Mixed Fortunes

Sunrise in the windows of an 100 year old building in Tokomaru Bay on the morning the Mixed Fortunes report was released. #metaphor

Sunrise in the windows of an 100 year old building in Tokomaru Bay on the morning the Mixed Fortunes report was released. #metaphor

Community leaders scrambling to defend the region in light of the Salvation Army report yesterday was understandable but a bit disappointing.

I’m not sure why anyone was surprised that Northland and Gisborne top the country for all the worst statistics – it’s been that way for a few generations now. Shooting the messenger – before even reading the message – shows both a lack of confidence in the region and credibility as a commentator.

If we look behind the numbers in the report it is completely understandable that Gisborne stands out – we have a very low population compared to other regions and lower average income and higher Māori population. Wellington, Auckland and even Tauranga have communities facing similar challenges to Gisborne but their regional statistics look better because they have higher proportions of the community with higher incomes and there are more employment opportunities in big centres. Māori are still recovering from the impacts of colonisation and it will take some time and better efforts from everyone before Māori health, justice, education and employment statistics are equal with the rest of the population.

Urban migration from rural communities to metropolitan centres is a global phenomenon as small family farms become marginal in the face of industrialised agri-business. Increasing profits by using machines instead of more costly human labour has been the point of business since the industrial revolution. And we wonder why we have an unemployment problem?

I think the report is really helpful and we should be thanking the Salvation Army for helping draw attention to the issues again.

A local yesterday said “the Salvation Army doesn’t know Gisborne”, those kinds of comments show that there are people in Gisborne who don’t really know Gisborne.

I was pleased to hear a couple of councillors have invited the report author to come to Gisborne for a discussion about the report findings and recommendations.

The recommendation to develop national sustainability goals to ensure the progress of all regions should also be taken up at a local level. Unfortunately there seems to be little sense of urgency within the local institutions that have the mandate and resources to influence significant change:

  • Gisborne District Council continues to excuse itself from any meaningful leadership in terms of truly sustainable development. Other councils have at least developed useful regional progress measures that help identify where more attention and resources are required to affect meaningful change.
  • Tairawhiti District Health Board seems to understand some of the issues but is hamstrung by central government priorities, high salaries for some medical staff and limited funds having to stretch further each year.
  • Eastland Community Trust and iwi authorities have limited mandates and capabilities at present but they do have ambitious vision, significant capital and opportunities to marshal additional support.
  • Activate Tairawhiti has a big mandate but no resources to do anything other than organise meetings.
  • Local offices of central government agencies are driven by their bosses in Wellington rather than local priorities.

Likewise we need a local plan to meet the challenges of an aging population, resource scarcity and rising inequality in our region. Accelerating the adoption of new technologies and social arrangements, could help but those arrangements may also require understanding our situation differently. For example the official deprivation levels in Kaiti and Ruatoria are the same but the issues are quite different – on the Coast access to quality health services may be a big challenge but families don’t need to earn a lot when they depend less on the supermarket and more on the land and sea to source food. For example, should public policy encourage more families to return to small farming?

So let’s welcome this useful piece of research, thank the authors and take the time as a community to fully appreciate the reality of the opportunities available to us as a region.

Tapuwaeroa, Ruatoria

Where did all the farmers go? Or how much useful energy is stored in human belly fat?

In his 1979 essay “Energy in Agriculture” the American farmer, author and activist (some say prophet) Wendell Berry reflects on a memoir by Donald Hall of life on his grandparents’ New England farm from the 1930s to the 1950s.

The farm produced food for the household and made a cash income from a small hand-milked herd of Holsteins (Fresians) and a flock of sheep. It had trees for firewood and mayple syrup. Sales of wood paid for the girls to go to school and while the farm and family were ‘poor’ by modern standards with only a small income, they also only spent a small amount. Its energy economy was largely independent of its money economy. The energy of this farm came largely from people and from one horse. This farm was based on patterns of agriculture that have been extinguished by the methods of industrial agriculture and modern capitalism. Farms like the Hall’s gave way to assumptions of “progress” that privileged the city over the country, the large-scale over the small, uniformity over diversity.

