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Knowledge wave for agrifood sector needed

Knowledge wave for agrifood sector needed

New Zealand needs a knowledge wave in agrifood to help address a crisis around global food demand amid world population growth, internationally respected Massey University food scientist Distinguished Professor Paul Moughan says, ahead of forums to debate the issues next week.

So what role will we play in the agriculture and food revolution where New Zealand has the potential to be a world leader? Professor Moughan, who recently returned from being part of an international think tank on world food security, will lead discussions on these issues at the New New Zealand Forums in Auckland and Wellington in early October, along with a panel of specialists in health, food science and agribusiness. Their discussions will prove especially relevant in the wake of the current volatility being seen in world food prices.

Good years still lay ahead for New Zealand but it is essential the potential offered by technology is realised, Professor Moughan says.

“We’ve got a real opportunity here, but it’s about bringing science, technology and education into the agricultural sector.

“We live in amazing times for technology, and if we can harness all of that technology we can not only increase value and be more productive, but also be better for the environment.

“New Zealand should be leading the pack in applying [subjects like] computer science in agriculture. That’s where we should be world leaders.”

While New Zealand is only a small fraction of the world’s landmass, we have a long history of science and technology in what is a biological farming-based economy, he says.

“We have a lot to offer the world, but to produce more food, and better food, we need to start thinking smarter, not necessarily bigger.”

With the world’s population growing rapidly, Professor Moughan says we need to produce around 70 per cent more food by 2050. Not just more food, but better food.

His proposal is for a knowledge wave similar to the Government-backed conference of 2001, using innovation and technology as its drivers but focused on its primary assets. “We need a knowledge wave but we need it to be in agriculture and food. That is where the markets of tomorrow lie for New Zealand. That’s not to say we shouldn’t diversify our economy – of course we should – but let’s not neglect the primary driver.”
Professor Moughan wants a New Zealand that understands the comparative advantage it has when it comes to agriculture and food, its health benefits and food safety. “New Zealand needs to fully embrace its agricultural and food industries.

“As a country, we are truly world class in that arena, and have a lot of potential to offer the world. We should view this like we view the All Blacks – with immense pride – wouldn’t that be something to aspire to?”

Head of Agribusiness and Property for Westpac, Mark Steed, a panel participant at the forums, says producing more food on a sustainable basis is a challenge confronting everyone in the primary sector in New Zealand.

“Remaining internationally competitive and environmentally and socially sustainable, while still producing high quality internationally demanded foodstuffs, is arguably New Zealand’s biggest challenge in the
21st century, particularly using our traditional grass based production systems.

“Smart thinking backed by great high quality science and world leading technology are key components in tackling this challenge.”

Auckland event details:
Panelists: Professor Harjinder Singh, Professor Paul McDonald and Head of Agribusiness and Property for Westpac Mark Steed. The panel will be moderated by TV3’s Mike McRoberts.
Date: 1 October
Time: 7.30 to 9.45 am – Breakfast provided
Venue: Westpac on Takutai Square, Auckland

Wellington event details:
Panelists: Professor Harjinder Singh, Professor Paul McDonald and Head of Agribusiness and Property for Westpac Mark Steed. The panel will be moderated by TV3’s Samantha Hayes.
Date: 7 October
Time: 12.30 to 2.45 pm – Lunch provided
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington


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