Ardern: ‘The world looks to us for solutions’ in primary sector

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Numerous issues are affecting the world’s agriculture and horticulture industries – including here in New Zealand, where primary industries are of paramount importance. At a time where concerns are arising about environmental issues and sustainability, food safety and country of origin, and fair trade and labour shortages, the Te Hono Volume to Value Forum, held at Zealong Tea Estate last month, facilitated a much-needed discussion around the future of New Zealand’s primary sector.

Guest of honour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern returned to her home region to speak to leaders in the agricultural and horticultural sector at the event.  Though New Zealand is one of the most efficient food producing countries in the world, she agreed that “intensive volume-driven bulk commodity models have brought along issue of economic and environmental sustainability”.

However, she also said that due to New Zealand’s reputation for being able to adapt and adjust to changing demands, the world is looking to us for solutions. As well as a volume-to-value approach, she also praised Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor’s “volume-to-values” stance, which considers values held by both producers and consumers, such as quality nutrition, environmentally sound practice, traceable and ethical labour supply chains, and produce free of pests, disease, and other contaminants.

Fittingly, these issues were addressed while looking over New Zealand’s only commercial tea estate, which has been championing this approach since its beginning more than 20 years ago. Zealong general manager Gigi Crawford also spoke of their volume-to-value journey during the event.

Crawford touched on current issues in tea producing countries, such as fair trade and low pay for tea pickers, high levels of pesticides and residues, and traceability, before sharing how Zealong has found a solution. By growing tea in a new, clean environment, with 100 percent organic certification and international food safety standards, it has ensured complete traceability from soil to sip for consumers’ peace of mind.

Zealong’s organic and full traceability certifications are unique in the tea world, providing third-party credibility that their tea meets the high production values for which New Zealand is known. Crawford added that New Zealand is one of the few developed countries which has no regulation of the term “organic”, so certification is essential.

Over the 10 years since Zealong’s official opening, they have opened a Tea House restaurant, various function and event spaces, and started guided tours to give an insight into the production of their tea. These experiences have helped Zealong demonstrate the value of their tea: Crawford said that their annual 40,000 visitors take Zealong’s story and values out to the world.

Following the lead of Zealong and other innovative New Zealand agribusinesses, Ardern asserted that industry collaboration and sharing of New Zealand’s unique story and values, such as kaitiakitanga, would help our primary sector appeal to markets willing to “[spend]a little more on products that are natural, wholesome, good for them, good for the world”—showing once again that New Zealand is a world-leading innovator.

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