Profound in my context was Berry’s brief history lesson about urbanisation. Trends in the US rural drift to the cities have been mirrored in Aotearoa New Zealand, nowhere more so than the East Coast. One of Berry’s main points is that as ‘agribusiness’ grew in the 20th Century it favoured land that was easy for large, mechanised tools of production to access – namely large, flat to easy country so while small-holdings both in New England and around Ruatoria had been successfully cultivated for hundreds of years, new technology meant the small family farm could not compete with the industrial agriculture of large companies that bought or leased massive tracts of land in other parts of the country.

Rural communities that had been largely self-sufficient quickly emptied as families could no longer find work – either because farms in the area had been bought or leased to corporations and the production had been taken over by machines, or because the modest cash income – that had supplemented food grown by the household for itself – had dried up when cheaper produce was sourced from larger farms.

Apirana Ngata as Minister of Native Affairs encouraged the wholesale clearance of native bush on the East Coast and other parts of New Zealand still occupied by Māori for conversion to small scale dairy farms.

Apirana Ngata as Minister of Native Affairs encouraged the wholesale clearance of native bush on the East Coast and other parts of New Zealand still occupied by Māori for conversion to small scale dairy farms.

Uncle Tui Tibble was born in the 1930s and remembers dozens of small dairy herds being milked daily in the 10km between Makarika and Ruatoria. Likewise Aunty Patricia, born in 1940, spent her years before going to boarding school milking cows with her nanny on the East Cape. Her secondary schooling was largely paid for by the income from the cows.

Those were the days when local families would milk between 30 and 100 cows every morning, put the full containers out at the gate for collection and receive a ‘cream cheque’ each fortnight. Most of that cream went to the Butter Factory in Ruatoria.

Ruatōria was well-known for its Ngāti-Porou Co-operative Dairy Company, and the Nāti-branded butter its factory produced won the national award for the best butter for several years in succession. The cooperative was a predominantly Māori venture and the financing, which included buying herds for intending suppliers, was distinctive. It began in the 1925–26 season with 58 suppliers and an output of 61 tons of butter; within 10 years it had 377 suppliers and an output of 743 tons. The company featured in the 28 May 1952 issue of The Weekly News. The article said:

’It is staffed and managed entirely by Maoris, and 90 percent of its cream supply comes from farms under Maori ownership or management.’

Ngati-Porou Co-operative Dairy Co. Ltd. factory, Factory Rd, Ruatoria, 2015

Ngati-Porou Co-operative Dairy Co. Ltd. factory, Factory Rd, Ruatoria, 2015

The building still stands, but with a declining milk supply the factory itself closed in 1954. The factory closure didn’t come because the cows went dry, it wasn’t the impact of a prolonged drought or a milk powder contamination scare. It was in fact the intersection of two massive social shifts – urbanisation and large-scale industrialisation of the agricultural sector. The post-war baby boomers were the first generation of ‘consumers’, production shifted away from small family farms and at the same time people shifted away from farms. Before the Second World War 80% of Māori lived in rural communities, the 2013 Census found that over 80% of Māori now live in urban centres. In fact the War was largely responsible for taking men (and women) not only into active service but to work in city factories supporting the war effort.

This graph shows the increase in the percentage of Māori living in urban areas between 1926 and 1986. The rate of urban migration was particularly rapid after the Second World War. Source: Te Ara Encyclopedia of NZ

The increase in the percentage of Māori living in urban areas between 1926 and 1986. Source: Te Ara Encyclopedia of NZ

With a booming population and increasing ‘prosperity’ in the post-war years, Māori and Pākehā expectations and aspirations changed – higher education, increased mobility and expanded choices were the basis for massive relocations into cities over the next few decades.

Berry explains it this way:

…something was gaining speed in our country that I think will seem more and more strange as time goes on. This was a curious set of assumptions, both personal and public about ‘progress’. If you could get into a profession, it was assumed, then of course you must not be a farmer; if you could move to the city, then you must not stay in the country; if you could farm more profitably in the corn belt [Poverty Bay flats, Canterbury Plains, Pukekohe], then the moutainsides of New England [East Coast] must not be farmed. For years this set of assumptions was rarely spoken and more rarely questioned, and yet it has been one of the most powerful social forces at work in this country [and around the world] in modern times.

and Berry argues it was made possible by the myth of cheap energy:

But these assumptions could not accomplish much on their own. What gave them power, and made them able finally to dominate and reshape our society, was the growth of technology for the production and use of fossil fuel energy. This energy could be made available to empower such unprecedented social change because it was “cheap.” But we were able to consider it “cheap” only by a kind of moral simplicity: the assumption that we had a “right” to as much of it as we could use. This was a “right” made solely by might. Because fossil fuels, however abundant they once were, were nevertheless limited in quantity and not renewable, they obviously did not “belong” to one generation more than another. We ignored the claims of posterity simply because we could, the living being stronger than the unborn, and so worked the “miracle” of industrial progress by the theft of energy from (among others) our children.

