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Flood plan rewards farmers for poor land use

Flood recovery plan rewards farmers for poor land use

Green MP Ian Ewen-Street says the Government's recovery package for February's floods is compensating farmers for avoidable damage they had a duty of care to prevent. The former organic farmer also says warnings about the vulnerability of land in the area were sounded a decade ago and have been ignored.

Mr Ewen-Street's comments follow his visit to the affected area late last month and his subsequent discussions with land use experts.

"I have always welcomed Maf's Agriculture Recovery Program for helping farmers get back on their feet, but I have become concerned that taxpayer's money is being paid out without any accountability for how land use contributed to the damage done," said Mr Ewen-Street, the Green Party Spokesperson on Agriculture.

"The Government should take urgent remedial action to amend the terms of the recovery package so that unsustainable land use is not compensated for or restored.

"Furthermore the RMA should be amended to include 'land use classes' that specify what is and isn't allowable on any given piece of country. This can be sheeted home with a declaration that sediment is a contaminant and that landowners can be held accountable for how much soil leaves their property.

"The idea that storm recovery should include changes to land use is not without precedent. After Cyclone Bola there were clear incentives in the Government's recovery package for pastoral land on the East Cape to be retired and / or reforested. The Agriculture Minister at the time, Colin Moyle, said the Bola package 'charts a new course for governments and their whole approach to disaster relief and recovery.'

"It seems that this 'new course' has since been forgotten, as the Wanganui-Manawatu package supports the restoration of the type of farming that experts say exacerbated the damage done by the February floods.

"Those Wanganui and Manawatu farmers that have been using their land unsustainably may well view the generous public assistance they are now receiving as a vote of confidence in their methods. They are wrong and they have been warned before.

"A study by Landcare Research after a major rain event in the area twelve years ago predicted that a further storm would result in the sort of devastation we have now seen. 'Erosion of Hill Country in the Manawatu-Wanganui Region 1992: Impacts and Options for Sustainable Land Use' called for all steep hills in the area to be planted in trees and scrub in order to limit further erosion and the resulting silt damage downstream on the plains. This sound advice has been ignored to such a degree that people on the plains have every reason to blame those upstream for the mess they found themselves in," said Mr Ewen-Street.

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