Some exciting projects emerged from the Tai Tokerau Climate Change Conference and now the challenge is to resource them. Carol Peters took the initiative leading the establishment of the Climate Change Tai Tokerau Northland Trust (CCTNT) and is applying for funding to fund two part time positions to progress the work of the trust.
The Regenerative Agriculture workshop developed plans to create more connectivity among regenerative farmers to advance work understanding the potential of pasture to sequester carbon and to enhance water flows and water quality in catchments. I have started writing a funding application to the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), but I am concerned that funding tends to gravitate to the status quo. The PGF receives hundreds of applications and no doubt these are filtered by the degree of institutional support and partners. Those connected to existing industry bodies with a research pedigree will likely be more successful.
From uniformity to diversity?
The shift we have to make from industrial food systems to regenerative food systems is daunting. The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems describes this shift clearly in From Uniformity to Diversity. It identifies eight “lock-ins” that entrench industrial food systems.
Eight locks identified in in From Uniformity to Diversity, page 45
The concentration of power continues unabated as farms get bigger, fertiliser, agrichemical, and processing companies continue to merge, and supply chains to markets consolidate. This results in recipes prescribing how to farm if you want to be in the club. The key players in this system tend to influence where research and project money goes. Those on the fringes of the industrial farming agribusiness ecosystem, in our case the regenerative farmers, are left without the support systems available to industrial farmers. For example, meat processing companies use their muscle to engage in anti-competitive practices that make it difficult for regenerative farmers to differentiate their product.
We want to quantify how soil that is managed regeneratively can sequester carbon and enhance catchments. Unfortunately in soil science in New Zealand there is tension between those that believe carbon to be in equilibrium in the soil and those who believe soil carbon levels can be increased. Consequently there is a call for more research, but progress is glacial and advice to policy makers is confused. We would like to see more citizen science, measuring how farmers in diverse situations can increase soil organic carbon.
So it is difficult to get the support from the agribusiness ecosystem and from the scientific community. Marginalised regenerative farmers have tended to box on with support only coming from their peers. Yet they could well have the soil husbandry techniques needed to turn the narrative from “farming as the problem”to “farming as a solution” to climate change, water quality and catchment resilience.
1. Citizen science and the commons
The profit motive is the major distorter of science. Ideally, funding for science is transparent and in the commons.
Jeremy Rifkin in The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism, anticipates the rise of the collaborative commons (page 2).
While I suspect that capitalism will remain part of the social schema for at least the next half century or so, I doubt that it will be the dominant economic paradigm by the second half of the twenty-first century. Although the indicators of the great transformation to a new economic system are still soft and largely anecdotal, the Collaborative Commons is ascendant and, by 2050, it will likely settle in as the primary arbiter of economic life in most of the world.
This process has started, fueled by the Internet. Wikipedia for example is a democratic, advertisement free source of a burgeoning human knowledge. Ideally, the funding of research will be from the public coffers, and findings available to all. Note, for example, that Elon Musk has opened patents on his electric vehicle technology. Knowledge moves quickly and sharing knowledge will enable more rapid innovation.
As Wikipedia has democratised knowledge, there is a need to democratise research. This can be achieved in agriculture through including farmers in research projects. This aligns with a shift in research from a treating non-researchers as subjects to including them as participants.
In Tai Tokerau, we can move toward this by establishing a Regional Research Office with a commons kaupapa. A research office could provide funding application skills, identify the diverse research activity in the region, and help broker relationships.
2. Building coalitions
Much of the work done already in the climate change space is about building coalitions. These are an antidote to entrenched commercial ecosystems. Our focus on water quality and catchment resilience aligns nicely with policy imperatives and the work of the Northland Regional Council. There are also fertiliser companies, such as Avoca who support regenerative practices. With these coalitions we can influence government policy.
The catch is that this work requires resourcing. At present it is driven mostly by volunteers and while we are motivated for change, ultimately this work, central to the public good, requires funding from the public purse.