Berry argues, not only did the cultural values of society shift along with more ‘metropolitan’ tastes and consumption habits increasingly dependent on manufactured food, but more importantly the shifts were a logical consequence of ‘marginal’ farms in New England – and the East Coast of Aotearoa New Zealand – being abandoned – not because they were unproductive or undesirable as living places.

They were given up for one very “practical” reason: they did not lend themselves readinly to exploitation by fossil fuel technology… Industrial agriculture needs large, level fields. As the scale of technology grows, the small farms with small or steep fields are pushed farther and farther toward the economic margins and are finally abandoned…

Today we find ourselves in a situation where thousands of hectares of land on the East Coast and other parts of the country that were once highly ‘productive’ as family farms are now lying fallow, gathering millions in rates debt. While some estimates classifying up to 80% of Māori land as ‘under-performing’ or ‘unproductive’ may be exaggerated, and the benefits of ‘undeveloped’ land may turn out to be quite profitable, and whether or not law reform is required to address the complexities of tenure and management, the fact remains that Māori land in our community is rarely being utilised like it was to enable whānau to grow their own food and derive some modest income from what can be sold, swapped or given away.

Tapuaeroa, Ruatoria

Tapuaeroa, Ruatoria

Berry laments the massive waste associated with the modern ‘efficient’ agricultural methods. There is the waste of solar energy that farming has depended on for millennia – both as a motive power and as a growing power; the waste of animal energy – particularly when animals are confined and feed has to be transported to them; the waste of soil and soil health as massive agricultural machinery compresses the soil and sees it blown as dust or be drained away during rain because it is more ‘efficient’ to leave large areas exposed between crops. But possibly the biggest waste is that of human energy and ability:

Industrial agriculture replaces people with machines; the ability of millions of people (maybe tens of thousands in Aotearoa New Zealand) to become skillful and to do work therefore comes to nothing. We now have millions (tens of thousands) on some kind of government support, grown useless and helpless, while our country becomes unhealthy and ugly for want of human work and care. And we have additional millions (hundreds of thousands) not on welfare who grown equally useless and helpless for want of health. How much potential useful energy do we now have stored in human belly fat? And is it costing us, not only in medical bills, but in money spent on diets, drugs and exercise machines?

A pretty harsh analysis and probably won’t go down well with the liberals, but it resonates with many of us who might even have grown up on or close to small farms but have lost the knowledge, skills and motivation to fend for ourselves, kill our own meat and grow our own fruit and vegetables… and have grown accustomed to an unhealthy way of life so different to that of Uncle Tui’s childhood or Donald Hill’s grandparents.

Makarika Valley

Makarika Valley

Of course it is easy to romanticise the ‘good old days’ and living off the land when actually there’s very little that is glamorous or easy about it. Our friends and neighbours who live ‘closer to the land’ than we do at present struggle with the challenge of the workload of growing your own – as Hirini Kaa‘s grandfather said in his diary: ‘Kumara is such hard work every day except Christmas, Easter and Sunday mornings.” A poor season and smallharvest can mean a very lean winter, living off the grid can mean cold nights, constant illness and modest incomes can mean insecure land tenure and investing everything in land that is whipped away by those who can take it… all the trappings of the ‘simple life’ that our ‘easy life’ is setup to avoid at all costs.

Still, a small and determined group of hardy souls have kept the faith and whether it was pacifist religious communities after the war, hippy communes and intentional communities through the 70s, the NZ Small Farmers Association that my father Graham Caddie was briefly President of in the late 80s, more recent Catholic Worker farms in the Hokianga, Kapiti Coast and Central Hawkes Bay or stubborn whānau who simply refuse to leave their whenua and have continued to farm the blocks handed down to them – authentic examples have been quietly growing about their business while the rest of society chases the Kiwi Dream- however that is defined in these days of three quarters of a million dollars average house prices.

