They’re a huge part of our economy and identity – and we’re committed to helping them lead the way to a more sustainable New Zealand as we secure our recovery from COVID.
To do so, we’re backing innovation in our food and fibres sector, researching new ways to clean up our waterways without reducing productivity, supporting exporters to drive our recovery, and connecting our rural communities. And those are just the initiatives we’ve announced this week!
Through programmes like One Billion Trees, He Poutama Rangatahi, and Jobs for Nature, we’re also supporting farmer- and iwi- led initiatives that are protecting our precious freshwater and safeguarding ecosystems, while boosting skills, creating jobs and strengthening our primary industries.
In the lead-up to Fieldays, we spoke to a couple of people at the forefront of this important mahi.
Working with farmers to clean up our waterways
King Country River Care is a Taranaki organisation that provides support to farmers as they take on environmental challenges, through coordinating and providing leadership to several catchment communities. Their work, says coordinator Anna Nelson, has been “turbo-boosted” by the funding they’ve received from Te Uru Rākau, through One Billion Trees, and from the Ministry for Primary Industries.
King Country River Care includes around 350 farmers in southern and western Waikato. The area it covers is approximately 1,444 square kilometres, encompassing the Awakino, Mōkau, and upper Mangaokewa catchments. The group has been farmer-led and -founded from the get-go, but the funding has made a “massive difference.”
The $844,000 Government investment they received last year is helping to clean up local waterways, by enabling the group to provide leadership, coordination, and support to farmers as they develop environmental plans. They’re working to understand and adapt to current challenges – to come up with local solutions to local issues and “to look for the opportunities where people might see threats at the moment,” Nelson says.
Farm environmental plans are the foundation of the group’s work. The farmers, Nelson says, have been encouraged to develop their own plans, to have ownership and understanding of the process. “We talk a lot about them never being completed, that they’re a living document tailored to each individual farmer and each catchment.” The group is enthusiastic about the integrated farm planning approach announced by the Government in this year’s Budget – seeing synergies between its kaupapa and what they’re trying to do.
They’ve also received support from the One Billion Trees initiative, for fencing and planting on farms. With sheep or beef hill country farms, the main environmental challenges are sediments and E. coli in the waterways, Nelson says. “The first lots of plants are going in the ground as we speak, and I know there’s quite a lot of fencing going up.”
This practical, tangible support has been huge. “Ultimately, we really do want our rivers to be cleaner and clearer. And actually doing the work on the farm, doing the job, is essential,” Nelson says. “That’s where having the Uru Rākau funding has made a real difference to how soon we will get to see some outcomes.”
"Ultimately, we really do want our rivers to be cleaner and clearer. And actually doing the work on the farm, doing the job, is essential. That’s where having the Uru Rākau funding has made a real difference."
Anna Nelson, King Country River Care Coordinator
As well as its environmental work, King Country River Care focuses on the social wellbeing and economic sustainability of the farmers in its catchment communities. "We see catchment groups as a really great support tool for communities to get together and to support each other, learn from each other, look out for each other.”
On a personal level, Nelson says, the funding enables her to devote more time and effort to her work as a coordinator. “It’s great to be part of it. You feel like you are making a difference.”
Growing future leaders with on-the-job skills
When Ngāti Maru settled their historic Treaty of Waitangi claims with the Crown, they received financial redress and the right to purchase land including Te Wera Forest. They realised that the forestry jobs were all going to contractors, mostly from outside the region, and that the area lacked primary sector educational programmes. “We thought, that’s kind of a wasted opportunity for us here,” says Te Kāhui Maru General Manager Anaru Marshall.
Since forestry work is seasonal – providing work for eight months or so per year – they realised they might need to explore other types of work. “So we started looking into the conservation space as well: riparian planting, pest control, track maintenance, noxious weed eradication. And we thought, if we can develop a multidisciplinary workforce that could work across forestry and all these other conservation roles, then we could create a workforce that has work 12 months of the year!”
As part of this work, they established Tupu-ā-Nuku, a programme that provides pastoral care and wraparound support for trainees and students to help them get the skills they need to get into employment or support their business aspirations. This is funded through He Poutama Rangatahi.
So far, they’ve run three training courses for around 40 students. “Yesterday we had a graduation ceremony,” Marshall says. “So, 100% of the students completed the course … and 100% of them are going into employment.” These 11 graduates had been unemployed before they got this opportunity – some of them hadn’t been in work for some time.
The funding they’ve received has made a “major difference,” Marshall says. “Not everyone is suited to this type of work. It’s outdoors, it’s tough. But there are some people who are suited to it. And there was no line-of-sight pathway for anyone to get into this type of employment. So that’s what we’re providing.” This big dairying area, with plenty of riparian planting to be done, has also previously had a gap in its conservation workforce, Marshall says. They’re helping to fill that gap.
With an emphasis on cultural development, as well – and business enablement through the pastoral care programme – Te Kāhui Maru are building a stronger community and future leaders. “It’s not just about training people to dig holes and put plants in the ground, pruning and all of that. We want to develop business owners, managers, leaders, all of that type of thing,” Marshall says.
Farmers and growers have been the economic backbone for New Zealand throughout COVID-19, and our primary sector will be at the heart of our recovery. Together we’re tackling Mycoplasma bovis, restoring our waterways, and taking steps to reduce emissions. Labour’s ongoing support for rural communities includes upgrading schools and health facilities, extending rural broadband and mobile coverage, and investing in mental health services.
This Fieldays, we’ve been focused on continuing this work and backing our primary sector, so together we come out of COVID stronger than before.
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