A healthy New Zealand

Hort Talk
with Mike Chapman
HorticultureNZ CEO

This year’s wellbeing budget has focused on the wellbeing of every New Zealander with, in particular, $2 billion allocated to mental health. There was also a very large cash increase for hospitals across the nation as they struggle to meet the demand for health services.

As a country, like every other in the world, we’re struggling to keep pace with the demand for health services. One statistic illustrates this point well. Global prevalence of diabetes in adults rose from 4.7 per cent in 1980 to 8.5 per cent in 2014 with the major contributor being diet.

There are massive savings to be made on health expenditure if we all change our diets and start to eat much more healthy food on a regular basis. There is a catch here – to eat healthy food, we need to be able to grow it. Across the country we’re facing increasing challenges to our ability to grow fresh fruit and vegetables. Having the right land to grow on, enough water for plants and the regulatory approvals from councils are all necessary ingredients.


The problems we’re facing are: we’re losing land to house and lifestyle blocks – high quality land that is best for growing the most healthy produce; water consents are becoming more difficult to get and even where there is an allocation, it is being reduced in many catchments; and, councils are not recognising the need to provide for NZ to feed itself with healthy food. We’re working on all three of these problems.

Access to water is a real conundrum as paradoxically we’re facing a water supply crisis in all of our key growing areas in NZ. Unlike most of the world, our water crisis is not that we do not have enough water. Our water crisis is we do not capture, store and use our water to sustain our rural economy and meet the ever-increasing urban demands. According to NIWA, 80 per cent of NZ’s rainfall runs out to sea, 18 per cent evaporates and only two per cent is actually used. We therefore have virtually unlimited potential to make much better use of rainfall.

In many regions the prospect of water takes being compulsorily reduced is real, but unnecessary. Then, as noted above, there’s the challenge to get new and renewed water consents. In addition we face the likelihood of increased droughts due to the impact of climate change. Water is a critical element to feed NZ. Getting this message across to government is one of our top priorities at present: water capture and storage is a must for NZ’s future sustainability.

Dual challenges

Water storage has many advantages including meeting the ever-increasing demands from urban NZ for a reliable water supply. One key advantage from water storage is its contribution to environmental sustainability. During time of heavy rainfall water is captured and stored, reducing the impacts of flooding and silting of rivers making it all but impossible for the survival of fish and aquatic species. When there is drought stored water can be used to maintain river and stream flows to enable aquatic life and fish to survive. In addition, for horticulture it means crops can continue to be grown and quality maintained.

As we meet dual challenges of climate change and feeding NZ healthy food, we’ll need to build many more water storage schemes. The cost and scale of what is required is such that only the Government working with local communities can achieve what will be needed for our very survival. We therefore should see more water storage options being supported by our Government as this will save on health care expenditure.


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