Feeding the world: it's a growing opportunity

Food security is a relatively new term for many New Zealanders. I imagine this is because we live in a country that produces so much food that we can export our surplus (New Zealand produces enough food to feed 100 million people). Not every country enjoys this level of food security - in fact many cannot feed themselves and are required to import food to feed their people. Japan is a well- known example.

It is these factors that are underpinning foreign investment into New Zealand land. It's a relatively well-known point that China, for all its wealth, does not have sufficient productive land to feed its 1.3 billion inhabitants and so has been buying up large tracts of land in Africa and other countries to help meet its population's food requirements.

Societies with long-term planning horizons such as China are acting now to secure their food sources for the long term. Societies with shorter planning horizons - such as New Zealand - are selling their productive lands to them.

The future is expected to throw up several challenges.

In 50 years the global population is expected to reach nine billion. To sustain this population, the world needs to double its food production.

This challenging task is made all the more difficult by the fact that it will need to be done with less arable land than is presently farmed, less water than is presently used, less agricultural inputs, and if the present rate continues - fewer farmers to grow the food.

It's also made more difficult when we consider that world food production is actually declining.

Consider for a moment the fact that one farmer feeds about 350 people.

Ironically at a time when farming is falling out of favour as a career choice for many young New Zealanders, the future is actually going to need more farmers than we are presently producing.

In the Western World the average age of farmers is 55 years. A big problem for many of these people is succession - finding someone within the family to take over the business. This is presently difficult because land prices are so high and many younger generations do not want to take on high levels of debt to buy the family farm and fund their parents' retirement.

So why is my opinion piece discussing a topic more in keeping with the Thursday farming pages of the Daily News when I'm supposed to be providing a Maori perspective on topical issues? Well mainly because I really believe this environment represents a significant opportunity for young Maori to position themselves as the future of New Zealand farming.

As Maori we have collective access to land and finance and numerous training opportunities with land-based training organisations and universities. There are numerous Maori Land Trusts and Incorporations around the country willing and able to provide land-based employment opportunities for qualified young Maori wanting to develop careers in agribusiness and land management.

And it requires patience and hard work and the ability to put in the hard yards and invest into a longer term future.

I recently attended a Global Farmers Masterclass in the Netherlands which challenged participants to consider how farmers would feed the world in the future. Fifty farmers from different nations met to discuss issues of increasing food production while managing issues of sustainability, succession and social stability. I wish I could have taken a classload of young people to this forum so that they might hear the potential that the future holds for those who can feed the world.

The promise of the future for Maori agribusiness is real and is significant - but it will only be realised if our young people are willing to take up the challenge of learning about modern agribusiness.

It is my sincerest hope that they do.

Taranaki Daily News