Food scarcity and arid land


In my last blog post I wrote about the importance of agriculture to our economy. Then I started hearing stories that farm sales were down, especially dairy. Apparently of over 4,000 farms on the market, only around 200 sold last month.

Good news for some of the farmers who want out, because there are foreign investors who want to buy them. One company wants to spend $1.5 Billion dollars buying NZ farms. You would have to wonder if we can’t make a good living out of farming how can other countries do it? If we do sell them, where will the earnings from those farms go? Not into our pockets I would suggest.

China has a problem. They have a large dry land mass and not enough water to grow the crops they need and a huge and growing population. What are they doing about it? They and other countries such as Middle East are buying good arable land wherever they can get it for a good price. For example China is buying farming land in Mozambique, Angola, Malawi, Nigeria and even Zimbabwe. It’s not all bad, they are teaching local farmers better techniques in animal husbandry, improving crop yields etc.

What are the motives of China and Arabic countries in buying this land? They need the food. In Ethiopia, one of the worlds poorest countries, not only are they selling land to foreign countries, they are giving them tax holidays for a number of years, but what is of greater concern is the expectation that most, if not all of the crops will be going back to countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

I ask myself therefore, again, why can’t we produce high yield crops on our fertile soils and sell it to the countries that need it. Once those countries have bought our land, we won’t be getting it back and I wouldn’t expect us to gain much in GDP from the crops they grow.

As I said in my last blog, the ‘good old days’ were when we were largely an agrarian economy, we had plenty and we also had plenty to export. Now we have fantastic biotechnology and the ability to increase yields, quality and in many cases without using GM technologies.

I would hate to look into our future and see a country that can’t feed itself, that grows crops on farms owned by other countries, go straight offshore to feed them with minimal economic benefit to us. I would welcome someone to explain the logic of this.

We have expertise, maybe we should be assisting some of those countries who are unable to maximise the return on their land, help them thrive and clip the ticket. That would be a win win. While we do that, we also continue to research and improve product, the grasses and other food sources for animal feed etc. We do have some successes such as Fonterra, Livestock Improvements and many other thriving areas of research and results in biotechnology. We should stick with what we are good at and rather than give our farms to the Chinese, Arabs and others who want them, let the Government buy them. They could be run by unemployed people, who would get training on the job and perhaps even interest free loans to purchase some of those plots and use the skills they have obtained to build themselves a healthy asset and income, while increaseing our balance of payments. Is that silly? What’s wrong with my thinking?

In February this year there were around 168,000 people unemployed. Lets put them to work on those farms, teach them a trade, help them make something of themselves and help them earn the money to buy there way in with low interest loans and subsidies. What could we produce with 168,000 people working instead of paying them to do nothing. The single person benefit is around $160. That works out to a wasted loss of around $26,880,000 per annum. I say lets buy those farms and keep them in New Zealand hands.

This Video from TVNZ gives an example of what is happening.

Free Trade with China


So here we are, it’s 2008 and New Zealand has a Free Trade Agreement with China. Lots of people are complaining that it will be one sided and that there are still tarriffs which will keep the balance fairly one sided. But the thing is we need export partners and we need tourism and our ‘friends’ in the USA won’t sign an agreement with us.

A couple of years ago I wrote a song called Mr Bush Why Can’t We Be Friends which was about this issue. New Zealand has always felt a kinship with the USA and yet they won’t give us a Free Trade Agreement. Last year I performed this song in the US and I also sent copies to various people including President Bush and Hilary Clinton.  Of course they didn’t reply, but other people have commented both from my live performances and from sites like Music Forte and the general comment was ‘Don’t judge the country by the politicians’.

But the end result is that we now have friendlier relations with China than we do with America and in my book that is wrong, very wrong. You can hear the song on my Music Forte page. The lyrics are:

Mr. Bush, Why Can’t We Be Friends

©Luigi Cappel 2006

1

We’re the social conscience of the world

We live Downunder and

We just can’t understand the way you think.

In 1984 we closed our ports to nuclear powered ships

We were clean and green

With water safe to drink

Chorus

Oh Mr. Bush I’m asking why we can’t be friends

It’s our environment we were trying to defend

Our men fought along with yours on a dozen foreign shores

Your logic I just fail to comprehend.

2

You suspended us from ANZUS

From joint training you then banned us

And a free trade agreement is out of sight.

Now we free trade with China

But not with Carolina

This is something that we think you should put right.

3

We have a peace-keeping force

That we use to reinforce

The rights of people and democracy.

We sent people to Angola, Yugoslavia and Cambodia

To East Timor, Iraq and Fiji.

4

We were in Afghanistan, Sent a frigate to Oman

We train with Aussie, UK and Singapore

We reserve the right to fight

For our democratic right

But when we want to train with you

You shut the door.

Kiwi’s are proud to play their part in the world and in my opinion fight way above their weight. It’s about time that good things happen to good people and the US stops treating us like naughty little children. We always felt an affinity with the US and still do, but instead of enjoying free trade, we are going to be getting closer to China. I suppose next thing they will call us disloyal!