for the farmers’ gnashing of teeth and “poor us” mentality?

I think the best way to understand what is going on with the emotions of farmers right now comes from David Rock, a neuroscientist who has worked out what gets people upset.

He has developed the SCARF model which sets out five things that trigger negative emotions in humans, and it’s proven to be really accurate.

S = Status – our relative importance to others.
C = Certainty – our ability to predict the future.
A = Autonomy – our sense of control over events.
R = Relatedness – how safe we feel with others.
F = Fairness – how fair we perceive exchanges between people to be.

If people feel any one of these five are in action they will become negatively triggered. Take a look. Farmers have had all five triggered. This sums up what this blog is all about – right here:

Status – Farmers believe they are the backbone of the country. Well, that may have been true many years ago, when they cleared more forest as a percentage of total land mass than any other nation on earth to produce food for the United Kingdom. But, it’s no longer the sacred cow. Other industries have developed more quickly and while farming is still important, it needs to understand where it truly fits in the economy and social fabric.

One very big downside to being a farmer, is that most people you come in contact with week-on-week are trying to sell you a service or goods of some sort. Everyone is being very nice to you as a result, and it’s a surprise when you get negative feedback.

Certainty – The call for the water clean-up has taken farmers by surprise it seems, and they don’t know what is coming down the track? Uncertainty is a huge trigger of anxiety, and this is alive and well in the rural sector. The antidote to anxiety is curiosity. The key to curiosity is asking great questions. What great questions are the farming leaders asking? I see a huge hole in rural leadership nationally.

Autonomy – If you want to produce food in today’s world, you cannot just do whatever you want. Transparency is the new norm and no one is exempt. Farmers suffer from the fact they seldom, if ever, interact with their customers so feedback is minimal. Being in any business, means not being in control of many things. Collaboration is a must, not an exception. But, to be fair, none of us like to be legislated!

Relatedness – The gap between rural and urban is growing. Is this a bad thing? Maybe? Maybe not? However, responding in a petulant way to new environmental reforms is not an ideal strategy to fill the hearts of urbanites with goodwill towards farmers. I spend more time in the cities than the rural areas, and I do not hear farmers being bad-mouthed. This vilification is being fuelled by National MP’s and right-wing commentators. This is the propaganda I see and I’m calling it out. Make New Zealand Great Again, is an outcome of a divisive ploy.

Fairness – I hear this a lot from farmers. Especially from farmers’ wives on social media. How do you determine what is fair? Here’s something to consider; Aotearoa is a privileged country and farmers are some of the most privileged in this land. They are a big industry, yet of the $52 billion annual income tax take, less than $1 billion is paid by farmers. This is despite farmers sitting on huge asset bases. Is that fair for example? Would this trigger “fairness” in urban folks?

The downside of social media:
What is apparent at present, is the use of social media in emotional storms like we are in the middle of right now. The problem is that most people are connected with other friends who invariably think like them, and the chance for counter views to be expressed is lessened. When they are, it’s easily dampened down.

One of my favourite examples is a mother complained on Facebook that her kids were coming home from school with stories of pollution created by the rural sector, taught to them by some “bloody leftie teacher”. Ha. The cheek of it.

I responded with the memory of my 16-year old sister who, in 1966, came home from Tararua College and told my father (a farmer) that DDT was not good to use on the farm as a pesticide – it got into the food chain and killed off unintended animals like hawks etc. “Bloody leftie teachers” was muttered and she was sent to her room with a stern telling off.

Some things just don’t change.

So, what to do?
To sort out this water quality issue we need to be all in, as a nation! It’s going to need investment and ingenuity and then the rewards will come in many ways.

And this is only the beginning of a food revolution. Check out these links if you want to hear from more learned people than me on the matter.

I am about to become a grandparent for the first time. Very excited! The last thing I want to hear to hear from my mokopuna is, “what was it like to swim in a river Grandad?”

My question to our farmers is, “What sort of ancestor do you want to be?” **

**This is a powerful, but not an original question, the concept being borrowed from some wonderful work the Wakatū Incorporation and others are doing down south around their Te Tauihu Intergenerational Strategy.

Ian Harvey (Harv)


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