From Waitaki to the world

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Attending the Global Farmer Network Roundtable in Iowa as New Zealand’s sole representative was ‘‘a really amazing experience’’, Jane Smith says. The Five Forks sheep and beef farmer has just returned from discussions with farmers from 12 other countries, where the audience included World Bank and African Bank leaders, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Gates Foundation personnel, Nuffield Scholars and graduate students. The delegates came from the United States, Canada, Britain, Nepal, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Rwanda, Brazil, India, Indonesia. Mrs Smith said they were ‘‘a humble group of farmers’’, chosen for their ability to speak about farming. She mentioned her own family farm only a few times when it was relevant and mostly talked about the wider situation in New Zealand, including the dairying, arable and horticulture sectors. The Global Farmer Network is a non­profit advocacy group supporting trade expansion and access to technology for productivity and sustainability. One of the main topics was trade. The World Bank president said free trade was vital to feed the world, Mrs Smith said. He told delegates $US585 billion was wasted on subsidies around the world, which was a ‘‘false economy’’. All the countries present had some form of financial protection for their farmers, except New Zealand. The African Bank representative said his continent had enough food to sustain its population and could be self­sufficient were it not for political interference and lack of technology. The world already produces enough carbohydrates, but more protein and micronutrients were needed. Advocacy for farming was another major topic. It had three strands — between farmers, from farmers to legislators and regulators, and from farmers to the general public. Mrs Smith said the other delegates were interested to learn of our levy­funded extension groups like Beef and Lamb New Zealand and DairyNZ. She realised how lucky she was to have easy access to MPs and the backing of Federated Farmers. A further revelation was the widespread benefits genetic technology was giving to many countries. It allowed African countries to plant drought­tolerant crops and inject Omega 3 and vitamin A into plants to improve people’s health, Mrs Smith said. ‘‘It’s speeding up natural selection that would have happened anyway. But it could have been two decades away, whereas now it’s two years away.’’ New Zealand’s lack of an official position was holding it back, she believed. She was not saying it was right or wrong but if New Zealand chose not to adopt it, that should be worth a premium on the world market. If New Zealand adopted it, the ‘‘pragmatic, practical end’’ of the practice should be presented. One of the strongest messages Mrs Smith received was that New Zealand was not making the most of its farming successes, producing goods with no subsidies that were the envy of the world. In the roundtable’s last ten years, 140 farmers have been involved. They have an active social media network.