Te Ao Hou Marae, Tikitiki/Rangitukia

Te Ao Hou Marae, Tikitiki/Rangitukia

Moving rural this year, back to Tarsh’s marae at Makarika just south of Ruatoria was largely motivated by a cultural imperative around the retention and revitalisation of Te Reo Māori for our children and ourselves, but it seems to be increasingly offering a much wider range of opportunities to deepen our relationship with each other and the rest of Creation in a surprisingly spiritual encounter with the whenua, our collective histories and potential futures as Berry again articulated so much of so well in a recent article last month.

It feels like new beginnings for our family in so many ways – and while there’s nothing romantic about killing field mice that are just trying to shelter from the cold on a frosty morning – there is so much beauty all around us, so much potential to live in a more balanced way with the world around and inside us, and so much opportunity to have fun while making mistakes and growing together. It’s a bit scary but all exciting journeys should be.

Scoring own goal can mean you’re trying to change the rules – or The Game

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 1.32.44 pm

Kia ora Nandor, thanks for this great post: ‘Not Voting is An Own Goal‘.

I think you make some valid points though I disagree with you on a couple of others.

For the first time, I didn’t vote this election – it was mostly for personal reasons but it got me thinking about the more public/political reasons for choosing not to vote:

  • Ignorance about the political system, the rights and responsibilities of citizens, etc. is one reason some people do not vote. They haven’t made an effort to find out, or have thought it was not something they are allowed to do because it’s just not a system or society they feel a part of in any meaningful way. (Read this excellent reflection on these issues)
  • Others just ‘can’t be bothered’, they know they probably should but can’t get motivated enough to spend 15 minutes of their time going into a polling booth. That lack of motivation has a variety of contributing factors to it which may include being new to the place or just having other more pressing personal priorities, which may include emotional or physical needs.
  • Others choose not to vote because they honestly don’t know which person or party they would want to give their vote to – they feel ill informed and unwilling to commit one way or another because they haven’t got enough information.
    Another group don’t want to vote because they don’t have confidence in any party or politician – as a society politicians are way down the bottom of professions we trust. They have heard all the promises, probably participated in elections previously and maybe been a member of a political party but have been so disappointed by the inability of any party to live up to the expectations they held that they currently can no longer bring themselves to support any party or candidate.
  • I’m not sure if it’s a different group, a subset of the last one or just the same people with a different expression for their lack of confidence, but there are people who have given up on the whole process, the ones you suggest don’t want to legitimise a rotten system and think that voting ‘just encourages the politicians’. You suggest that this decision to not vote ‘will have absolutely no impact at all’ – but I’m not so sure.

For a starter, when nearly a million eligible voters don’t exercise the right, it provokes these kinds of discussions and encourages more deliberation on the validity of the system, the legitimacy and effectiveness of representative democracy, the possibility of more effective and potentially disastrous alternatives, the level of social capital and social infrastructure in our society that means such a large proportion of the population are disenfranchised (or not) and allowing others to determine (or not) the future for the most vulnerable in our communities, etc.

Choosing not to vote, is still a vote. It may have made John Key more likely to win, but then a Labour-led alternative is not any more attractive to many of us. Concessions on RMA and welfare reform, indigenous rights, mechanisms to address inequality, state asset sales and ties to the US economy and global military industrial complex would continue to frustrate many of us who like to think we vote with a little less self-interest than the majority of our fellow citizens. Choosing not to vote is a message to say, the system is broken (no where near as much as some others) and we want to put energy into improving or replacing it.

I think there is a place for a Vote of No Confidence option on the ballot, a space for those who don’t think we should settle for the current form of government modelled on (and still linked to) the Westminster system imposed by European settlers on these islands.

There are plenty of improvements we can make to the system (I listed some toward the end of this post), and we can help create those changes with or without central government support. There are examples of this happening all the time using existing institutions and creating new processes and contexts for reducing the influence of the dominant paradigm on our families and communities.

Likewise we can build authentic alternatives for self-governance, most likely without public support and eventually these will create conflict with the dominant system if they refuse to contribute to its maintenance and self-legitimising mechanisms for survival. This is a much more costly option and is unlikely to succeed, but if it’s all too hard then we continue to meddle and tinker with a massive infrastructure that is controlled by very powerful forces that refuse to give up power while we’re running out of time to make the changes the world needs to have any chance of a decent future.
I like your point that voting doesn’t actually take much effort and provided it’s value and potential is seen for little effort and little impact it has, it’s not really so demanding that we should abstain for any good reason.

