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Never has New Zealand needed science more

Never has New Zealand needed science more than it does now

Research Institute head calls for major change to system of funding CRIs

New Zealand’s pastoral sector is facing an unprecedented set of demands and opportunities that only new science and technology can address, said the Chief Executive of New Zealand’s largest dedicated research facility today.

“The combination of needing to move to sophisticated, high value food and textiles products whilst simultaneously reducing the relatively large environmental footprint of livestock requires intense scientific effort,” said Dr Andrew West, Chief Executive of AgResearch.

“Never has science been more needed in agriculture than now. The world’s human population will grow by at least 50% in the next fifty years and that’s a lot of extra mouths to feed. There isn’t 50% more land we can convert to farming,” he said.
“Humans have already consumed so much land for their own species’ benefit that the world has entered its sixth great (known) mass extinction event. Humans cannot just keep taking and taking with no thought to their own future or that of all other species.
“The United Nations has now identified that our species and others are entering an unprecedented environmental crisis. Wisely applied science and technology are two of the most important salvations for the remaining species on this planet.

“For New Zealand, we urgently need to reduce our environmental footprint whilst recognising that producing food is a messy business with a relatively high-waste production per head of population.
“However, this country has the added requirement to apply research and development in order to change our export mix to a considerably higher branded, value-add portfolio. We need to earn more from producing the same or even less, not the other way around. So our demands on science and technology are becoming especially high.”

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Dr West said the rest of the world had already realised its rapidly increasing reliance on science and technology. “As a consequence many countries are now rapidly boosting their investment in science. This has begun a global competition for scientific talent that New Zealand cannot win on price alone.

“We’re not wealthy enough to outbid most other developed countries on salary alone for scientists,” said Dr West. “Instead we need to pay a decent wage – which at the moment we rarely do – and then focus on the conditions under which scientists work.
“Obviously this country’s scientists need modern scientific facilities and much is now being done to ensure that is so. However, where we’re falling down in the global competition for scientific talent is in the amount of down time we require of our scientists writing about what they hope to do rather than actually doing it.

“It’s as if our scientists are becoming journalists! They are increasingly writing about intended science rather than actually producing it. New Zealand can’t afford this if we are to attract and retain excellent scientific talent. Our government system for allocating research funds has to be world-class by which I mean it must not only be effective it must also be economical with scientists’ time. It’s certainly not that and as a consequence it needs to be significantly changed, in short order.

“AgResearch calls for the introduction of a Performance Based Transformation Fund for CRIs that operates in a manner similar to the Performance Based Research Fund for universities. This will significantly reduce the stress and downtime on CRI scientists. Given the scale of demand New Zealand is now placing on its research institute scientists, we need this change urgently,” said Dr West.


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