Korero and Kai (Conversation and Food)

Posted by on Aug 16, 2013 in Uncategorized | No Comments

From: Mana Magazine, “the Maori magazine for everyone.” August-September Issue
By: Michael Ahie (Taranaki, Nga Ruahine, Ngati Ruanui)

A few weeks back, I was fortunate to attend the Pacific Partnership Forum held in Washington, D.C. Things have certainly changed in our relationship with the USA in recent years. In diplomatic speak, our relationship has “normalized.” All of a sudden it seems our American friends are our best mates again. In diplomacy and trade relations, time really does seem to heal wounds.

As a bright young woman from the USA exclaimed at the opening of the hui at the new – and very grand – U.S. Institute of Peace: “I wasn’t even born in 1984!” It was a great way to acknowledge the issue of nuclear powered ship visits which started the whole affair in the last century. Are we all ready to act like grown-ups and move on? It seems so.

Of course the tireless efforts by our diplomatic and trade staff and groups like the Pacific Partnership Forum have all made a difference. Add in all the kiwis and organisations working and playing in the USA and it is no surprise that the goodwill built over 150 years has brought us to where we find ourselves today. The cynics out there will say: “Yeah right – so we like each other again, but there must be more to it than that. Why is America so interested in the Pacific and our tiny nation at the very bottom of it?”

There is always something at play in the world of geo-politics. In this case it is the emergence of China and the awakening of Japan. We are able to do something really well with both of these nations. We know how to have a good korero. We know how to relate.

One of the American panel members at the hui was challenged about the renewed interest in New Zealand. He replied, very frankly I thought: “You know how to have a conversation with China.” And for America, having a friend who knows how to talk with the Chinese is a very good thing. That is a surprising side outcome of our free trade agreement with China, don’t you think? And as for Japan, they have recently joined the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. That is a big deal for American food producers if an agreement can be reached. We are a key part of the discussions. There is that “relate” thing again.

If I had one take out from the trip to Washington it would be this: America realises that Asia is such a vast market that no one nation could ever fulfill the growing demand alone, least of all, those of us down here in Aotearoa. We are not a threat when it comes to global trade, quite the opposite in fact.

So that is the korero; this is where the kai bit comes in. It is all about food and New Zealand’s ability and understanding of safe and sustainable food production. Along with water, food safety and the security of the world’s food supply will be a defining feature of this century and we are well placed to play a significant role. We and our American friends are pretty good at producing food at industrial and technological scale, a skill the world might be requiring.

Here is some information which might make your eyes water a tad about the food challenge we face as a planet in the next 25 years.

To feed a world population of nine billion by 2050, world food production must increase by 70%. Why 70% more food when there is going to be (only) 40% more humans? It’s about the type of food we want to eat. Incomes are expected to rise over the next 25 years and as incomes rise, people move from a grain based to an animal protein-based diet. Animal protein-based foods (like milk and meat ) have a bigger “ecological” and water footprint than plant based foods. In other words, it takes more resources to get the same amount of kai on the table. We have to grow more plant based food to create the animal based food a richer world wants to eat. That is challenge number one.

Challenge number two is that over 70% of the fresh water we humans use every day is used in food production. That is a lot of water we must continue to find and use sustainably.

Challenge number three is that 870 million people will go to sleep tonight with their food intake for the day being less than the minimum energy requirement they need for that day’s effort. That is not because there isn’t enough food but because they are too poor to buy it. It might also surprise you that while most of the highest rates of hunger are in sub-Saharan Africa, most of the world’s undernourished people are in Asia.

And if that isn’t enough to make you reflect a little over your dinner tonight, here’s challenge number four: at least 30% of all world food production goes to waste. In Africa for example, 20% of all grain is lost to pests and decay – enough in any one year to feed 48 million people.

Producing enough food for the nine billion is possible; doing it sustainably is the issue. We have to find ways to do more with less. That’s where we come in; New Zealand that is. At Plant and Food Research, I talk with the brilliant scientists and technicians and the sectors we serve about how we must challenge ourselves to triple the value of the food we produce and halve the environmental footprint and production cost. That takes some different thinking. It will also make a difference.

We are really good at food. We are good at producing the food that a more affluent world population wants to eat. And while we can’t feed everyone – New Zealand feeds around 30 million at last count – we are good at the systems of food production. Not just in milk and animal protein, but apples and kiwifruit and avocados and grass and lots of other plant based foods. We even know about broccoli which a former U.S. President didn’t like too much but the current one does. We know how to cut waste and “post-harvest” losses. We are good at food diplomacy, getting the korero between our trading partners going to free up borders and barriers to trade to allow economies to grow and people to afford the food in the first place. What a fabulous strategic position for a beautiful place at the bottom of the South Pacific to find itself in.

The other day I was having a coffee with a friend. His first mokopuna had recently come into the world – a big moment for any new Koro. He was reflecting on the future conversation with his grandson. What areas to study? What languages to learn? What’s the next big mega-trend which I need to make sure that he and the ones after him are aware of?

I said talk about food and food production, the IP and information technologies that support food and understand Asia. That is the korero I will be having with my sons over kai tonight.

Michael Ahie (Taranaki, Nga Ruahine, Ngati Ruanui) is a founding partner of AltusQ New Zealand, Chairman of Plant & Food Research, and a director of a number of New Zealand companies. He was a panelist on “Food Security” at the 2013 US-NZ Pacific Partnership Forum held in Washington, DC on May 19 – 21.

Mana Magazine; August-September 2013