I’ll probably vote again in the future, but by not doing so this time, I’m choosing not to abdicate anything to the government and voting for myself to take more responsibility for creating the community, country and planet I want my kids to be able to contribute to.

Rebels Against The Future

Image

As a regular promoter of new technology (renewable energy generation and use as a replacement for fossil fuels), it’s a little ironic to be called a Luddite.

I would however wear the label proudly, but compare myself to my Dad who has never owned a car, computer or cellphone.

I do try to avoid the self-service checkouts at supermarkets, I know it’s a futile effort but trying to keep local people in a job just a little longer seems worth the extra few seconds waiting in line.

The Luddites were passionate about keeping people in meaningful employment and sustainable communities. If they were around today I guess they might be protesting about our obsession with speed and digital technology at the expense of traditional jobs and a more human pace of life.

Image

A few years back I bought Dad a book about the Luddites called ‘Rebels Against the Future‘. The author Kirkpatrick Sale suggests that the Luddites did not want to turn the clock back. They said, “We want to cling to this way of life; we don’t want a life in which we’re forced into factories, forced onto machines we can’t control, and forced from village self-sufficiency into urban dependency and servitude.”

A modern Luddite is also trying to hold to certain elements of the past to resurrect the community. Neo-Luddites wish to resurrect some values of the past such as communitarianism, non-materialism, an understanding of nature, and a meshing with nature. These things have been largely taken from us in the last 200 years and we must fight to preserve them.

Sale believes “sustainable” is essentially the opposite of “industrial.” Sustainability implies a non-exploitive relationship with nature and a basic self-sufficiency in life. Industrialism can’t allow that to exist because that kind of living would not create, manufacture, use or consume. Sustainability, community and self-sufficiency are antithetical to industrialism.

Image

Gisborne Communities Population Changes

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 9.57.24 am

Source: Statistics NZ (Census 2013)

The Riverdale increase can largely be attributed to the subdivision and retirement complexes that have been developed in that are since 2006. The Ruatoria increase is interesting as the other significant increases are all in more affluent parts of the district while most of the high deprivation areas have remained static or declined slightly. 

Perfect timing for PCE freshwater report

Image

A report on freshwater management released today by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment was exquisite timing given the release this month of two important regulatory documents according to District Councillor Manu Caddie.

A proposed National Objectives Framework (NOF) for Freshwater by the Ministry for the Environment is currently being consulted on and has received mixed responses from freshwater experts so far. The NOF, for the first time ever, sets absolute bottom lines for freshwater quality to protect ecosystems and human health. Some scientific commentators have said it is good that these bottom lines have been established, while others have criticised the proposed acceptable levels as too low and questioned the decision to exclude macroinvertebrates (small living critters in freshwater systems) as a measure of stream health as recommended by the expert panel advising the process.

A local Freshwater Advisory Group discussion document on the development of a regional Freshwater Plan will also be released by Gisborne District Council for consultation this month with a proposal for collaborative planning in the Waipaoa catchment.

“Irrigation demand is expected to increase dramatically over the next 30 years and establishing consensus amongst stakeholders and users while protecting the life sustaining qualities of waterways is going to be really important” said Mr Caddie.

Mr Caddie said the PCE report paints a fairly positive picture of the Gisborne region in terms of water quality improvements from tree planting and hillsides reverting to indigenous bush.

“While Dr Wright’s report will have most implications for the regions that have seen massive dairy intensification, there are some good news stories in terms of the comparatively low levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in our waterways – in fact according to the report.”

“Gisborne is the only region predicted to have these nutrients decrease in our water, largely as a result of the farm conversions to forestry. Large areas of steep land have been, and are predicted to continue to be, converted to forestry. As a result, nitrogen and phosphorus loads in the Waiapu catchment are predicted to decrease by 10% and 2% respectively below 1996 levels by 2020.”

The report notes the productivity of sheep/beef farming has improved by about 20% over the last twenty years. This increase may be more attributable to efficiency gains such as advances in animal genetics than to increased fertiliser inputs. The productivity of plantation pine forestry has not significantly changed in the last two decades. The report suggests Government plans to double the value of primary exports by 2025 should not be at the expense of the environment.

ENDS