Listening to diverse views
This year, the KPMG Agribusiness Agenda looks at the unique perspectives across the segments or ‘voices’ of the food and fibre sector: Capital Providers, Educators & Scientists, Emerging Leaders, Farmers & Producers, Māori Leaders, CEOs & Business Leaders.
While the opportunity for New Zealand’s food and fibre sector is greater than it has ever been, the issues raised by these diverse voices mean now more than ever we need leaders to listen and act on these diverse opinions.
Our annual survey indicates that the issues facing leaders across the sector remain extensive, with much work still be done.
Key issues include:
Addressing environmental challenges
Although concerns around the zero-carbon legislation have dissipated this year with the evolution of the government industry partnership, He Waka Eke Noa, the conversation has evolved to how land is used in the long term, particularly in relation to the role that regenerative agriculture will play in the sector’s future. While our voices are unanimous in that we must farm within the limits of our land and water into the future, there remains much to be done in translating this aspiration into practical and economically sustainable steps that will enable us to regenerate our environment in a way that creates a unique point of difference for New Zealand’s food and fibre sector.
The pandemic has refocused attention on the people challenges the sector faces. While part of the response to these challenges will undoubtedly be automating some of the more physical roles, for the sector to thrive there is a need to recruit, educate and retain a new generation of talent to enable organisations to capitalise on the opportunities inherent in the global agri-food system. Whether this is seeking a new type of scientist with the ability to not only do the science but communicate what they are doing and explain why, or developing a deliberate, multifaceted and long-term programme to engage with young Māori people, the need to act differently to empower our people must be a priority.
Committing to a digital future
Another feature of the pandemic has been the rapid speed at which we have integrated new technologies into our day to day lives to enable us to function. Digitisation was already coming to the agri-food sector and the events of the last few months will see the speed of transition accelerate, however there remains challenges to unlocking its full potential. For many in the sector, access to high-speed connectivity that enables effective use of new tools remains a constraint, however the elephant in need of addressing is data interoperability. We maximise the value of insights from our data by connecting it with a range of other datasets; until we learn to share data, we will never fully realise the benefits technology can deliver.
Fundamentally our food and fibre sector exists to grow food to nourish our people and to create wealth for our society; it should directly and indirectly benefit all New Zealanders. A notable feature of this year’s Agenda is the consistent message that the sector will only be successful if our communities also thrive. As we emerge from the pandemic, the view was expressed strongly that New Zealand needs a comprehensive national food strategy, addressing all aspects of our food system, from how and where food is grown, through processing, distribution and access, health consequences, export sales and, ultimately, to how coproducts and waste are managed. The message has been clear that such an endeavour would be politically challenging, but it no longer makes sense for the developed nation that is most reliant on food and fibre to generate its wealth, not to have an overarching food strategy.
Confronting the tough problems
While significant strides have been taken towards a broad vision for the sector, there remains major differences of opinion which require strong leadership to navigate. Whether it is initiating a conversation around the use of genetic technologies, such as gene editing within our production systems, or addressing the skeletons that still exist within our production systems (the management of bobby calves and the quality of our fresh water being obvious examples), we need leaders that are prepared to confront and address these problems rather than letting them continue to fester. With people more open to change, now is the time to lean into these challenges and have these difficult conversations. The other tough issue to crack is the lack of scale our companies have in international markets - seeking ways we can collaboratively maximise our impact in markets is critical to long term success.
Building trust and creating consensus
The comparative success New Zealand has had in responding to Covid-19 has helped us stand out as a relatively safe country in a dangerous world. We have always had a reputation as a high integrity producer of food products but now we need to ensure that we back the perceptions current and future consumers have of our country with the substance needed to ensure those perceptions are tangible. Defining the standards that we produce to and, when appropriate, verifying the data that demonstrates our performance against those standards is critical in positioning ourselves as a trusted producer of food. We also need to ensure we utilise our global standing to protect international institutions that benefit all, for instance the rules-based trading system, so they are strengthened rather than sacrificed in a rush to localisation and isolationism.
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